Creating Family Team

Summer is almost over and it means that it is time to back to the routine of school, work, and busy schedules and in general STRESS!. Under stress it is usually the little things children do that irritate parents the most like leaving dishes everywhere, throwing dirty laundry on the floor, messy rooms, name calling, forgetting chores or constant bickering. By the end of the day parents are worn out and praying for bedtime!

When you are feeling this way it is time to stop and reflect on how your family is working as a team. Do the children seem unaware of the needs of the family or what needs to be done in order for the household to run smoothly? Is one person carrying more weight than another? Are you feeling frustration or resentment because you aren’t getting any cooperation or relaxation time for you? These are just a few questions to consider, but if you answered yes to these questions then it’s time to reunite the family by having regular family meetings. There is no better time to start than during the summer when schedules are more relaxed and there is more opportunity for family time.

The family meeting is essential for creating team and cooperation with your children. It is designed to allow everyone to plan activities, address concerns, and problem solve without arguments. There are some guidelines that must be followed in order for it to be successful.

The first is to decide on a day and time that everyone agrees to meet on a regular basis (one time per week to start). This time should be considered as a sacred time and not interrupted by phone calls, visitors, or last minute chores. Your children will feel the importance of their role and be more cooperative if you treat it seriously.

The second is that no one is required to attend this meeting. It is a privilege, not a requirement. Often I hear parents say with “attitude” “You don’t want to join us? Well, alright! If that’s the way you feel. You don’t want to be a part of this family that’s your choice. Don’t say we didn’t try!” This attitude ends up giving kids justification for not wanting to be a part of the family, especially with regard to teens. These statements will only set you up for blame. Helpful responses to children not willing to join are, “ It’s okay that you don’t want to join us. You can join in anytime you want. We are only here to come up with solutions. Tonight we will be talking about bedtime. Just want you to know, though, that whatever we decide will apply to the whole family, which includes you.” Remember that when you treat your child with respect, that is what you will get back from them.

The third guideline is that a secretary and leader must be picked at each meeting. The leader runs the show by deciding when and what activities to do and keeps everyone on track. They monitor behavior that is not encouraging or feels like a “put down”. When a person’s actions or words are hurtful, sarcastic, or create a negative space, then the leader reminds them to stay positive. The secretary takes notes on the problems being addressed, the solutions, agreement and consequences that have been made. Each meeting there should be a different leader and secretary.

The fourth is that who ever is bringing a problem to the table must own that problem as theirs. Instead of blaming others for why you are angry that no one will help around the house, offer what is true for you. Remember that no one can make you angry, frustrated or happy. You are in charge of your feelings. So own them and offer what is really going on for you. For instance, in the example above, instead of saying, “You make me so angry when you leave your clothes all over the house. What do you think I am, the MAID?”, you could say, “I’m not sure why I feel this way but I feel resentful and angry when there is stuff all over the house. It overwhelms me and I get tired of picking it up all the time. I end up turning into the house monster by nagging, blaming, and controlling you guys. I want to stop this and I need your help. Would you all be willing to help me with this?”

Fifth, is that when voting on solutions it must be done by consensus. That means everyone agrees without being cajoled, coerced, or manipulated into voting the way you want them to vote. When coming up with solutions remember not to vote and/or make any negative comments about another’s solution until all the solutions have been put down on paper. Once you are done brainstorming, everyone can veto whatever solution they don’t agree with until you are left with a solution everyone is willing to agree on.

Sixth, have an agenda board that everyone has access to during the week, to right down problems they would like to share at the meeting. I used to have a dry erase board hanging on my refrigerator. We’d take it down every week and start with the problem at the top.

Seventh, limit your meeting time to no more than ½ to ¾ of an hour. With very small children, just an encouragement feast is enough before they want to get down and go play. It’s not important that they stay. What’s more important is that they watch the process. Teens can last much longer and I advise you to get it all down in writing as well as having everyone sign the agreement as if it were a contract. If you do not have it on paper, teens have a tendency to find loop-holes or defy you. They will be adamant about what they think they heard you say. So keep it in writing!

Start the meeting with an activity that helps everyone to be motivated. An encouragement feast is a nice way to begin and very powerful in connecting your family. Each person has a turn wherein everyone at the table tells something they appreciate or love about that person. At the end of the person’s turn s/he tells something s/he loves about her/himself to the family. Encourage everyone to have a turn. Some people may not be comfortable receiving or giving encouragement. Make sure you let them know it is okay to pass. Eventually they will begin to see powerful and good it feels to be a part of it.

After you have done the encouragement feast move on to sharing a problem. Pick one from the agenda board and have that person share how they are feeling. Then have others share about how they feel about the problem.

Move on to brainstorming solutions and after you have agreed to solution then come up with a logical consequence in case someone breaks the agreement, which includes Mom or Dad. I remember when we had a meeting about our teens being more accountable to the family when leaving or visiting friends. We came up with a consequence for them if they broke the agreement. Then Nicolaas said, “Hey Mom, What happens if you and Dad don’t tell us where you’re going, like the grocery store or movies or something?” That was a real eye-opener for me. We came up with a consequence of having to buy them pizza and a video if we were not accountable to them. Even though it was not related, it was fun and I have to admit there were several times we had to fess-up and buy pizzas and videos. It sure did teach me a lot about modeling the behavior I expect from them.

End the meeting with some fun activity that helps to connect the family. It might be to go out for dessert, play hide-and-seek, or go for a walk around the block. The idea is to keep everyone in positive spirit about family meetings.

If you are thinking that this process is too time consuming and hard, just remember all the time you’ll save from being the house monster. You will be spending more time connecting and less time disciplining. You will be teaching your children the art of negotiation; skills that will be useful for a lifetime. I challenge you all to try this process at least one time. Don’t be surprised if you hear your children say, “Mom when can we have another one of those meetings again?”