Running a Family Meeting, Part I

From a vine parent:

Taking a break between paint strokes, I looked down at my seven year old daughter - her clothes streaked with light pink paint - beaming up at me. I smiled back, then went back to our project: transforming her room from its "boyish" feel to the pink room she'd been longing for.

Who would have thought that the addition of weekly family meetings would lead to a paint-streaked girl, a total room makeover, and a family becoming more in-tune to each other's individual journeys? It's through these meetings that we've communicated about the specific concerns and goals of each family member: our son wishes we were on our phones a bit less, our oldest daughter wants to be more intentional about taking the dog for walks, our youngest is worried that her room looks (legitimately) like it used to be her brother's and we never really made it hers. My husband and I share goals and concerns too, and our family has become closer and more supportive as a result.

The process of running family meetings, described below by Vine's director, Amanda Vogel, has been a game-changer for our family:

 

From Amanda:

A family meeting is an amazing time to connect and address issues on neutral ground.  Too often, we only deal with problems in the heat of the moment or when they reach crisis mode.  Family meetings give us a set time and place to calmly look at problems in a constructive way.

This means that in order to make family meetings successful, they should not be scheduled in response to problems.  The meeting should be a positive and reflective place, so you don’t want it associated only with issues to solve. Instead, they should be scheduled every week without exception.  For example, these meetings can be scheduled during Thursday dinner, on Sunday evenings, or at another time that works for your family.  All family members aged five and older should be expected to be a regular participant in this routine, and everyone who uses a calendar should have the meeting scheduled right on it!


 

The only items you’ll need for these meetings are a notebook and a pen... simplicity is best!  When meeting time arrives, a parent should grab the notebook and all family members should meet at the kitchen table. From there, a simple but flexible series of activities are suggested:

Compliments:  First, go around the table and ask each person to give a compliment to someone else in the family. Often these will be focused on progress you’ve seen in problems that have been discussed in previous meetings.  This is a great way to kick off each meeting on a positive note!

Each Person’s Focus:  Everyone, including mom and dad, should have something specific that they are focusing on solving or improving.  These might be big items, such as a child working through depression, but they will more likely be much smaller.  Here are a few examples:

  • Mom is working on not yelling when it’s time to leave the house when everyone’s running late.
  • Dad is focusing on setting better limits for the time he spends on social media in the evening.
  • Ben is working on sticking with a running routine so he can try out for the track team in a few weeks.
  • Alexa is focusing on raising her hand more at school and not being afraid to speak up in class.

At this point in the meeting, you’ll take a look at last week’s meeting notes and ask for an update from each person on how their goal is coming along.

Other family members may share feedback as well!  You’ll jot down some simple notes about what each person plans to do in the next week to work on their goal. Alternately, you may decide that the goal has been met and it’s time to pick a new focus!

If the problem is not improving, it’s time to move that problem to the next step, detailed in Running a Family Meeting Part II!