Family Meetings | Parent Allies

What is a Family Meeting and why do I need one? | PARENT ALLIES

“I think we need to have a family meeting about this” my daughter, Ramona, 8, sighed with exasperation. The next morning we gathered around the fire with a plate of biscuits, four cups of tea and a talking piece. Anyone in our family can call a family meeting and we fit it in the next moment we are all present.Family Meetings | Parent Allies

WHAT IS A FAMILY MEETING?
Family meetings are where all members of the family get together, where all opinions can be heard and collective decisions can be made.

WHY HAVE A FAMILY MEETING?
There are ton of different reasons you might bring Family Meetings into your home. Family meetings are perfect for families who want to

  • shift the power dynamics of their family home into a more democratic, power sharing model
  • create a home life where all voices are heard and respected
  • create more space for developing their specific family culture
  • help their children articulate their needs in a slightly more formal setting
  • help their children get comfortable with democratic processes

WHEN SHOULD WE HAVE A FAMILY MEETING?
Some people advocate weekly meetings to keep on top of feelings and decisions. Some people choose to have them simply when a need arises. It’s up to you!

WHERE SHOULD WE HOLD OUR FAMILY MEETING?
In conflict resolution the “where” can be really important! Sometimes this is the case for family meetings too! Ideally it’s a place that feels neutral and comfortable for everyone. If family conversations have a history of being quite fraught then you might choose to step into a new place with no pre-conceived expectations. For example- the dining room table might already have a lot of history and associations for your child, so you might choose to set up some bean bags and a picnic in the garden as a way of demacating it as a positive and lovely experience.

WHAT DOES A FAMILY MEETING ACTUALLY INVOLVE?
We are grateful for the First Nations people who have gifted the world with the concept of a Talking Piece. The idea of a talking piece is that whoever holds it is speaking, and whoever isn’t holding it is simply listening with an open heart. We love to use the Talking Piece (it’s a strange and beautiful piece of pottery at our place instead of a stick) for our family meetings.

At it’s most simple a problem-focused Family Meeting will involve:

  • Opening the circle with a reminder that only the person who has the Talking Piece is speaking
  • Raising the subject for the meeting, ask someone to give more details about why the meetings has been called.
  • Passing the Talking Piece around so that everyone can share their thoughts
  • Opening the circle for solutions and ideas
  • Trying settle on a solution. Often times this happens easily. But you might want to consider introducing consensus if you get stuck in a stalemate. Consensus decision making might look like a) unanimity – discussing until you are all in agreement or b) majority- going with the view held by the majority of participants. If you are super keen to look at all the models of consensus and the processes involved you can do that here.For more general or weekly Family Meeting let’s turn to the Big Life Journal who suggest:” Generally, it can cover:
  • a brief opening activity
  • discussion time (reflections on the previous week and considering the upcoming week)
  • positive closing activity

Of the many great options for opening your family meeting, consider those that increase gratitude and recognition of each family member’s strengths and challenges. You can:

  • Share “roses and thorns” or “sweet and sour” events of the day (what went well and what was difficult for each member)
  • Choose a Three Seas Conversation Cards  question from a jar or a growth mindset quote that everyone can respond to
  • Give compliments (thank a family member for something they did, or say what you like about your family or a specific member)
  • Sit in a circle and hold hands or light a candle together

FAMILY MEETING CASE STUDY:

Let me introduce Makeba and her family who utilise family meetings, a British family of four who moved across the world in January 2019 from London to Silicon Valley in Northern California.

“My husband works in tech and I am now a full time unschooling mom, which means that our son (6) and daughter (4) don’t go to school. Instead, they are free to learn naturally at their own pace, about whatever they are interested in. Their current interests include anything related to Mario and Minecraft, learning “Just Dance” routines, being read to, making street art with chalk and correcting my husband and I whenever we use British English instead of American English!

My husband and I have always been intentional about trying to create a family culture where the children feel their voices are heard and their opinions are valued. However, soon after our move I felt incorporating a regular family meeting would help to demonstrate this to them in a tangible way, especially as we were all experiencing such a huge transition. A few weeks later I came across a simple template for family meetings from Big Life Journal, and put it into action!

Initially we followed the Big Life Journal template to the letter but found the kids got a bit restless, so we tweaked it and cut out a few things to make it shorter (15 mins). The agenda is generally comprised of four things: reflecting on the previous week, talking about plans and goals for the coming week, any other business and then rounding up with an affirmation that we talk about and put on display on a letter board in the living room. The other key ingredient for a successful family meeting is snacks!

For us the important values lying within the concept of family meetings include transparency, making democratic decisions as a family, reducing the power gradient between adults and children, encouraging reflection and celebrating achievements (not just academic ones). As they get older I would love to introduce the idea of a weekly budget and get the whole family involved in deciding how the money is used. Family finances were always hidden behind a veil of mystery when I was growing up, which left me with a lot to learn as an adult. I’d like to try and ensure our kids are better prepared to make solid financial decisions way before they reach adulthood.

One recent very practical (if slightly unusual) example of a family meeting topic was to discuss our emergency plans in case of an earthquake! We live very close to a fault line and earthquakes are not unusual in California. We reminded ourselves of what to do immediately if we feel tremors, where our emergency bags are, where we would meet if we were split up etc. We occasionally revisit this topic with YouTube videos explaining the cause of earthquakes and child-friendly advice about emergency preparedness. The meeting provided a good forum to discuss any worries or questions the kids had, as earthquakes were never something we had to consider in London!family meeting | parent allies

As time has passed we have realised that at the moment a weekly meeting isn’t always practical, so if we need to miss a week or two, or the kids really aren’t keen, that’s fine. Enforcing a rigid schedule isn’t really our style, and would likely only make us all resent the meeting rather than appreciate and value it.”

Thanks, Makeba and kin! You can keep up with their adventures on Instagram.com/multiformityhe

QUICK FIX?
Family meetings aren’t a quick fix to your family’s problems. Whilst they do create an environment where all family members can come up with solutions and often you do leave with that quick fix,  more importantly they are a way of embodying a power-sharing model in your family.

~

I told Ramona I was writing about Family Meetings and I asked her what she thinks I should say. Here are her words, exactly: “I’d recommend Family Meetings to grown ups, as they’ll help you understand what’s going on in your family.”

I couldn’t really say it clearer myself!

No Comments

Leave a Comment