Holiday Family Meetings
The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.
– Anthony Robbins
Have you ever worked for an organization in which you called your work colleagues friends or “family”? I have had that great fortune several times and in those cases, I have always looked forward to staff meetings. It was a time to check in with everyone and hear about the good work they were doing. The thought of meetings for some has a strong negative connotation since most of us have sat through boring, lecture-loaded gatherings that seem to drone on and not accomplish much. However, the idea of family meetings represents quite the opposite. A family meeting can take place in a short amount of time, contribute to your feelings of connectedness, introduce new energy and create the opportunity for sincere dialogue.
At our home, December consists of professional travel, family gatherings, Christmas decorating, gift buying and creating, friend and work parties, school activities, volunteering and end of year work and school deadlines. This year, it also included a sick kid to kick off the season. No matter which holiday you celebrate, December typically contains a flurry of activities. Amidst all these extras, it may be harder to fit in dinner together as a family or time when you are all together without busy agendas. A family meeting may feel like you are adding one more thing to the list but I suggest it may save time preventing arguments, confusion, frustration and miscommunication as you go about following through on your many responsibilities this season.
A well-run family meeting can
- Promote a sense of family connectedness
- Provide opportunity for effective communication
- Allot time and energy to problem solving as a family
- Help each member work together as a team
- Ensure that each person is seen, heard and feels like a valued contributor
- Provide valuable practice in social and emotional skills such as listening, cooperation and problem solving.
Numerous parenting experts have recommended family meetings. One of my favorites, Jane Nelsen of Positive Discipline writes about being aware that it will take children some time to get onto this new routine. They may need to be taught some skills in the beginning in order to be able to fully participate. She recommends not trying this with children four years old or younger since they will likely not have the attention span or skills to fully participate. If you have older and younger children, you may want to try a meeting with the older family members after the little ones have gone to bed.
I’ve created my own simplified agenda that you may try for your family. Allow approximately twenty minutes. Because the idea is to create fun, promote connection and ensure each person feels they are contributing, work on creating a relaxed and easy atmosphere. Have snacks ready. Or plan to include it in your pizza night. Try the following.
1. Gathering – Get everyone into the meeting space by doing a quick gathering that allows for fun and connection and designate that the meeting is beginning. You might try
- Producing a funny face – each create a different funny face
- Singing a favorite song together
- Making up complimentary nicknames for each other and greet one another using them
- Sharing high fives and fist bumps with each person
- Making up a secret family-only handshake, cheer, song or pledge of allegiance
2. Sharing Appreciation – What is one thing each person is grateful for?
3. Problem Solving – This will require some practice. Use the first meeting as a teaching opportunity. Use easy, low risk problems in those first meetings to allow time for developing skills and understanding the process. Make sure that the problems can be resolved collaboratively. If a problem is suggested for the meeting that involves a hard and fast rule (safety issue?), then this is not the appropriate forum for it.
For the first meeting, you’ll want to ask each person to think about a problem that the family might be able to address together. You may need to offer the first several problems to provide a model for the rest. Practice brainstorming solutions so that all members understand how to brainstorm. Remember the rules of brainstorming? Creativity is encouraged. Piggybacking on other ideas is good. No judgment or criticisms allowed. All ideas should be voiced. This first time, pick an easy problem.
“We are getting lots of solicitors at the door (political requests, donation requests, sales). How should we deal with them?”
Allow each person to give his or her ideas. Be sure and write all the ideas down (and you can trade the recorder role each meeting). Review the ideas and see what you can all agree upon. And decide who, when and how you’ll try the solution out. You can revisit how it’s going in your next meeting. This often also allows for conversations about your values as a family. How will you represent your values through your decisions for action in your problem solving?
For future meetings, ask the family to be thinking about problems that they would like to address in the meeting. They can put their problem idea on a sticky note for the refrigerator or any general message pile you have in your household. This allows for each member to contribute and helps bring new ideas to each meeting.
4. News and Announcements – What’s happening for each person in the coming week? What is one thing that is consuming his or her thoughts? How can we support them?
It’s ideal if your meeting can lead into a fun activity for the family but it’s not necessary. Just this short time of connecting can be a helpful wellspring of connection for a busy family. Try out a weekly family meeting during this holiday season. If it’s successful and you see the benefits, continue it monthly or even weekly in the new year. Particularly during the holiday season, amidst many extra commitments and responsibilities, a weekly connection in the context of a family meeting could ensure that your holiday is cooperative and joyful.
For more on facilitating problem solving with children, check out “Working It Out.”