Family Meetings. Woohoo. Or not. Those two words do not rouse most parents into excitement. In fact, they might send you into a state of anxiety. They might be on your list of “should do’s” and things all the A+ parents do. You might even realize family meetings would solve a problem or two in your household, but…
Your kids probably hear those two words and want to yawn.
But who says family meetings have to be awful? Not only do family meetings help build teamwork, solve household challenges, and promote responsibility and leadership in your kids, they can be loads of fun!
What if you and your kids anticipated family meetings with excitement? What if they were the highlight of your week? Come on, dream with me. You can learn to plan and carry out a family meeting that your kids enjoy!
The good news is I don’t think there’s some impossible formula for enjoying family meetings. A few principles and a little bit of creativity are all you need.
What is a family meeting?
A family meeting is when the family meets. Okay, it’s a little more than that because dinner time is not a family meeting. (Although it could be!) A family meeting is any time your family meets to solve problems, plan events, and get on the same page.
If you’ve ever worked in the professional world, you’re probably familiar with these types of meetings. You or your boss calls a meeting, you chat about a problem or an upcoming event, you divvy up the labor, and everyone goes their merry way applying the decisions of the meeting.
A family meeting does the same thing. However, kids probably won’t get particularly excited about the boardroom approach to a family meeting. You’re going to need a more kid-friendly (or teen-friendly) variant.
Our humble beginnings: Fabulous Family Fun Nights
Our first family meeting started when we had two kids, ages 6 and 3. We knew fun must be a component if the kids were to participate willingly. My wife and I announced that Friday would become Fabulous Family Fun Night (or FFFN for short.) Much excitement filled the house!
On the first FFFN, we popped popcorn, had hot cocoa, and watched a Veggie Tales video. After the video, we briefly discussed what kind of family we wanted to be. We talked about teamwork and honoring each other.
Then we briefly talked about more practical day-to-day issues around the house. We identified that laundry, dishes, and rooms were important things for Mom and Dad. Play dates, eating, and free time were the important kid issues. This laid the groundwork for problem-solving about those topics at future meetings. It was chaotic and random, but it was a start!
All my kids are grown now, and I have the privilege of looking back at those years of family meetings. They became a part of our family culture and gave our kids the tools to problem-solve and make decisions that have equipped them well as they have launched to independence.
Why family meetings?
There can be lots of reasons families decide to start holding meetings. Maybe scheduling and planning have become chaotic, or you recognize it’s time to shift more ownership of responsibilities to your kids.
Maybe your family is “humming along” ok, but you don’t sense a clear, God-given identity and calling for your unique family. Family meetings can help with all of those concerns and more!
3 goals for family meetings:
1. Coordinate plans and schedules.
Families today experience a lot of competing scheduling demands: carpools and rides, chores, special events, vacations, and holiday planning. You are busy all week, and then, on Thursday, your daughter asks, “Please, please, please can I ask Joselyn to come over tomorrow?”
That’s how we initially jumped into family meetings. For us, it started as a calendar problem. How could we reign in the craziness of family activities to be the kind of family we wanted to be?
We started by looking at the calendar for the next week and deciding what were the yeses and what didn’t fit and needed rescheduling. When discussing the upcoming week, we would invite our kids to think about who they wanted a playdate with and what day that might work. We would do our best to fulfill their request, but we wouldn’t go out of our way to make it happen if they didn’t plan for it during the meeting. This really helped them learn the skill of thinking ahead.
2. Discuss challenges and grow responsibility
Pretty much every parent experiences that moment when you stop and ask, “Hey, why am I doing this? My kids can certainly do this (i.e., clean up their mess, fold their laundry, take out the garbage).”
One day, my wife and I looked at each other and noticed ourselves doing many things for our kids that they could do for themselves. We also noticed that our kids would plead ignorance or inadequacy to keep us in our enabling roles.
We took a step back and asked, “Whose responsibility is this anyway?” This started our journey of growing a more cooperative family.
We began to pay attention to when we felt especially annoyed or angry with our kids’ lack of responsibility in a specific area. With that awareness, we could ask ourselves another critical question: “Who owns this problem?”
The person most upset by the lack of follow-through on a particular issue is often the one who, by default, ends up “owning” the problem.
When I “own” my child’s problem, I take the responsibility away from my child.
For instance, if my daughter left a mess, I might snap, “When are you going to learn to pick up these toys when you are finished playing with them?”
I clearly have a problem with the toys strewn all over. My daughter? Not so much. She might clean up because I’m upset, but not because she feels responsible.
With this in mind, we began to identify age-appropriate responsibilities for our kids around our house.
At family meetings, we started asking ownership questions:
- If someone makes a mess in the house, who do you think ought to clean it up?
- How could you help make our house run as smoothly as possible?
We began brainstorming strategies that addressed our concerns about messes around the house.
Our kids also learned that they could bring concerns to family meetings to be problem-solved, and this really built a team mentality and a belief that their voice mattered! Even if we made the final decision on something, they felt their voice mattered if they got to give input at a family meeting first.
We have a podcast on this topic!
If you don’t have time to read this whole article, check out our podcast, “Family Teamwork: How To Meet Together as a Family | Ep. 135” for practical advice on how to have family meetings that are both fun AND productive.
3. Develop a vision for your family’s purpose.
Kids hear our words and watch how we spend our time. They form their own life values and priorities based on these observations. Does much of your family life together feel rushed and haphazard? Are you longing for more intentional family time? For a way to be thoughtful about passing on values and faith?
We recognized this need early when our kids were young. Over the years, we discussed our family’s unique gifts and talents and how we could use them to bless other people. We gained awareness of the needs around us and became prayerful about what God was up to. We discussed our family’s most important values and how those values guided our decisions.
Growing a vision toward something beyond ourselves and seeing each family member as a vital part of God’s plan helped us call our kids to something more than the rampant selfishness in the culture around us.
But what did that look like practically? One of our first family meetings began with this question: If our family was the best Hayenga (insert your family’s name) family we could be, what would we be like?
The answers ranged from having chocolate at every meal to playdates every day to helping each other out when help was needed. Our kids were young, so I wasn’t expecting a lot of depth, but it was a springboard to more thoughtful conversations about our purpose.
We regularly tackled a new question, like, “If we were to be the best family we could be (not better than every other family), how would we…
- …do kitchen cleanup?”
- …do conflict resolution?”
- …serve at church?”
- …decide what kind of movies to watch?”
We often added a “weekly challenge” to stretch ourselves. The week our middle daughter decided to opt out of the family meeting was the week we voted in “No TV for the week!” (See Basic Rules for Family Meetings section below.) She never missed another one. 😉
Basic Rules for Family Meetings
Starting with our own family and working with many other families, we’ve developed a few essential rules:
- Everyone gets to be heard. A timer or talking stick can be helpful. Kids learn the vital skills of listening and staying on topic.
- Decisions are unanimous. This promotes unity as children figure out how to compromise. It also keeps kids from voting in “Candy for every meal!”
- Attendance is optional, but all decisions apply to all family members, present or not.
- Spontaneous requests during the week go on the next meeting’s agenda. This decreases the frequency of saying “No” because you say, “Sure, put it on the list for our next meeting!”
- It’s the parents’ job to make it clear what is or isn’t negotiable. For example: Laundry ready by 10am on Saturdays. Or toys picked up before bed at 8pm. Of course, it’s okay for kids to challenge expectations and even influence changes. Still, a primary goal of the problem-solving discussion is to help kids feel empowered about how to meet those expectations.
A template for family meetings
On the first page of the template is a suggested family meeting agenda. Use this as much or as little as you want to keep your family on track.
On the second page, there is a space to track your notes during the meeting. If you have a child old enough, give this job to one of your children.
Download the FREE family meeting template
Connected Families has developed a FREE downloadable and printable template for you to use at your family meetings! You can download it HERE.
Tips for successful family meetings
- Select a meeting time and block it off weekly. Give your kids some options you know will work, ask for their input, and then put the meetings on the calendar. It helps if the meeting is at the same time every week, but if that’s not possible, make sure everyone has plenty of advanced warning since decisions apply to all family members.
- Plan the agenda ahead of time. You can use a chalkboard, whiteboard, or an agenda list in your kitchen. Jot down some notes beforehand about the issues you want to be sure to talk about. If they’re old enough, encourage your kids to do the same. You can even ask your preschoolers to make a list with you earlier in the week (they dictate while you write).
- Start with fun to set a positive tone. A short film and popcorn might be just the thing for younger children. If your kids are particularly rambunctious, start with a bike ride or big muscle activity. For older kids, you can ask questions like “What’s gone well in our family this week?” or “What was everyone’s high moment for the week?” Or you could start family meetings with funny YouTube videos.
- Keep the time short with low expectations. Fifteen minutes might be a good start unless everyone agrees to extend the time. Be accepting of lots of wiggling and movement, offer a snack to help settle their brains while you talk, and roll with whatever happens. This models the “peace of Jesus” in real time! (John 14:27)
- Take turns planning and facilitating. Our kids joined us in taking turns leading the meeting when they were about age 7. This developed leadership skills in each child. Regardless of who facilitates the meeting, everybody can bring concerns or ideas.
- At first, use the meetings to address only one problem area. For example, “How do we want to do the laundry?” Or, “How do we want to work together at meals?”
- Refer back to decisions. Instead of lectures when kids get off track between meetings, you can smile and ask, “What did we decide at the family meeting?”
- Help kids tune in to God’s guidance. The early apostles met to solve a problem facing the early church and recognized God’s partnership with them as they concluded, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” Acts 15:28a. You can pray with your kids and ask God to help you solve challenges in a way that honors all family members.
Two practical examples:
1. When it works well
When our kids entered elementary school, we expected them to have their dirty laundry collected and ready to wash by 10am each Saturday. Everyone understood the expectations, but there seemed to be a problem with “forgetfulness.”
One week we chose laundry as the problem area to address during the family meeting. We asked, “What does everyone need to meet this deadline?”
The kids predictably suggested that we all “try real hard” the next week! As parents, we knew we needed more. So we gently suggested a secondary plan, just in case the “try hard” plan fell through.
The kids requested a “10-minute warning” for everyone. They then agreed that if the clothes weren’t where they were supposed to be at 10am on Saturday, those who were tardy would fold clothes for the rest of the family. We all agreed to the plan.
We discussed how this solution went for everyone at the next family meeting. It went quite well!
Parents determine when it’s time to set expectations and how broadly to brainstorm
My wife and I set the expectation about the laundry. The family meeting gave our kids ownership of how to meet the expectation. The result was that all our kids began taking responsibility for their laundry.
Parents can also choose to lay out the problem and invite group brainstorming. For example, “Mom and I work hard to cook meals. How do you think clean up should be divided so the kitchen gets clean and everyone feels cared about?”
These are healthy parameters for family meetings: You figure out what expectation you want to address or situation you want to brainstorm. Determine those parameters before you go into the meeting. “Clear is kind” and sets your kids up for success at problem-solving.
It’s helpful for young families to start by setting expectations and brainstorming how kids can meet those expectations. The older kids are, the more they need a voice.
2. How to regroup when it doesn’t work well!
Parents of four teens decided to give family meetings a try, but their first one was a fiasco! Mom and Dad had prepared a list of chores the kids should do, and Dad told them the expectations. The kids took the list, headed out to the garage, pinned it up, and used an airsoft gun to turn it into target practice. The oldest son smugly handed the shredded paper back to Dad!
The good news is these parents didn’t give up. In fact, they stayed calm and harnessed their kids’ strengths to make family meetings enjoyable and productive. Here’s their story. If family meetings aren’t going the way you’d anticipated, take hope from reading how they solved their problem.
Yikes! Is all this effort worth it??? We think so!
Another family’s unique version of family meetings:
Here’s what Brittany, a mom of 5 from Virginia, shared with us:
Family meetings have grown our family by giving us space and time to intentionally communicate and deal with problems. Our family meetings are every Sunday, right after family nap time and before a family movie. It’s great to end with something for family fun too.
Our family meetings have an established agenda – prayer, schedule, old business (going over things that weren’t resolved or requests that weren’t fulfilled), new business (questions, comments, ideas, complaints), school report, work report, family movie selection, family fantasy baseball updates. (That’s a new category during the season since we added our 7-year-old to our family fantasy baseball league.)
The coolest part of family meetings is seeing the kids prioritize what they bring up. Throughout the week, they will say something or ask something and catch themselves and tell me that they will just bring it up at the family meeting. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they forget, but it shows me what really matters to them by what they DO remember to bring up.
We have definitely factored discipleship into our meetings very intentionally. When my husband and I see a common character problem, we address it there in a gracious, encouraging way. In recent weeks we moved, so we would intentionally compliment flexibility and resilience with specific examples.
The benefits of family meetings
Your family can benefit in so many ways, just as ours did:
- Grow in heart-felt connection and a deep sense of belonging
- Learn to problem-solve effectively as a team
- Brain-storm family rules based on mutual values
- Clarify expectations, roles, rules, and rewards/consequences
- Prepare kids for wise, compassionate leadership
- Provide emotional support when someone has a challenging week
- Grow a heart for ministry together
- Build confidence by recognizing and building on each person’s qualities and strengths
Over the years, our times together provided lots of opportunities to practice love for each other that is “patient and kind;… not arrogant or rude…. [and] does not insist on its own way” 1 Corinthians 13:4,5
When our oldest daughter was going to college, she said, “Family meetings gave everyone in our family an opportunity to participate and have a voice while allowing our family to stay connected!” That’s a legacy I’m so grateful to have given our children.
So if you don’t yet meet as a family, get started! Keep it simple and fun. Don’t try to do too much at first. And let us know how it goes for you or if you have questions.