Something that a lot of parents complain about today is that they have difficulty connecting with their family as a whole. While many cite busyness at school and work or technology as the biggest culprits, it is often the lack of an established family routine, such as a family meeting, that is missing.
Thankfully, if one is willing to try, one can still establish a family meeting at home so that family members can discuss important family issues and understand one another better.
The Importance of Family Meetings
Similar to other organizational meetings, the family meeting is meant to be a helpful way to ensure that family members are aware of the current status of the family, the goals the family may be working towards, and the concerns members may have. It also serves as an avenue to encourage one another during difficulties or acknowledge the success of family (e.g. good grades, work promotion).
But just like other organizations, not everybody is enthusiastic about meeting together. Oftentimes, a family meeting is called because of big changes in the family status or because of negative actions by members. This is why many, particularly the teenagers or young adults in the family, would rather shy away from such a gathering, preferring instead to be “updated” via mobile phone.
Benefits of Meeting Together
Fortunately, the positives of a family meeting together usually outweigh the negatives. The following are some benefits of conducting a family meeting:
- The children, both young and old, get to observe how healthy discussions are conducted (e.g. waiting for one’s turn to speak, sharing ideas respectfully, or handling disagreements).
- The children feel that they are important as they participate in the family discussion.
- The parents get to understand their children more (especially the teens!) when family issues are discussed.
- All members are updated on the status of the family (e.g. finances, major health issues, possible changes in the family direction).
- All members have a chance to air their sides on key family issues.
Establishing the Family Meeting
Though it may seem awkward at the start to have to “officially” gather the family for a meeting, one must remember that such a meeting is important for the family as a whole.
Start off with something positive
If something new is being established, it always helps to make that first occasion a happy one so that family members view it in a positive light. For those with young children, it can first begin as a game night together where everybody just has fun together.
For those with a mixture of younger and older children, it might be an initial meeting about something good, such as plans for the holidays or something nice that will be added to the house.
Establish the meeting’s rules
In the second meeting, things can become a bit more serious with parents explaining the purpose of the family meetings and setting up a list of rules so that everybody is respected.
Some examples include: no gadgets during the family meeting, use of respectful language (no swear words), a time limit for the meeting so that children can stay focused, and the use of a “talking stick” (or other marker) so that members can respect one another and listen when someone is talking.
It is always a good idea to allow the children to participate in making the rules (even if not everything will be viable or logical) so that they too can feel they helped in establishing the meeting. This makes it easier to remind them later on when violations occur that they were part of the original process which is why they too need to follow.
Agree upon when and where
Another step that may be done in the second or even third meeting is to determine when and where to hold the family meetings. Some find it helpful to have them once a week or every other week; while others find it better if it is just once a month.
The frequency usually depends on the current stability of the family and if major decisions may be coming up soon. It is also good to establish the need for an “emergency meeting” for urgent matters. Defining these beforehand will allow the other members, especially the younger ones, to get used to the idea and not be unnecessarily rattled when the situation arises.
Although many believe that family meals are a very convenient time to hold them, oftentimes younger members are distracted by the food. It is usually best to hold a family meeting when everyone is well fed and still wide awake.
The morning time on the weekends, just after breakfast, is a good option as well as the early afternoon after lunch. For the weekdays, assuming that everyone is at home, this could be in the afternoon an hour or so prior to dinner.
The location and setup are also important. A family meeting in the living room where people are all comfortably seated usually works well. The dining table, with no food on it, is also another option. Such areas promote “neutrality” as compared to holding the meeting in someone’s bedroom. Furthermore, when meeting, ensure that everyone is sitting down to avoid feelings of superiority or negativity which often occurs when a family member is standing.
Though not always necessary, some families do assign a “secretary” to keep track of family discussions. This can be quite helpful if the parents have a series of agendas that they would like to bring up. The secretary, however, does not always have to be a parent. It may be one of the teens as this can serve as an example to the younger ones about accountability and trust.
The family may also have other options to make the family meeting a unique experience. Many families prepare something special after the meeting, such as a family movie or a special dessert, so that there is something to look forward to after – though this should never become more important than the meeting itself.
Conducting the Family Meeting
Although there is no one way of doing things, it is always recommended to begin and end on a positive note. What occurs in between depends on the family and the circumstances.
The following are some suggested steps:
1. Revisit the rules
A quick review of the dos and don’ts is always helpful, especially if kids are quite young or if the family meeting occurs once a month. This enables everyone to remember the necessity of taking turns and respect.
2. Share personal blessings
A good way to start off positively and to become updated on family members’ lives is for each member to share a blessing that has occurred to them since the last family meeting. For the kids, this can be about school, extracurricular activities, friendship, or even a great show they were able to watch on TV. For the parents, this can be about work, hobbies, or aspirations.
Such a practice allows family members to feel good about what has happened to them and to the family as a whole. It also makes them more aware of the blessings, big and small, that they have experienced, making them more aware of God’s blessings.
Not only is this is a good way for parents to monitor the growth of their children as they share the good things happening to them, but it is also a way for the kids to become more involved in the life of their parents, something that kids will usually not inquire about.
3. Intentionally make emotional deposits
A very important thing parents ought to do while the family is sharing is to make “emotional deposits.” This means reaffirming the good things in their lives so that the children feel their parents’ love and approval. This can be a high five, loving hug, pat on the back, or simple expressions like, “Great job!” or “I’m proud of you!”
These deposits are very crucial as they build up the children’s self-worth and trust in their parents. Having enough good deposits (affirmation, praise) then makes it easier for the child to accept withdrawals, such as corrections or punishments, when necessary. Without enough positive deposits, discipline becomes harder as the child will always feel that they are being singled out or that they are not truly loved.
4. Observations and/or Discussions
After sharing the individual blessings, the current, positive direction of the family can be discussed. This may be about goals mentioned in a previous meeting (e.g. updates on the family budget, preparations for the next vacation) or about growth in the family (e.g. better family habits, good grades).
However, when discussing the good changes in individual members, it is important to find something positive to say about ALL members so that no one feels left out or unimportant. Though this requires much thinking and preparation, it is necessary to ensure a strong bond within the family.
Once done, if there is something big looming on the horizon (e.g. budget cuts, change in job, health issues), this is the best time to bring it up and take suggestions or field questions that may arise. Because the family is in a happy mood, discussing big changes will be emotionally easier than when starting off on a sour note.
If no major decisions are at hand, then it may be time to discuss family changes that need to be made. This could be about household chores, individual spending, or just getting along with one another. Sometimes this can be discussed in a general manner, but other times certain individuals may have to be called out.
In such instances, the parent should balance the good and the bad. Remind the family member, usually a child, about their good points before tackling the bad.
For example, rather than rattling on about the necessity of finishing chores, it may help to say, “Son, while I am very happy about your dedication to the basketball team, you need to remember that finishing your chores is also important. Athletes know the value of discipline, and this means attending practices while finishing homework and chores.”
5. Be open, yet firm
Although most parents desire that their children will simply obey, this is rarely the case, especially for older children. Parents need to be ready for complaints or suggestions coming from the family.
To avoid looking like a dictator, it is good to be open to ideas from family members. Sometimes they may even see the problem in a different light, allowing for a better compromise.
But if the family member is truly in the wrong, it is necessary to be firm. Setting up clear family boundaries is necessary for healthy emotional growth. Here, it may be good to elicit support from other family members. Similar to how peer pressure works, the pressure within the family can also get an erring member to conform to what is right.
6. End on a positive note
Before dismissing everyone, it is important to end things on a positive note. A final, encouraging observation about the family, in general, goes a long way to ensuring that the family meeting is viewed positively. It can also be helpful to end in prayer, thanking God for the love and blessing of family.
Dealing with Major Conflict in the Family Meeting
Today’s society places an emphasis on voicing out one’s opinions. While this is generally good, it can also lead to major conflict as family members may have strongly opposing views or attitudes.
Using “I Feel” Statements
One way to deescalate the tension is to use “I feel” statements as these better promote understanding and empathy from others. For example, rather than saying, “You never listen when something important is being said;” one can instead say, “I feel sad that no one is listening when I say something important.”
In this way, the members being spoken to are not directly “attacked.” This may then allow them to absorb the statement more rather than taking a defensive position where they are more likely to reject suggestions or criticism outright.
As parents, it is important to always take control of the meeting, especially when there is conflict. One way is to use a time out if things become too heated. Allowing everyone to take a breather for 10 minutes or so can prevent harsh, meaningless words from being said. Hopefully, when emotions have calmed down, a resolution can be made.
But if the topic seems to be too difficult to resolve, it should be postponed to another time so that the current meeting can proceed. One needs to be sure, however, that something is done to address the postponed topic in the near future to prevent resentment from building.
Allow Others to be Heard
When things become heated, many parents resort to seizing all control of the meeting. Not only is this unfair, but it also teaches the children the wrong way to deal with conflict.
Parents should still allow other voices to be heard, even the young children, as there may be other ideas that can help solve the problem. The voices of others may also remind one another that family is more important than particular viewpoints, helping to defuse the emotional situation.
Seeking Christian Counseling for Family Issues
Regular family meetings are important since they strengthen the sense of belonging and teamwork within the family. Additionally, in this age of impersonal communication through technology, family meetings allow face-to-face interaction amongst members, keeping the family truly in touch.
However, not all parents feel confident about starting such meetings either because they never experienced such or because there is already a crisis in the family that prevents members from meeting as one. In such instances, it is beneficial to seek professional help from a Christian counselor.
If the situation is just about getting started, one appointment with a Christian counselor may be enough to gain the confidence and techniques needed to begin. But if the situation is already quite serious, Christian counseling can help mend the broken bridges within the family through the use of the latest therapeutic techniques.
Most importantly, the faith-based counselor will seek to connect the family – be it the parents or the entire brood – to the love and mercy of God through a strong relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. With much prayer, discussion, and meditation on Holy Scripture, the family will have a better understanding of our God and His intention for Christian families. This is a very crucial step towards harmonious family life.
If you or a friend needs help in establishing regular family meetings for better family functioning, seek help soon. With God’s divine wisdom and help, families can be transformed into what He meant them to be.
“Family”, Courtesy of Laurel Harvey, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “FamilyTime”, Courtesy of David Amsler, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Family Gathering”, Courtesy of Daria Shevtsova, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Shoes”, Courtesy of Denis Cardoso, Unsplash.com, CC0 License