Commonly, there are 2 kinds of families in the world; families who have never heard of a family meeting and those who experienced family meetings to be punitive and authoritarian meetings where discipline was handed out!
I would like to introduce a 3rd but less common kind of family: the 21st-century family who regularly meets for family meetings because they help promote belonging, improvement, and whole families! We invite you to become this 3rd kind of family through our personally tried and tested ‘Family Counsel’ Model below.
The Family Counsel Model
Check-In: Prior to the start of the formal meeting, it is recommended that time for informal conversation, snacking, and checking in is prioritized. This transitional conversation helps family members shift their focus from whatever they were previously doing to the meeting at hand. Check-ins also produce an informal agenda as members share where they are at and what they want to contribute/ get out of the meeting too. Above all else, Check-ins recognize any hard feelings which need to be acknowledged and contained in order for a fruitful family meeting to take place. Hard feelings are contained within this segment of the meeting with the promise of processing them more fully during the ‘What isn’t Working?’ segment of the meeting or in another context outside of the family meeting- hard feelings are not ignored! In fact, they are to be expected as a natural part of whole families and problem-solving.
Above all else, Check-ins recognize any hard feelings which need to be acknowledged and contained in order for a fruitful family meeting to take place.
Affirmations & Rewards: This section asks the question, ‘What have we done well as individuals and as a collective?’ and rewards members with gifts of affirmation and sometimes, concrete gifts too. Concrete gifts are practiced rarely in our household and have a distinct purpose behind them often associated with milestones.
Affirmations & Rewards are our first item on the agenda for every meeting. Every person receives an affirmation from one another; laying a foundation of recognition and appreciation upon which the more difficult meeting content is most graciously received.
Every person receives an affirmation from one another; laying a foundation of recognition and appreciation upon which the more difficult meeting content is most graciously received.
What We are Learning: This section reflects on what family members have learned or commit to learning between meetings. This segment has been revolutionary for my family as it frames learning as an intentional act, the subject of which is of the individuals choosing. In a society where Western Education teaches us set curriculum, the joy of choosing to learn has to some extent, been robbed from us. This question restores the joy of choice and reminds us to be masters of our learning.
This question restores the joy of choice and reminds us to be masters of our learning.
What is and isn’t Working: As an extension of the affirmation section of the meeting, ‘What is working?’ in the family unit and home is asked. Celebrating what has worked affirms a family’s innate goodness and motivates their desire to grow and improve. Upon this foundation, the family can productively ask the question, ‘What isn’t working?’. Taking ownership of what isn’t working is a key learning tool. Whilst we don’t assign blame in family meetings, we do ask members to recognize their mistakes, take ownership of them and apologize for them too. Asking a follow-up question like, ‘How do we make it work?’ prevents families from falling victims to their mistakes. Instead, they become active change agents and the mistake is reframed as an area of improvement.
These questions are intentionally broad allowing for free interpretation of the question for each and every family member in their familial (and individual) context.
Should contributions to the conversation be lacking, you can further quantify the conversation by asking ‘What is/ is not working with our finances |chores roster | daily routine | work schedules |parent child relationships | sibling relationships | conflict resolution mechanisms, etc.
Celebrating what has worked affirms a family’s innate goodness and motivates their desire to grow and improve. Upon this foundation, the family can productively ask the question, ‘What isn’t working?’.
Goals: Family and Individual Goals are usually set and noted within the first Family Meeting of the Year. Meetings thereafter end up being a check-in on goal attainment. Goal Attainment check-ins allow for family members to share what progress they have made toward their goals, ask for help in attaining their goals, and adjust/ add goals should circumstances have changed for them. Goal discussions do not critique family members for their choice in goals nor judge them for how successful or unsuccessful they have been at attaining their goals. Goal discussions simply hold family members accountable to their self-actualization process no matter how many goal deviations, changes or accomplishments this process contains!
Goal discussions simply hold family members accountable to their self-actualization process no matter how many goal deviations, changes, or accomplishments this process contains!
Family Wants & Needs: Our Family Wants & Needs are the things we want and need to enable us to live out our goals, and ideal family model. As such this list tends to develop organically out of the content of the previous agenda items of meetings in the past. Occasional Lego, clothing item, and other materialistic things do make their way onto the list, however, they are not the focus of the list. Family members should try to motivate how the addition to the list will help them achieve their goals.
An Invitational Name
In our family, we find the term ‘Family Meeting too formal, in fact, it reminds me of how discipline was handed out when I was a child! So, we use the term, ‘Family Counsel’ instead.
Family meetings are not one-off events. They should happen regularly at intervals determined by the age, needs, and season of your family. Done regularly, meetings teach commitment, foster reflection on the progress between meetings, promote accountability to task completion, and encourage contribution over time- even from the quietest member of the family who will feel safe enough to share their thoughts and feelings.
Done regularly, meetings teach commitment, foster reflection on the progress between meetings, promote accountability to task completion, and encourage contribution over time.
At first, you can expect some resistance from family members to meeting attendance simply because it is new, unfamiliar and the benefits have yet to be discovered. We suggest having a few ‘peripheral’ routines and treats attached to a family meeting which make them more attractive to skeptical onlookers. This could look like attaching the meeting to a family dinner or Sunday lunch or baking sweet treats to enjoy together during the meeting. If good food is not enough of a drawcard, perhaps attaching a reward in exchange for attendance could work too.
We suggest having a few ‘peripheral’ routines and treats attached to a family meeting which make them more attractive to skeptical onlookers.
A big encouragement is extended to the initiator of the first few family meetings as you motivate others attendance time and time again! Eventually, attendees will become self-motivated to attend because they experience the benefits of the meetings!
A Note About Frequency
Weekly, Biweekly, or Monthly meetings are the most common intervals for family meetings. When determining the frequency of your family meetings ask yourself two questions: What can my family realistically commit to with their current schedules?’, and ‘What time lapse between meetings allows sufficient time for the applications of meeting learnings?’.
What can my family realistically commit to with their current schedules?’, and ‘What time lapse between meetings allows sufficient time for the applications of meeting learnings?’.
Frequency can and should fluctuate. Whilst families with little children may need more frequent meetings to help them retain meeting information and practice meeting applications more effectively between sessions, families with adolescents and young adults moving toward more independent living may need fewer but more full meetings to avoid them resenting the family for ‘keeping them in the nest’.
Initially, you may schedule more frequent meetings as your family familiarizes themselves with the concept. Thereafter, the contributions of your family may result in lesser but more full meetings. Some seasons you may find your meetings are shells of formalities and so you decrease frequency to avoid them from becoming redundant, whilst in others, you call for extra meetings or ‘special general meetings’ during seasons of imbalance and change.
Start & End the Same Way
We are humans of habit who appreciate predictability and rhythms. Family meetings can be unpredictable and no meeting looks the same with some easier going and more positive and others being harder and more conflictual. Sandwiching this wonderful unpredictability with a uniform start and end is a great way to prevent anxiety and uncertainty from bombarding the process. Prayers, a Family Mantra, Mindfulness Exercises, Songs of Praise and Worship, or a Reading are examples of activities you could implement at the beginning and the end of your family sessions to foster openness and closure to the process.
Make it Age Appropriate
We encourage you to practice family meetings consistently with kids as little as 2 years old and grandparents as old as 95 years old! Even if in toddlerhood and/or retirement, family meetings model positive social engagement, problem-solving, sensitivity, and conflict resolution skills which are passively internalized by inactive family members. With consistent implementation, soon our children will start to contribute to the meetings, mirroring all that we have modelled to them in meetings before.
With consistent implementation, soon our children will start to contribute to the meetings, mirroring all that we have modelled to them in meetings before.
You may also adapt the meeting structure to suit the age of your participants. Take regular breaks, ask simpler questions, have colouring pages to keep little hands busy and focused on the meeting, ask your family members to come prepared with their content to avoid lengthy periods of thought, etc. However, you see the purpose of your meeting being best fulfilled is the right way for your family!
However, you see the purpose of your meeting being best fulfilled is the right way for your family!
Take Meeting Minutes
Capture your meeting minutes using our Family Council Template so that you can effectively recall meeting content, track progress and over many years, observe the beautiful and intentional growth of your family!