Creating a Family Meeting
The Art of the Family Pow-Wow
A family meeting is essential for creating unity in your family. Everyone wants to be heard. It helps us feel like people. The point of the democratic process is to have a voice in the world around you. Even if that voice is tiny and outweighed by the majority, it is still a voice. Kids, husbands, and even us wives can feel unheard sometimes. That feeling can lead to a lot of problems. Hence, the pow-wow.
First, you have to get past the major problem holding you back: time. You feel like there is never time to have a family meeting. The fix: make time. I know it sounds easier said than done, and it can be. The secret is making this meeting a priority. If you prioritize this into your life the “time” will appear in your schedule.
So you’ve made time. Now what? You are worried about what to say in these meetings. The “how,” so to speak. Don’t be. The below outline will keep everything organized and on track. Still scared? Do it anyway! It’s worth the effort. Do it enough and all the wrinkles will work themselves out.
What happens during a family meeting?
- Open with a ritual that is unique to your family. It should be 5 minutes or less. Something simple that you do so that everyone know it’s family meeting time.
Example: We like to open in prayer. Praying together sets us all in a reflective mood. We each get to bring one thing we want to pray for. This way we already share something with each other before moving into the meeting. Not into praying? You could light a scented candle or have a meditative moment to create reflection.
*Decide on this ahead of time between you and your partner. Keep it simple. Keep it the same. This is the one that should not change. Decide and stick with it.
- Agree on a topic ahead of time. Emphasis on ONE topic. Make sure that it is something that can be talked about and concluded in 30 minutes. If you think a topic is going to take longer than 30 minutes to discuss, break it up into smaller parts. Bring one of these parts to the table for each meeting.
Example: We are creating a Family Bucket list. At this week’s meeting we are going to be picking the continent we want to visit. Here is the handout. Take a minute to look it over and then we will talk about the choices.
- If it’s the first family meeting of a new month- give a quick project recap. How far into the project are you? Mention kudos for completed parts of the job.
Example: Last month, we finished pinning our family’s bucket list! Now it’s time to look at ways we can save for that trip! (Open the discussion for ideas)
- Talk. Make sure everyone gets enough time to share all of their feelings without interruption. Remember, the main goal is to be heard and feel heard as a group.
Example: who wants to share which continent that they want to go to first?
*Make sure to affirm everyone’s input. You don’t have to agree with something to affirm it. Just don’t make people feel stupid for having input. Shutting them down doesn’t help your family get stronger.
- Come to a group decision on the topic. It doesn’t have to be unanimous. A majority vote (with parent weight included) is good too.
Example: So three of us want to go to Australia, and one of us votes for North America. So we are going to choose the continent of Australia.
*Even if the decision is to agree to disagree, it’s still progress. Heard people are happy people.
- Have a closing ritual.
Example: If you open the meeting by lighting a candle, let someone blow it out. If you open in prayer, you can close in prayer; and so on.
It is completely normal to be overwhelmed at first. Family meetings don’t come naturally. It is a set of skills. Some are lucky enough to learn it from their parents, most of us need guidance. That’s why you are here! And just like you don’t get mad at baby because she doesn’t immediately know how to walk, don’t get mad at yourself for “failed” family meetings. Accept what happened, make changes to get a little bit better, and move on. This is not about perfection. It is about doing. That’s it. Next week I want you to be better at listening than you were this week, then again the next week, and so on until you before a family meeting master!
Ready to get started? Great! Complete step #1, then keep going. Before long you and yours will be loving this time together.
- Approach your spouse about a family meeting. Empower your husband by saying that you want him to lead the meeting. Give him encouragement to lead your family.
*Butter him up if you need to. Tell him how important he is to you. Show him the course, talk about the goals you want to build together. Give him at least a day to realize that you want family unity and you want him to guide it. Don’t hound him. Men like to think that ideas were theirs. So let him take the credit. This isn’t something you want to do apart; that will only create disunity.
- Schedule a time this week to hold your first family meeting. It needs to be at the same time every week. Pick a time and day that everyone can commit. It needs to be when everyone is awake and unhurried. After dinner on a weeknight worked best for us.
*Don’t let not finding the perfect time stop you from having your first meeting. That can be something you talk about at that meeting so everyone has a voice.
- Establish the rules of your meeting. Get our Printable HERE!
*Just remember to keep the rules short and actionable. If you add rules that can’t be followed or that pick on one particular member of your family, the meetings will turn from fun to a “have to.” The fewer rules the better.
- Have a single topic for each meeting. Make sure that it is something that can be talked about and concluded in 30 minutes.
*If you think a topic is going to take longer than 30 minutes to discuss, break it up into smaller parts. You should walk away from a family meeting with a sense of accomplishment. The best way to do that is to accomplish something in the time frame. Better to accomplish a part of a greater whole than to have the project left undone. Looming projects create anxiety, and that isn’t good for your family! Want a project to start with? Join our Perfect Family Pin Challenge. Already joined? Awesome!
- Let go of your expectations. The center of your family meeting is about being heard and accomplishing one idea/goal. When both are done, so is the meeting.
*If it takes less than 30 minutes, don’t try to fill the time. End the meeting and know that you can do the next thing at your next meeting. It is better to do less and feel good about it than to start a second thing and watch all your hard work evaporate.
- Bring an open mind to your family meeting! A practical way to do this is to let go of your response when other people speak. Just listen to what they say. When others talk we have a tendency of wanting to reply. There are three courses of action you can take:
- a) Interrupt them and say what you were thinking
- b) Hold onto the thought until they are done talking then say what you thought
- c) Let go of the thought and listen until they are finished talking
If you interrupt they will feel hurt and will go on the defensive, even if your statement “agreed with theirs”. It’s human nature to take interruptions badly. We work best when we are allowed to finish something. That includes conversations.
If you actively hold a response in your mind, your brain stops absorbing other thoughts. The part of your brain that holds thoughts and listens is the same. You can only do one or the other. That’s why you will not recall the whole of what they said. Also, conversations move on. By the time they finish, the conversation could be far from the topic you wanted to interrupt with. You are off topic. This is how others know you aren’t listening.
If you let go of your thought and listen, the person talking will feel heard. You will also understand them better because you listened to everything they had to say. This is where the magic of family meetings comes into play.
The people in your family may or may not get their “way” at the end of the meeting, but if each person follows example (c) from above, they will feel heard. That alone builds unity. Unity brings change. A trip where everyone is unified and wants to be there is more fun.
The Joyful Journeyer
P.S. You can’t change other people. You can only change yourself. By actively working on (c), you are setting an example for your whole family. Eventually, your husband and kids will catch on and you will lift them up. Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. Active listening is a skill. Like anything else, you need to practice it. If you do, things will get better. Put these tips into action. Check out this post about working on a family dream vacation together as the topic of your next family powwow HERE.