You don’t have to visit too many mommy blogs to get the picture: moms feel like they just can’t get to ALL OF THE THINGS.
As a mama to five young children, I’m right there with you in the “my cup runneth over…but I’m drowning” boat.
I’m a fairly strong Type A so it baffled me how unorganized and chaotic my life felt despite my best efforts to put it all in neat, color-coded boxes. I’d be struggling to “whip up” a “healthy” meal wondering:
Are the kids learning empathy?
Does anyone in this house know how to physically pick clothing up off the floor?
I thought for sure the PTA meeting was NEXT Tuesday.
What’s for dinner tomorrow? What about the next day and the next day?
Wondering about those things was as far as it was getting. Our family was never moving out of survival mode into actually growing and living well as a family – and it was HARD.
Not feeling like anyone was on the same page was a function of us actually…wait for it…NOT being on the same page. Go figure. My husband and I desperately needed a space to get our act together so we could find shore – and maybe relax on it for a bit – after treading water week after week.
This is where the Family Meeting changed our lives. [This sounds dramatic, yes? Please know that I avoid drama at all costs and would never have uttered that if it weren’t true.]
This is not the family meeting that dad calls to order when stuff hits the fan. Not the old-school, “you kids are acting like jerks, we’re cancelling Christmas,” kind of family meeting.
We put together a simple framework and here’s what we came up with:
meetings will be fun and positive
we will focus on team building with a lot of praise and teamwork
the meeting will be run by the kids (each will have a role)
meetings will be appropriate in length (30 minutes)
From there, we created an agenda and assigned roles. So began our Family Meeting, and since we’ve started, we have less stress, we’ve organized the mess, and everyone yells a lot less (NOTE: I said “less.” It’s not the Leave it to Beaver over here.)
Here’s why Family Meeting is so important:
It Gets Everyone On The Same Page
In any family bigger than two people, schedules get hairy fast; days, weeks, months and years fly by while each family member is holding on for dear life. No individual thrives, which means the family doesn’t thrive.
Getting the family schedule under control is crucial for nearly everything else to fall into place. The old adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is 100% true for us. When you live hour-to-hour, dad’s late meeting catches you off guard and there’s no one to pick up the 2nd grader from karate because you’re at the baby’s well check – and forget about dinner because it’s clearly take-out. Again. Everyone comes home feeling flustered and hurried, and that’s just not good for anyone. When this happens a few times a week, it becomes “normal” for your family. It doesn’t have to be.
During Family Meeting, we go over everyone’s schedules. Mom’s lunch meeting, Dad’s board meeting, 2nd grader’s curriculum night, baby’s well check: it’s all on the calendar, and since everyone is there around the table, none of these events come as a surprise in the middle of the week. You’ve planned a crock pot dinner for curriculum night, and plans are made for picking up the 1st grader from soccer while Mom is at the PTA meeting. Meals are planned accordingly, transportation plans are made ahead of time, and your family finds a seamless rhythm amidst the chaos of real life.
It Promotes Intentional Parenting
If we’re not careful, chaotic mornings, missed homework time or the outright embarrassing behavior at last weekend’s barbecue can become the norm . . . because “we just don’t have time to work on this stuff.”
To build our best possible family, we knew we couldn’t just go with the flow because with five kids, that flow is like something that comes from a fire hose. Instead, we choose to take a very intentional approach to every facet of parenting. It’s not about specific tactics here, but rather a mindset shift about what it really means to do the “job” of parenting. It’s acknowledging that this whole parenting thing is not just a state we’re in, but rather our most important job, and it deserves our full attention.
So, Family Meeting has become the weekly ground zero for intentional parenting. It’s here that we name specific problems and develop solutions: the behavior at that barbecue was embarrassing, we need to reset our homework hour, let’s discuss the plan for more efficient breakfasts – and most importantly, it forces us to celebrate all the good stuff, too. More about that below.
It forces Josh and I to tackle things weekly. It keeps us focused on our number one priority: making money. Just kidding. It keeps us focused on our big, amazing family and how we can keep on being that big, amazing family because it takes constant attention and cultivation.
It Creates Routine That Increases Buy-in
When the kids expect and count on Family Meeting to happen regularly, their investment in the meeting discussions and messages increase exponentially.
After only about one month of regular weekly family meetings, my kids started to refer to family meeting topics during the week. In moments of frustration with her brothers being slobs, Camilla (6) would say “mom, I have something to discuss at family meeting…we have to talk about people just throwing their clothes all over the house.” (Also, girlfriend speaks truth.) Or, when Maddox (4) finally stopped coming out of his room at bedtime (for water, a kleenex, another hug, to report that aliens were stealing his socks, etc.), he exclaimed “Mom! Don’t you wuv how I don’t come out of my woom anymo? We talked about that at famiwee meeting!”.
Now, after more than a year of family meetings, it’s a regular routine for our family. The kids know that this is a time when they’re going to be “publicly” recognized for their efforts (through high fives), where they’ll contribute to the weekly menu, where we’ll have a discussion about something important (what to do when a stranger tries to talk to you) and that their contributions to the meeting will be valued.
It Empowers The Kids
When my kids start acting the craziest, I eventually realize it’s during times when they’ve had zero choices. They’re small humans and they have likes and dislikes so it’s pretty fair that they go nuts sometimes when they’re TOLD what they’re going to eat, what they’re going to wear, where they’re going to go, what activities they’re going to do, what time they’re going to bed and repeat.
We’re not proponents of letting children run free to eat peanut butter cups for breakfast and stay up all night, but giving them reasonable choices increases their buy-in to the family unit.
During family meeting, each child has a role (agenda leader, photographer, family fun planner, family snack planner), which supports individual participation (and worth) in the meeting. Throughout the meeting, we ask the kids for dinner suggestions, things they’d personally like to work on and maybe most importantly solutions to some of our bigger “problems.”
Because the kids run the meeting with minimal parental interference, they feel like these things were talking about and planning are important – and that THEY have an important role in the decisions. It’s a lot easier to call someone out on undesirable behaviors when he’s the one that brought it up at family meeting!
It creates a Positive Family Culture
Everyone wants her family to speak positively to one another and celebrate each other, but it’s never considered something you actually teach – more of something you just kind of hope will happen.
Unfortunately, constant correcting, reminding, nagging and antagonizing seem to come more naturally than the happy, celebratory language we hope for.
The first agenda item at Family Meeting is “High Fives.” When the agenda leader calls on someone to give a high five, he/she shares something positive someone else at the table has done. Sometimes this is the four-year-old high fiving his older brother for not punching him the leg while they played Legos (and really, YAY!), but more often it’s the big sister thanking little brother for helping her clean up the playroom or big brother congratulating little sister on the perseverance she showed on the soccer field last week. (I kid you not, they actually start using these words when they become a part of your regular Family Meeting vernacular).
Not only do high fives encourage the kids to think positively about each other during the week, but they’re also learning how to respectfully interact with one another. We expect our children to be kind and respectful to people they don’t know, but we don’t necessarily enforce that with their siblings. “It’s normal for siblings to be rude and disrespectful to each other” may have some truth, but it doesn’t have to be a family norm and it certainly doesn’t make for a positive family culture.
Family Meeting gives us practice at listening (respectfully) to differing opinions and sharing (respectfully) our own ideas and opinions. This doesn’t mean everyone is delightfully cordial all week, but it does mean that the kids (and parents) know there is a weekly venue that offers a safe place for them to voice concerns and opinions, and that they won’t be ignored or laughed at. The kids really start to feel their individual worth and role in the family, which results in overall positive morale.
Our family isn’t perfect and things sure aren’t always glitter and unicorns, but Family Meeting gets us a bit closer each week . . . at least to the glitter part if Camilla’s running the agenda.
If you’re ready to get your own meeting started, go here to download our free guide.