I know. I know. I can hear the collective groans emanating across cyberspace.
Most folks resist the idea of having regular family meetings because they seem so forced, structured, and well — let’s be honest here — super freaking cheesy.
I get it. But now that I’m a dad, I’m starting to whistle a different tune. I want to create a positive family culture within my own family. I want my kids to feel like they’re part of a team that has their back no matter what.
But that sort of stuff doesn’t just happen. If you want to foster a successful family, you have to father with intentionality.
The Benefits of a Family Meeting
Solves problems. Instead of having a family that walks on eggshells around an obvious problem that never gets resolved because no one wants to talk about it, weekly meetings can be used to eliminate the tension and hash out the issue.
Reduces stress. By providing an opportunity to sync calendars and get everyone in your family on the same page about what’s going on in the household, weekly meetings can greatly reduce the stress that often plagues modern families.
Builds family solidarity. A family that meets together stays together. Dedicating time each week to teach, plan, and have fun as a family will build a firm foundation of solidarity that’s able to withstand life’s storms.
Boosts fathers’ confidence and purpose. Many men want to be a leader in their homes, but aren’t sure how, and family meetings allow men to exercise this leadership in a concrete and tangible way.
Reinforces family culture and values. Family meetings offer a regular opportunity to explicitly teach the principles you want to instill in your children as well as discuss how to apply them in real-life situations.
Teaches children vital life skills. Just by taking part in regular family meetings, your kids will pick up important life skills like problem solving, planning, conflict resolution, and communication.
How to Plan and Execute a Family Meeting
You can be as formal or informal as you want with your family nights. Every family is different, so use your discretion to decide what will work best. Here are some general tips and guidelines to help get you thinking about how you’d like to plan and execute your family meetings.
Take the lead. I realize it’s not considered kosher to say things like “head of the household” anymore, but in my experience, many, many women would still love for their husbands to take a leadership role in the home.
Shoot for once a week. Aim to have a family meeting once a week. Pick a time that doesn’t conflict with anyone’s schedule.
Make it a priority. Even though you should take your schedule and kid’s activities into consideration when choosing a regular time to hold your family meetings, once you have done so, make following through and having your kids attend as non-negotiable as possible. Commit to consistency.
Establish a general agenda. Having a rough outline of what you’ll do at each meeting will make planning easier. And knowing what to expect makes the meeting more bearable for your family. Below we provide a template. There are no set rules here – you can follow this to a T, adapt certain elements, or do something completely different.
- Open the meeting. Create a ritual you always use to open the meeting. Start with a prayer or a song, or read your family’s mission statement aloud.
- Teaching time. Each week dedicate 15 to 30 minutes to teaching or discussing a topic important to your family. No need to be heavy-handed with the teaching — keep it engaging for everyone. More tips on what you can do during teaching time are here in the original post.
- Sync calendars. Each member of the family lets each other know what they have on their agenda for the coming week.
- Family review and retrospective. An important principle of agile development is the weekly “review and retrospective” in which teams get together to discuss issues and make action plans based on changing circumstances.
- Ask if anybody needs help with anything. After discussing problems that you’re family is facing as a group, dedicate some time for individual family members to bring up personal problems they could use some help on.
- Have fun! Every family meeting/night should end with something fun. What constitutes fun will vary from family to family. Play video or board games together. Take a walk. Shoot slingshots. Make pizzas. Whatever floats your family’s boat. Including, quite literally, root beer floats.
- Close the meeting. Have a closing ritual too. Sing a song, do another prayer, have a family hug or cheer, or do a combo of such things. Always try to end on a positive note.
- Eat a treat. Knowing a delicious cookie or bowl of ice cream awaits at the end of the meeting gives everyone something to look forward to, and for kids can be used as an incentive for having good behavior during the meeting.
Be flexible too. You don’t have to plan or solve problems at every meeting; sometimes you should just dedicate the entire family time to having fun. On the other hand, there will be times when you’ll need to dedicate the whole meeting to resolving problems and forego the fun. Be flexible and adapt as circumstances necessitate.
Get everyone involved. Don’t make family meetings a one-man show. Try to get everyone involved as much as possible.
As your kids get into their elementary school years, assign them responsibilities during the family meeting. Remember, one of the goals of family meetings is to instill important life skills in your kids. Don’t deny them these opportunities by being a family meeting tyrant.
Vary the length depending on how old kids are. It’s tempting to decide you won’t have family meetings until the kids leave the toddler phase, but I think it’s good to start instilling the tradition, even if in a compressed form, while they’re young.
Don’t have high expectations. Parents have this image in their minds of their kids sitting quietly on the floor paying rapt attention to dear old dad smoking a pipe while dispensing sage advice on life next to a fire. Afterwards the family laughs and laughs as they eat banana splits.
Of course that’s not how it goes.
Kids moan and groan about coming to the meeting. Instead of discussing family issues calmly, pandemonium ensues. When you’re trying to teach some important principle, your toddler is sticking Legos up his nose.
Even if your family meetings are less than idyllic, there’s still value in holding them.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Go into your family meetings with reasonable expectations. Expect a little chaos from time to time and just do what you can. Just because you don’t see a benefit immediately, doesn’t mean you haven’t sewn some amazing seeds that will bear the fruit of family love and personal character down the road.