The Importance of the Family Meeting

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Now that I’m all grown up, some of my favorite childhood memories are of our family meetings.

My parents would host these meetings a couple of times a year for various reasons – to discuss what our new allowance for the school year would be (not to brag, but one year I made $0.10 PER WEEK y’all. You can’t even believe how much candy that would buy at the 7/11 after Mass on Sundays! But it wasn’t all fun and games, because I had to SAVE A DOLLAR that year.), what our new chores were going to be, or what the family gift at Christmas should be (an automatic garage door or a set of encyclopedias was the debate in about 1976 if I recall correctly, and encyclopedias won by a landslide, much to my surprise). 

My husband and our children haven’t had family meetings with near the frequency I did growing up, but we have started to have them a little more regularly nowadays because the girls are getting older and they should have their voices heard more now than when they were little.

We recently held our latest family meeting. We needed to reshuffle chores and – in a twist – we wanted their well-thought-out input on a couple of things. And it was amazing.

Back when I was in corporate America, I had one boss who would pull me into a meeting last minute – like she was on her way in and would say, “Oh you should sit in on this.”  But then I would get in there and they would be looking for solutions to a problem I was just hearing about, so I’d had no time to prepare or think about it.

It used to make me so mad and seemed like a waste of my time. So before our official meeting on Sunday, I handed out a sheet with four questions and told the girls to really think about this stuff that we’d discuss it at the meeting. My husbnan (the Professor) and I also did the same.

We started to hear a little bit of griping and we pointed out that this was their opportunity to be part of the solution and to have their voices heard. So if they didn’t participate fully, that was fine, but they wouldn’t get to complain about anything then either.

Boom! Quiet cooperation!

Our Pre-Work Questions

1. What is a charity or volunteer opportunity for the whole family to do together?
2. What is something we could do together as a family on the weekends we have free?
3. What is something you’d like to do on our trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer?

And when we had the meeting, I was really, very pleasantly surprised.

Because of the questions they had to answer (and the expectation that they would do it), that meeting was much better and more productive than if we’d just started talking about it for the first time at the meeting.

How To Start Your Own Family Meetings

If you’ve never had a family meeting before, I’d recommend starting small. Kind of get your feet wet with things that are important, but maybe not Mission Critical. If your kids have never done chores before, you could start with that, because I promise you, moms-of-the-littles: your kids can do a LOT more than they’re letting on! It won’t be to your standards, but learning is a process and I suggest you start it as early as possible.

Possible Meeting Agenda Items

* Chores and/or Allowance
* Savings Requirements
* Vacation Plans
* Family Purchases
* Meal Ideas

Really anything you want to get consensus on and get input. We’re always clear that just because we’re asking their opinions does NOT mean they will get their way, but it is a way for everyone’s voice to be heard.

Treat a Family Meeting Like an Official Meeting at Work

* Set a date in advance and let everyone know
* Create an official agenda
* Talk to your parenting partner so you’re on the same page
* Follow the agenda
* Take notes
* When there are action items – follow up

There are a lot of benefits to holding a family meeting. Not only does the forum allow the kids to feel part of the decision-making process, but it will also help you understand where they’re coming from and what they’re thinking about. It also gets them familiar with the format of a meeting – listening when other people are speaking, offering their opinions, thinking of the bigger picture.

Generally, the topics you’ll discuss in your meeting are conversations you’re already having and decisions you’re already making. Putting them in the context of a family meeting just makes them more official and maybe gives them more importance in the eyes of the kids. This is especially important if you’re talking about behaviors and/or consequences or something else that directly affects them.

Because of the pre-work we did before our last one – and keep in mind our girls are in their early teens so we can have different agenda items than a family with littles – we have information about volunteering at the local food bank and the Ronald McDonald House here in town. We know about famous ice cream and donut shops in Portland, kayaking at Orcas Island, and zip-lining in the Seattle area.

And the next time we have an available Saturday or Sunday here in town together, we know we want to try glass blowing, play family tennis, or go hiking. I had no idea they were interested in some of those things, so it was a great learning experience for all of us.

What are some topics you could include on your Family Meeting agenda? Do you have another way you handle “official family business?” 

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Wildly in love with her perfectly imperfect life, Kathy’s been married to her most favorite person in the world, “The Professor,” for 14 years. They moved to Columbia from Atlanta seven years ago and are enjoying raising their two girls, Gracie (12½) and Tate (10) here. After undergrad and her MBA, Kathy worked in Corporate America for 10 years before retiring to work full-time for the girls. Most recently, she was a grant writer at a college here in town, but had to leave that job when her family moved to New Zealand for six months for The Professor’s sabbatical. She started her blog, kathygoeskiwi.com, to document that amazing adventure, but now she’s home and trying to figure out what to do with her life. Again. Probably the loudest and most foul-mouthed introvert you’ll ever meet, she can usually be found curled up with a trashy romance novel, on the tennis court, at her awesome gym, or drinking wine with people she loves.

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