Family meetings are essential. Start with scripture, fill with honesty, and then end with laughter.
When Gina and I began to consider the idea of blending our families into one, we decided we would need to rely on an old gimmick of days gone by… the family meeting. In many families, family meetings are only called when there is something really great or really terrible to discuss. These extremes tend to cause kids to dread family meetings and build anxiety whenever they are convened.
Gina and I began to sit down with the kids early in our relationship – long before we were married – to allow the kids talk and be able to express their feelings honestly. Lest you think I’m turning all Dr. Phil on you, kids actually do want to have some forum in which to tell us, and each other, how they really feel.
We now call family meetings regularly. Not once a month regularly, simply whenever we think the kids could use it.
Here’s how we start: In our house, we have a family room that is strictly for people to sit, read and talk. The TV is in another room (the “TV room” of course!). So we all gather in the family room, with Gina and I on a large ottoman in the center of the room. Kids are seated all around us (with five kids family meetings MUST be “in the round!”). This is one instance where kids can sit any way they wish. Slouch, lay down, etc. As long as they are comfortable.
Then I will start by reading a Bible verse that I will have found earlier in the day and that I think might be appropriate for how things have been going in the house lately. (For instance, if there have been issues of kids taking things that belong to their sister or brother, or problems with wanting to watch TV shows that “other kids get to…” but we don’t, etc.)
Then we start. I ask for someone to start by telling us one of their gripes. This can be general or about someone specifically. If no one volunteers, I start asking individuals. Eventually, someone chimes in with a problem they’re having. This leads to more conversation. At some point, the problem resolves and we move to the next gripe. You may think that we’d be there all night, but really, when asked to speak their problems out loud, most kids begin to realize that their problems aren’t that great.
Then I go around and ask the kids to tell me something that they like about things in the family. Even if they start with a material thing (“I like the X-Box…” for instance), that usually leads back to an individual in the family, for whom we are particularly thankful. Soon, the kids are listing the nice things about each other – even the trivial things – and those things outweigh the gripes.
I always look for natural points of ending when the light-hearted stuff leads to laughter. If there are any things that we’ve all agreed to do (changing habits, new chores, etc.) I reiterate them one more time so they all remember and agree. Then we’re done.
On the surface, family meetings seem trite or lame even. They can feel contrived and awkward at first. If you handle them with truth, laughter and love, you will find them to be some of the most valuable moments of your parenting life.