Importance of Conducting Family Meetings
Family meetings have the power to clear the air of tension and confusion for all family members. When conducted appropriately, each member feels heard and feels that they have a say in the family happenings and that they belong to the family.
One or both parents need to facilitate the meeting. There needs to be time for each family member to have the right attitude, so some advanced notice is expected. If this is your first “family meeting”, then members should know that in this meeting, everyone will have their opinion heard. Also the emphasis will be on solving family problems. Parents need to have the attitude that they are not 100% right all the time, and will want the insight of all family members. This is a time for parents to be authentic with their own flaws and strengths. If children are expected to conform to a new family rule, then parents need to demonstrate humility, flexibility, openness and forgiveness. Members need to be reminded that only one person will speak at a time and all will listen when someone is speaking. The facilitator may need to emphasis this during the meeting.
Each member in a family meeting has an equal status with the exception of the moderator. To start a meeting, some families start with a prayer, asking God to be present and to give all members wisdom and love. Some families will recite their family mission statement or their struggles that has brought them to this place. But something needs to be presented that will bring the focus to the uniqueness of this family. Maybe a family heritage, family goal or family characteristic should be mentioned. In my family of origin, my dad was 6 feet, 6 inches tall and my mom was 5 feet, 10 inches tall. They had 8 children and we were the large, tall, Curran family. I remember having pride in belonging to this family. We were the “Curran Family”. The goal is to make each member feel a part of something bigger that themselves. That each belongs to a special group of people.
Family meetings can have a wide variety of topics. I mention a few that follows: announcement of a new family member via baby or adoption, the death of an extended family member, having to move, too much fighting, arguing, stealing, or teasing, bad grades, showing a lack of respect for each other, chores, cleanliness, etc., etc. The goal can be to head off any bad feelings about some change that may have happened or will happen. Other goals can be for a smoother running household, stem laziness or correct some infraction such as excess drinking or elicited drug use. The facilitator begins with asking members how they feel about or what they think about the “lack of respect” in the household…have they noticed it…give some examples. This is not the time for the “blame game” or “telling on” big brother or sister. One person speaks at a time so that the problem is well documented. The parents can admit times that they have been disrespectful to another. This will give this meeting a safe place to admit a wrong, to apologize and to forgive.
The facilitator makes sure all get a chance to speak and are listening, even when the youngest in the group is speaking. The facilitator then asks if anyone has some ideas on how to correct the problem or how to make things run smoother. This brainstorming portion has to be open to any suggestion. This can be fun and irritating but important for young people to feel heard. Another question to be asked is “Which of these suggestions would work the best for the whole family?” If there seems to be a consensus and the parents like the idea, then the “nuts and bolts” to implement the plan will be shared. The parents may need to take a time out to discuss the best solution to the problem. It is understood that the parents are the ultimate authority in the home, and will bring back to the family the final solution, thanking all for their valuable input. A time will be set to go back and see if the plan is working and how to correct it if it is not.
If one member does not want to participate, they are allowed to pass. If they are not willing to cooperate with the solution, then a family meeting might need to be conducted on how to deal with the situation. What attitude should the group have toward this individual? How, as a group and as individuals, can we help this individual feel a part of the family? How can the family show love toward him/her and still set boundaries for inappropriate behavior. These can be very valuable lessons for youngsters to learn how to say “yes to the good” and “no to the bad”. (See Boundaries page) Input from a family therapist will help at this point.