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Why does it sometimes feel like everything somehow falls on Mom’s shoulders?
From meal planning and scheduling to establishing rules and privilege, there’s seemingly always one more thing we need to account for. Many of us plan school schedules, set up household budgets, and determine and reinforce bedtimes and daily routines.
But when you’re the decision maker, every time someone doesn’t like the outcome, doesn’t love the dinner choice, or wants to argue about bedtime or their chores.It can leave us feeling stressed out and stretched thin (even with the most supportive spouses). So how can we give ourselves a break?
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I know this may come as a surprise, but family meetings can actually give you a break by fostering healthy, productive family discussions. Family meetings don’t need to be big productions or highly organized affairs (although they can be). Think of it as just a simple gathering where kids and parents can all express their opinions about family stuff and come to some consensus. Think of it as taking the burden OFF Mom and spreading some of the responsibility around to the rest of the family.
Will everyone always get their way in family meetings? Nope! But holding family meetings to address even the tough stuff like bedtimes, finances, and broken household rules helps keep us all on the same page.
Family meetings also help prevent knee jerk reactions to frustrating situations and keep us from making rash decisions. They help kids know they have a voice, it builds their confidence, and we can calmly talk about our ideas even when we feel impassioned.
Family meetings need not be a hassle. Some families prefer to hold them regularly—a family night once a week, where “town hall” concerns can be raised and addressed. Others hold their family meetings once a month or as needed when issues arise. Feel it out for your family and find what works for you.
Here are some basic dos and don’ts to help your family meetings help you!
Family Meeting DOs:
Do Schedule the Meeting Ahead of Time
Occasionally we might find the need to call an emergency or immediate family meeting, but always give family members a little notice when possible. Even we call the meeting a few hours ahead, it gives our family members a chance to prepare and organize their thoughts.
Spontaneous family meetings might happen from time to time, but we try to limit them to single-issue quick meetings where we can flesh out an answer or figure out a problem together. But if you want to have regular, productive meetings, schedule them ahead of time and even have an agenda in mind.
That said, avoid having a “meeting before the meeting” or calling family meetings as a punishment. You know, the “That’s it, you guys! Everyone in the living room this instant for a family meeting!!” Keep things positive and schedule ahead so both parents can actively participate whenever possible. Not every issue needs a family meeting, but big decisions can be a lot more successful when they’re made all together.
Do Make Sure Everyone is in Attendance
Scheduling ahead of time and even putting it on your calendar can go a long way in making sure all members of the family can attend the meetings. If your kids range in age, you might feel it’s not so important to include younger siblings, but they may be left feeling dismissed and overlooked. Try to find a time when everyone can be part of the meeting.
Do Allow Everyone a Voice
If you have a particularly talkative family or your family is full of strong personalities, it can be very important to implement rules about how speaking will go. Do Mom and Dad address the issues first, talk it through, and then open the floor to kids’ questions and concerns? Do you each take turns talking, and hold something or agree that when one person has the floor everyone else needs to listen? Do you go around in the circle after the topic has been discussed so everyone has a chance to comment?
These are just a few ideas and you know your family best, but by letting everyone have a voice, we can teach our kids just how important they are, and that their opinion matters. It helps them not feel dismissed or overlooked while giving them a chance to be heard without storming off, getting upset or clamming up and staying angry and silent throughout the discussion.
Do Make a List to Stay on Point
If your family has a hard time staying on topic, address the meeting just like you would structure a meeting anywhere else: create an agenda. It doesn’t have to be formal (although, for bigger families, it might help to write it out, or put it on a whiteboard or chalkboard). Simply address the agenda before you start: “In this meeting, I want to talk to you guys about some jobs we need to start doing around the house. I also wanted to talk about the upcoming lunch menus. Then we’ll address the concerns you have about helping the fundraiser at your school and how we’ll schedule it. Finally, if we have enough time, we’re going to talk about ideas for Dad’s birthday.”
Try to end your agenda on a high note or a topic that everyone wants to address and get to. This will help you keep from getting bogged down with long discussions about new family rules or harder-to-deal-with topics.
If one family member feels particularly strongly about a topic or can’t get past it, offer to table the topic for a week or two. Let them know you can see they feel upset about it, and you understand this is important to them. Tell them you want them to try it for a week or two and then you’ll come back to it and see how they feel, or perhaps you can come up with a plan for a different outcome next time.
Do Keep the Budget and Rules in Mind
Every family has rules and limitations. A family meeting isn’t the time to forget your budget, or rules and values as a family. If there’s something you aren’t comfortable with, it’s perfectly okay to hold the parent-veto card. It’s important as parents we know we need to set limitations and it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to let your kids know your family can’t afford something or when it goes counter to your family values or beliefs.
Is every single topic going to be fun and joyful? Probably not. You can keep your approach open and talk about ways you can work together to earn the things you want or budget for big items like a family vacation. Yes, sometimes you’ll have to make sacrifices or give up things, but when you decide to do it together, you’ll have the solidarity to stick to it.
Do Make it Fun!
Fun family meetings—really? Family meetings can be a really fun time, I swear! You can turn it into a game night or an activity together, or have a meeting and then have it blossom into a really great discussion or learning opportunity. Sometimes you’ll be so motivated by the meeting you’ll be ready to tackle something as a family right then and there.
Keep the atmosphere fun and don’t be afraid to even inject a little silliness into the mix. Even if you’re addressing major concerns or serious topics, you can still use it as a chance to bond together as a family and talk about why your family is strong and what you love about each other.
To really make family meetings something everyone looks forward to, include some time for a happy activity, or create a tradition that will make everyone smile—a family chant, a rule that each meeting ends with a dance-off, treats, or a quick, silly story or game. Keep it light and something everyone can look forward to.
Family Meeting DON’Ts:
Don’t Feel You Have to Give In
If you have a family meeting that turns into more of a family mutiny, don’t feel like you have to cave or give in. If you’re the holder of the family budget, and you know the limitations of your group, be strong. Family meetings are about giving everyone a voice, not about giving everyone their way.
Don’t Forget to Start on the Right Note
Some families like to start their meetings with a prayer or a warm-up exercise. Even if this isn’t something your family does normally, consider reading a favorite uplifting quote or having everyone tell a little bit about their day before you start to set the tone for the meeting.
Starting the meeting on the right foot can help you deal with emotional topics and keep temper tantrums and anger at bay. It can remind all family members what you stand for as a family and what your values are. Keeping your mission in mind can help drive your topics and guide your decisions.
Even if you’re feeling frustrated because your kids are fighting or you have to discuss a major budget crunch or something unpleasant, starting out with a positive note and identifying something you really appreciate about your family can reset the tone for the whole interaction.
Don’t Belabor the Negative
Keep things positive. It’s best when we don’t dwell on things that happened, broke, fell apart or the mess we have to fix. Instead, talk about what actions you can take together to make things better. What are you going to do about the concern and how can you assure a better outcome in the future?
Family meetings aren’t the time to tear each other down or start on the tattle train and sling accusations. They’re a time to talk things through, and even if someone has criticisms or frustrations to express, they shouldn’t be the only focus of the meeting.
Take action. Write a plan for what you’ll do next and post it in your family control center. Organize your budget and put a family savings jar up on the shelf. Set the alarm in your phone to go off ten minutes before bedtime, as a reminder so you can have time to read a story before everyone has to hit the hay. If there are consequences to dole out, address them, and talk about what can be done to earn back lost privileges, and how to prevent this issue in the future.
Don’t Talk on an Empty Stomach
My family gets “hangry”…how about yours? No one wants to sit and discuss things when they’re hungry. Tempers can be short and arguments can seem much more intense when our basic biological needs haven’t been addressed. Like food, tiredness and exhaustion can also be a major factor. When we get home from an 8-hour road trip, it’s probably not the time to have a family discussion about behavior in the car.
Never underestimate the power of sleep, a good meal, and a little time to quell people’s frustration and let things come out in new light. If you suspect everyone’s having a case of the hangries, provide a snack and refreshments for your meeting. It’s harder to be upset when you’re crunching away on apple slices or carrots.
Don’t Let Older Family Members Overshadow Younger Ones
In family meetings, older siblings might have bigger issues and concerns, leaving younger kids feeling overlooked or diminished. If you have a range of ages in your family, it’s important that everyone feels they have a voice and ability to express their emotions.
Let younger kids talk and understand their attention span might not be the same as their teenaged brothers and sisters. It’s okay to table a topic or have individual meetings to address concerns like car usage or allowance, if it doesn’t affect the entire family. In fact, your meeting may go smoother if you don’t try to talk about individual problems while younger siblings chime in with their opinions.
Keep family meetings focused on the whole family and the things you need to do and talk about together. Having a meeting can be a great way to build up your family bond and remind you of your strengths and why you’re better together.
When you have a family meeting, always keep it focused on what makes your family great! Family meetings are a wonderful way to build togetherness and allow everyone to be heard. They keep everyone on the same page and remind you that together you can overcome any issue, and tackle any problem ahead!