Life Design: How To Run a Family Meeting
“That sounds like a topic for the family meeting, mom. I think you should add it to the agenda for this Sunday,” said our 7-year-old son last week. While a few years ago I might have cringed at the idea of a child using the word “agenda” to describe anything happening in our household, I’ve come around to embrace the benefits a bit of structure offers.
I suggested a weekly family meeting about six weeks ago, not because I had any specific topics to discuss or heavy-handed news to deliver, but because I realized it was time to create some space in our week to talk about things that might arise. And there were a few things already brewing — my son had kicked off the school year with a few visits to the principal’s office, the kids’ lunchboxes were coming home with the carefully cut vegetables still in tact, and we were all adjusting to the demands of having a new baby around. So we carved out space and gave it a shot.
In the six weeks since our first meeting, we’ve covered a broad range of topics – what respect is and how to practice it, why chores matter, why the kids don’t get Oreos in their lunches, what races to sign up for, and even weightier topics like what it means to have a sense of place in this world and how to build a home. And from the get go, we have all emerged from these meetings feeling closer, clearer, and a little bit lighter.
Taking a few cues from what makes meetings successful in the workplace, here are the three things that have helped our meetings go smoothly:
- We have a set time and place. The family meeting takes place either before or after dinner on Sunday night. We make sure to get it in before the night gets too late and eyes get too tired. The person facilitating the meeting decides the exact time and location (i.e., couch, dining room table, trampoline), and is responsible for keeping the meeting relatively short (15-30 minutes).
- We take turns running the meeting. One person is in charge of facilitating the meeting each week, and we all take turns. After our son ran his first meeting, his eyes twinkled with pride, and he exclaimed, “I loved doing that!”
- We have a set agenda. The agenda is the same from week to week, and it’s designed to be so simple that our 5-year-old can easily facilitate. There are three parts to the meeting: 1) How we’re all feeling, 2) Open items, 3) Intentions for the week ahead.
Our family meetings give us all a sense of shared identity and individual purpose, and most importantly, the sacred gift of time and undivided attention.
While I can’t say I’m ready to fully run the family like I’d run a business (or ever will be), I do believe that families can benefit from structures incubated in businesses, and businesses can benefit from practices nourished within families. When we do this well, we’ll be designing more than a business or a home – we’ll be designing a life.