Well, the answer is, they can be both, depending on how productive your leadership is. If you are the boss in your family, and everybody better just get in line, then family meetings will be seen as boring. Many a smart-mouthed teen will comment, “We’re just gonna do what you want us to do, so why bother?” This teen would be calling out his parent on the hypocrisy of a family meeting.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. It is true that a family is not a democracy. If you have more than two children, imagine putting things to a democratic, simple majority vote. The Kids Party will vote together every time. However, if you, as the parent, function as a benevolent despot, then kids have a voice, while you make the choice.
As benevolent despot, you have the ultimate authority in your home, in all ways. However, focus on the benevolent part. That means you know and understand each family member, search for their feelings, and want their input. They understand that you will do what’s best for all family members. Active listening is the go-to communication tool in understanding your child’s feelings and perspective.
For family meetings to be helpful, there needs to be both consistency and structure. Perhaps for a half hour, after Sunday church, during family lunchtime, could be a time when family meetings can take place. This can be a check-in time for everybody, where the past week’s events can be reviewed and the coming week’s events can be planned. Great way to coordinate schedules in a busy family.
If one of these regularly scheduled family meetings has a specific purpose, for example, planning a summer family vacation, then all family members need a heads-up before the meeting. This would be setting the agenda. It also gets people thinking about what they want to contribute. After prayer, to acknowledge God’s presence in the family, and re-stating the purpose of the family meeting, I encourage parents to ask for the youngest child’s input first. There will be banter and sibling rivalry. People will go out of turn. Parents gently rein in detractors.
Start with brainstorming ideas without comment. This gets the creative juices going and encourages involvement. Help people stay on task. Have one person be the designated secretary and write options down. Next, talk about the good and the bad about each option. Again, use your active listening to help others get at the heart of their reasoning. Look for consensus among the options.
If there is not consensus, as parents, you get to make the final choice. That’s the despot part, but with heartfelt understanding and consideration of everyone’s thoughts and feelings. That’s the benevolence part. With a proposed solution, get all family members involved in making it happen. Assign tasks for everyone, even the littlest family member if possible. This participation encourages involvement and acceptance, focusing on the positives. Finally, identify the next family meeting to review progress and stay on task.
Family meetings can be boring, or they can be helpful. The more you address your children’s needs and feelings, the more heard they feel, the more family meetings can be helpful.
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