Family Meetings: A Tool for Problem Solving
Ron L. Deal
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Throughout this chapter I’ve offered specific strategies for dealing with each of the pitfalls discussed. In addition, one general strategy for managing issues and pitfalls is the family meeting. This is an effective tool that can be utilized in a variety of circumstances.
Corporations have strategy meetings on a regular basis. Department heads, supervisors, and managers join together to discuss current production goals, sales reports, and marketing efforts. The purpose behind such meetings is to generate teamwork and improve efficiency and profit as the whole works toward a common goal. Family meetings help stepfamilies do the same. The goals are different (integration, spiritual formation, and generating unconditional love and respect), but the process is similar.
Weekly or biweekly family meetings are the perfect time to process emotions and negotiate preferences, rule changes, discipline consequences, and roles in the home. Vacation plans can be made, rituals for the holidays worked out, and feelings of loss and hurt shared. But perhaps the most unexpected result for many stepfamilies that make use of this tool is the sense of identity that comes from a new tradition. The meeting itself becomes a unique tradition that helps family members listen, spend time with each other, and experience their family being together. You can have meetings on a regular basis or periodically as needed.
What is a family meeting?
- Time set aside to promote meaningful communication and to provide for family discussion, decision-making, problem solving, encouragement, and cooperation.
- Family meetings can be structured and formal or flexible and informal.
- Everyone has a part and something to contribute. Meetings are democratic; that is, everyone has a voice, but not the same decision-making power. Parents have the final say but should empower children to contribute whenever possible.
- Ultimately, family meetings build much needed family traditions, create memories, and establish a working family identity.
How do we get started?
- The process is easier if meetings begin when children are young (age four or five). Older children may have negative reactions at first, but most come to value the process once they experience the benefits.
- Simply make a decision to start, have a plan of action, and begin.
General guidelines for effective family meetings:
- Make meetings a priority. They should happen at regular, predictable times (e.g., each Thursday night). Don’t allow distractions to diminish your commitment to the process. Establish and stick to time limits.
- Begin each meeting with compliments and words of appreciation when they can be offered genuinely. Encouragement facilitates integration but shouldn’t be offered if not sincere.
- Post an “agenda board” (perhaps on the refrigerator) and encourage everyone to contribute to the list. Be sure each item is discussed and equal consideration given to each concern.
- Rotate leaders so that children have a turn (your teenagers will love being in charge!).
- Honor one another’s feelings and opinions. Use your listening skills and speak with respect. Don’t permit meetings to become gripe sessions. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
- Work to find solutions to problem situations. Brainstorm possible solutions and consequences if agreements are not kept. This helps each person take ownership of the problem and its solution. This also clarifies expectations and allows each to experience the stepfamily working together.
- End the meeting with an enjoyable activity. You all may be together or break into mini-family groups, but have ice cream, play mini-golf, or play board games. Make it fun.