Today families are constantly managing stressful obligations that are often pulling them in various directions. With demanding work schedules, school commitments, playdates, practices, and social events, taking time to discuss the needs and expectations of family members requires intentional planning and structural focus. In my practice, I often encourage my families to participate in family meetings. Whether it is a family meeting that focuses on planning a trip, a discussion about if the family will purchase a dog, or to work out family problems, the objectives of the meetings are to have joint conversations and to support each family member so that everyone feels connected. These objectives demonstrate how important family members are to each other during the good times and the challenging times. These types of meetings are an exciting way to stay connected and ensure all family members feel heard and supported.
For this article, I discuss three reasons why family meetings are important by describing objectives that promote communication, problem solving, and activities that bring families together.
1. Family meetings encourage clear and consistent communication.
Parents need to take on a leadership role and create clear communication patterns that are direct and consistent. They must be prepared to share only pertinent information with their children. This time can be used to discuss matters such as scheduling important events, what needs to be done around the house, and discussing how to calmly resolve a family conflict. Whatever parents decide to do, roles need to be clear and there must be a commitment to the process. Parents should use this time to not only talk at their children but also allow their children to ask questions and share. Children should also be given the opportunity to share their opinions even if their parents do not agree. By doing so parents are establishing healthy lines of communication.
Each meeting may include a theme or main take away that the family can work on throughout the month. Some families have used this time to implement healthy eating. Other families practice new skills such as staying attuned to the feelings of their children by remaining open about thoughts and concerns in a much more open manner.
2. Family meetings help families to discover what they are doing well and what needs improvement.
It is important that families use this time to both work out challenging situations as well as celebrate accomplishments. When it comes to working out challenging situations, the meeting is not an opportunity to reenact what occurred during the week. For example, rather than focusing on a disagreement about what your daughter wore to school, I encourage the parents to talk about what was learned and what can be done differently next time. I also encourage parents to give space to the daughter to express her feelings and offer her options so that she does not feel the meeting is only for her parents. I emphasize that the main point to remember is to reflect upon the values and search for solutions moving forward.
Although all meetings may not have positive endings, do not give the problem more space than necessary. Rather, I encourage families to see that despite the disappointments or the issues, they do not have to allow difficulties to control their emotional wellbeing. To this end, I teach parents and children how to deal with their emotions by addressing them first before moving on. Rather than view the problem as located within the person, I help them view the problem as external and that we are doing our best to deal with it. In the end, I emphasize that they find a solution and move on.
In addition to working out the disagreement, these family meetings are also an opportunity to celebrate special moments and talk about what went well for the family.
3. Family meetings solidify fun unique traditions that bring family members together
Following the family meeting, I suggest that families have a family night. Parents often ask me if this time together as a family needs to be an expensive outing. My response to them is always the same- quality it greater than quantity. I suggest inexpensive activities such as game nights, bike rides, or a ritual to bring the family back together on the same page. I believe that it is more important that parents spend time listening to and giving their children attention rather than spending money on expensive activities. At the end of the day, spending money on expensive activities will not make a difference because what children will recall is the quality time that was spent together, not the money spent. Depending on the size of the family, each child should have a chance to choose a fun activity that represents the individuality, vision and familiarities of this family member.
Carole Sandy provides couple and family therapy to families with stress in their relationships.