I think our youngest had just-turned two when we first started holding family meetings. She thought it was great sport. The “older” kids (who were four and six at the time), took it very seriously indeed, which made family meetings great sport for us parents too.
The idea is to listen
We started holding a “formal” meeting to give our kids a voice in what we were planning. Not that you couldn’t have a discussion around the family dinner table, or anything. We’d do that each night anyway. But family meetings felt like a good way to formalise proper, true, not-pretending listening.
Family meetings were also an attempt to add some structure to the chaos of family life. There are a lot of words circling at any given time in a family of five. Sometimes you want your words to have more gravitas than others.
Ultimately, our family meetings are about connection. Coming together to talk openly, about anything, has been especially important as the kids have grown. Now they are 14, 13 and 10, it’s sometimes the only way we get them to talk to us at all.
More thoughts on this: 100+ family conversation starters
Ad hoc works best for us
Plenty of families have regular family meetings – weekly, monthly – but ours have always been just whenever. Despite loving routine and structure, the formality of a weekly meeting of our family would just about kill us, I think. Ha!
Anyone can call a meeting, but they are always officially scheduled. Sometimes it’s a week in advance, other times an hour. But notification must be given. That way the rest of the family is given time to prepare any items they would also like to raise.
Meeting are usually called for a specific reason, then other items are added to the agenda. Anything from lack of toilet paper maintenance, to I hate my sister, to where should we go on holidays, to I think this is unfair because.
How they work
The key reason for the meeting will be given at the time of scheduling, so everyone can work out how they feel about that particular discussion. And, presumably, get their excuses ready.
The person who called the meeting acts as chair person. They get the last say and help move things along. Especially important as we are all a bit show-boaty at our place and have a tendency to hog the floor.
I think family meetings are quite good for introducing kids to formal meeting procedure. Not a bad thing to know in this day and age. This involves things like:
• Crystallising how you really feel about things
• Being succinct in getting your point across
• Learning to listen, rather than simply ‘wait your turn’
• Let everyone have a say
• Welcome alternative opinions
• Be respectful of the meeting structure and attendees
• Stick to an agenda
• Look for positive solutions
Anything can be discussed
The only rules we have are that you need to truly listen to what someone else is saying, and be respectful when you disagree. Discussion is open, so you can’t shut someone out just because you don’t like their opinion (or their whole being, depending on what week it is).
The beauty of family meetings lies in this open discussion. For example, the older kids’ opinions on Lottie’s issues are always interesting. She doesn’t necessarily like what they have to say, but it’s important that they get to say it. Likewise, she has offered them both some pretty sound advice on many occasions. I love that the kids will still raise personal things for us to talk about as a family.
Day-to-day problems are solved
Like in any “flatmate” situation, living with others can be frustrating and compromising. Family meetings let us air our grievances quickly, and mostly painlessly. I lived with many, many people before starting a family, so I know how quickly untreated little domestic wounds can grow into 000-level emergencies.
I think many mums put up with a lot of day-to-day shit with their families. Family meetings are the place to get that out before it festers. No problem is too petty to raise. It helps to set “intentions” for the family.
Like, right now, we are all focused on better toilet roll management, being kinder to our siblings (I shall have to ring mine – an actual phone call, imagine!) and making our beds in the morning. Family meetings help get everyone on the same page for things like that.
Just don’t be scared
As much as I’ve been meaning to write about our family meetings for years (and indeed, am writing this now after being urged by a reader of this post), I’ve found there’s really not much to say. Overall, I’d say our family meetings help us:
• Think carefully about what really matters
• Stay connected
• Get on the same page
• Air grievances
• Come together as a family
• Problem solve as a unit
• Have a laugh together
Do you hold formal family meetings, or not your thing at all?