Strengthening the family bond can prove to be challenging even for the most dedicated parents. One of the best tools to achieve this goal is holding a Weekly Family Meeting. In my years of practice this has proven to be one of the most effective and bonding things families can do to create greater harmony and experience more depth and connection with those they love.
The goals of the Weekly Family Meeting are to help you communicate better, bring everyone closer together and to have some fun. The support and understanding that come from these gatherings creates more love and harmony. Here are some simple guidelines to help you get started. Remember that all families are different and not every step is exactly right for yours, so be creative and add to these guidelines when necessary.
1. Keep it up-beat. Just talking together as a family is something that will make everyone involved feel better. Talk about the good things that happened during the week and ask the kids about the funniest thing that happened at school or around the neighborhood. Remember to keep your sense of humor and don't be afraid to laugh out-loud. The Family Meeting is about communication, which will lead to better connections between family members, and it's much easier to communicate when you're having a good time.
2. Don't try to control participation. Let everyone in the family join in, but don't expect children who are three and under to participate fully and do expect a few challenging moments. While encouraging attendance for teenagers, don't make it compulsory. In a very short time they will attend just to see what they may be missing - and make a bit of a fuss when they do attend. Also, make sure you don't talk over the heads of your kids by keeping things simple.
3. Encourage every person who lives in the home to join the meeting. If you live with in-laws, other relatives or a nanny they are all part of the family and so they need to be part of the Meeting. Make sure everyone involved gets some air-time. If one member is not talking use some gentle questioning to get him or her to open-up. For example you could simply ask the person, "What was the best thing that happened to you this week?"
4. Be creative with the meeting space. Find a place where everyone is comfortable, the kitchen or dining room may be best for this. Don't be afraid to experiment with different locations such as the back yard or even a park. If things are tense around the house you might want to have your weekly meeting at a fun place like a pizza parlor, the local miniature golf course or bowling alley to help get things back on an even keel. Starting the meeting by sitting in a circle and holding hands will set the tone for a bonding experience.
5. Give everyone a chance to lead/record the meeting. This will help your kids feel validated and realize that what they think matters. Make a record of the decisions reached so you can refer back to agreements made if you need to. You can also post the minutes of the weekly meeting on the refrigerator so everyone can be reminded of plans for the week. Remember to make sure you follow through and do what you say you're going to do as parenting is best done by example.
6. Be creative with the agenda. Being flexible with the Family Meeting is a key component to making it work for everyone. Kids can have a low boredom threshold so it your meeting is too much like school or the parents are preaching the whole time, it won't work. Different things are going to come up every week so make room for them.
Here is an example of some typical family meeting agenda topics:
A. What happened last week
B. What's happening this week and future/holiday plans.
C. Old stuff
D. New stuff
E. Money stuff (There's always money stuff)
F. Something wonderful my family did for me
G. Something wonderful I did for my family
H. Questions/comments about anything that anyone needs or wants to talk about
7. End each meeting with a fun experience. This will encourage everyone to attend and participate. Plan your experience as a group and remind the kids that if they don't get to do what they want this time there will be another opportunity next week. This way no one will get their feathers ruffled and you will teach the kids about patience. Make sure that everyone can participate in the fun because leaving anyone out will cause hurt feelings. Also, you don't have to go somewhere and spend money in order to have fun. Try playing games, cooking or watching something interactive on TV like Jeopardy.
8. Help each other resolve any issues. Remember that this is a bonding tool designed to teach as well as inspire everyone that being close as a family is the best thing for all concerned. Keep talking about things until everyone agrees or at least agrees that it's okay to disagree. Getting support and talking about choices will teach your children about fairness and about being a family. In areas where there have been difficulties, point them out gently and don't be punitive. This will encourage everyone to ask for help where he or she needs it. Remember that win-lose is the same as lose-lose when it comes to your family.
9. Consult a therapist when necessary. If you are having trouble navigating some of the deeper issues you might want to consider bringing in a professional. Therapy isn't just for families that are breaking up or having problems with conduct. Most families have moments of difficulty or confusion as well as problems with communication. Being comfortable with getting some advice when needed will make your life a whole lot easier.
10. Remember that it's never too late to become a family. Even if your kids are in their late teens and only communicate with you when they need food or money give it a try. The kids will eventually respond to this process because everyone wants to be part of a family. It will motivate them more if you follow tip #7 and make the first meeting about planning some family fun. Never give up on making your family work, the only way to fail at this is by not trying.