Many parenting experts recommend having regular family meetings of some sort. There are a variety of ways to do this – different timing, formats and structures – but the overall purpose is to gather your family at a consistent time, touch base with each other, share information, and provide a forum for communication.
Modern families have so much going on and keep such hectic schedules; it’s imperative that you have a regular time to stop all of that activity and come together for a moment to regroup. The stated purpose of these meetings usually has to do with planning the week, but the benefits extend beyond organizing schedules. Having a consistent time set aside to gather with your family will ensure that you and your children communicate frequently about many things. The discussion of schedules can and will lead to other topics such as what happened in school last week, how they feel about their soccer team, or what they are studying in math. If you go about your daily lives and never stop to spend time together, these kinds of discussions don’t have a space to come out and end up getting swept aside.
In your weekly family meetings (sometimes called Family Council), you could discuss any of the following: each child’s schedule for the week, family news or business, chores, problems, family decisions, family or individual goals, school successes, or rules. Some weeks you might simply set forth information (“Here are your chores for the week”), and some weeks you might have more of a discussion (“How do you feel about your weekly chore assignments?”). You could have each family member share something good and bad that happened in the past week. You could talk about your family budget, maybe in regards to school clothes or upcoming vacations. Some families hand out allowances at this meeting. You could give a compliment to each child or have each family member say something they like about another family member. Tailor the content of the meetings to fit your family’s needs and desires.
Everyone in the family should be allowed and encouraged to voice their opinion or thoughts on these during the meeting. These discussions can teach children how to listen to others and have a respectful conversation. It gives family members a time to find out what is working well and what is not working well, and what they could focus on in the week ahead. Every family meeting might not be an amazing experience, but having this consistent time to talk will help your family grow closer and will give you an insight into your children’s lives that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You will find out valuable and helpful information from your children.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), our family calls these weekly meetings Family Home Evening. We have them every Monday night. We use the meeting time for many of the above purposes, but we also have a lesson each time. Members of the family rotate giving the lesson. The lessons are usually centered on a religious concept, such as prayer or giving service, but they can be on other nonreligious topics as well, such as healthy living or the importance of education. We’ve had lessons on the Supreme Court Justices and the beauty of nature. Sometimes we do lessons on family unity and just play games together. We always have a treat at the end of Family Home Evening. The person who did the lesson the week before gets to choose the treat, and I try to accommodate whatever they want as a reward for their efforts.
I have often been quite impressed with the quality of lessons my children prepare. The younger ones are excited to be like their older siblings and give a lesson all by themselves. It is so rewarding to see the time and effort they will put in, even if the overall product is not as refined as an adult’s lesson. Admittedly, this enthusiasm for lesson planning wanes in the teenage years. I always have some easy-out lesson ideas if my older girls are busy or having a grumpy week.
Certain lessons have become yearly traditions for our family. Every year, around the time of our anniversary someone does a lesson on our “family timeline.” We put a long piece of masking tape on the carpet and label the years when our family started (when we got married), and all the important subsequent events. My husband and I tell stories about how we met and our wedding day. The kids love hearing about our lives before they came along and how our family came to be.
On Memorial Day we have a lesson on our family history. Whoever is on lesson reads through our family history stories and creates a family tree or researches one ancestor’s life in specific. It is very important for children to have a sense of where they came from and to whom they belong. Hearing about ancestors and other family members overcoming hardships gives them the strength and security to get through their own struggles.
Another tradition we have started is having someone pick a quote for the week. I’ve created a file folder full of quotes that I’ve gathered or printed out, some spiritual and some not. The quote is read at Family Home Evening and also each night the rest of the week.
Even if you don’t have a religious component to your family meetings you could still have a rotating assignment for a lesson and have that person present information on healthy living, an educational topic, budgeting, or communication. If you are noticing a problem your family needs to work on, you can give a lesson on that (cleanliness, speaking respectfully, etc.).
Bruce Feiler is a bestselling author and public speaker. He wrote a book called The Secrets of Happy Families, which I will discuss more in a future post. He also has a highly entertaining and informative TED talk where he explains how having family meetings can help children grow in independence. I hadn’t previously thought about this specific purpose of family meetings, but it makes sense and is another valuable reason for holding them. He suggests that during family meetings parents should encourage children to plan their own goals, set their own weekly schedules, and evaluate their own work. If you do this from the time children can understand the concept of goals and schedules, they will be in the habit of thinking about their own needs and working on improving themselves continually.
In our family we also have a daily family meeting, which we call family devotional. We sing hymns, read from the scriptures, and have a family prayer. It takes about 10-15 minutes, and it is definitely time well spent. For us, family devotional extends the benefits of the weekly family meeting: we are able to check in with our children, briefly discuss any issues that might have come up, and spend a short amount of quality time with them, showing them what is important to us. I have been so grateful for this habit because occasionally a longer discussion will result from this time together, where our children open up and talk about what is going on in their lives. I know this would not happen if we were not in the habit of spending time together daily.
When your children are little, these family meetings will be short and sweet. Don’t expect too much from young children, and have conversations and lessons that fit their age and stage. Be kind and calm as you encourage them to pay attention or share their feelings. The habit of regular family meetings will bring great rewards as your children get older. Young children tell their parents all about their lives; sometimes parents want them to talk less! But older children don’t share as willingly and are busier, so you spend much less time with them. Having set family meetings that they are expected to attend provides a time to be together and a forum for them to express themselves. I know my family wouldn’t be reaping the blessings of cooperative children and great family conversations during our family meetings if we didn’t hold them consistently, or if we’d been angry and upset about their behavior during the meetings.
The benefits of family meetings are many, whether you hold them weekly, daily, or both. It is so important to take the time to gather members of the family and formally discuss news, problems, and successes. Think of it as a “staff meeting” for your family. Whatever format and content you choose for your family meetings, be consistent with them and over the years you will have a well-run family and a great relationship with your children.