I can count the number of pool days left on one hand. Already, I notice the dimming light of endless days of summer. If you are sending your kids to school, your calendar is filling up with open houses and orientations and your days are teeming with school supply shopping. Homeschooling families are opening boxes full of treasures, aka this year’s books, and unveiling a tidy, fully stocked classroom. There is so much to look forward to and, yet, so much to stress about. I’m hoping to avoid the anxiety and I have chosen four strategies:
1) Serious meal planning
2) Gathering the family for prayer
3) Walking for health and well being
4) Weekly family meetings
Today, I am going to talk about our experience with family meetings and how it ties together all strategies. We have a large family with kids who are all unique, passionate, and energetic people. I know some day, I will appreciate this. Right now, it feels like we are being pulled in all directions and that is a recipe for conflict and stagnation. Last year, we were contemplating a big change in our family life. We were overwhelmed at the prospect of the logistics. We did a lot of fretting and our tempers were short. Then, my husband decided that we needed to gather the family and conduct a formal meeting. This is something he does every day at work. I’ve been to my share of meetings and I’ve had to run more than a few myself. So, this was right in our wheelhouse.
The young kids were amused. The older kids were certain this was going to mean more work for them. And, while we had experience running meetings with other adults, we had not run a strategic meeting with distracted and defiant children. After a few disappointing attempts to implement the meetings, we took a break. Life got busy again. Then, the kids started asking, “When are we going to have a meeting?”
So, we decided that we were on to something and went back to the drawing board. We just needed to tweak it a bit. Our tweaks included: creating an agenda and providing a copy for each member of the family, setting ground rules, and providing art materials. Here is what we discovered to be the great value of weekly family meetings:
1) Open communication: The number one relationship problem is poor communication. This is true in friendships, marriages, and families. Families go through so many changes and this can be anxiety provoking for children. So, the number one goal of our family meetings was to make sure that we clearly communicated any upcoming changes and how it may affect each child and the family. Kids are not too young to understand financial struggles, challenges at work, health problems, and other “adult” concerns. It is important to be honest with your children without scaring them. So consider their age and developmental level when presenting information. For example, the economy has hurt so many families in recent years. Our family has been affected. This means we can’t spend freely, we need to save, budget,and avoid debt. Kids can play an important part. We tell our kids that they can help by turning off lights when they are not in use, not do the “gimme gimme” or say “that’s not fair” when mom and dad say “no,” and help with meal planning to avoid the need to dine out last minute. They are very creative and, if given the task, can come up with some creative ways to save. This open communication about finances decreases anxiety and teaches them good financial practices. As Catholics, we also want to teach our kids the dangers of unbridled consumerism. In that way, our financial struggles are a gift. Communicating this view empowers kids to take action and not feel like victims.
2) Goal Setting and Review: Here, we set personal and family goals. By writing goals and sharing them with each other, we are more likely to achieve them. Again, consider the age and ability of each child and help them to set measurable and achievable goals. Encourage creativity and personal challenge. These goals can be spiritual, academic, physical, or social. We encourage them to tell us how we can help them achieve their goal. This is a time when we can plan family trips or family goals. We also review achieved goals and this motivates them to set more goals.
3) Building strong relationships: Kids present us with so many opportunities to correct them. They are impulsive, forgetful, and messy. And, on busy school days, it seems the only interactions we have are, “Have you finished your homework?!” “Clean your room!” “How many times do I have to tell you not to swing from the curtains!?” Okay, that hasn’t happened in awhile but you get the picture. We try to gather each night for dinner. But, with tennis practice, wrestling, and gymnastics in a large family of growing kids with social lives of their own, the opportunity for a peaceful gathering is rare. Our weekly family meeting helps to reset any frustrations that have built up during the week. We can also strategize what went well and what we need to improve. Prayer is an integral part of the meetings. We begin and end with prayer and we make sure each family member has a chance to share a special intention.
4) Strong marriage: My husband and I have started daily walks outdoors. This is our time away from the kids each day. We plan our week and check in with each other. It has become the time to plan our family meetings and our time to simply be together. And, it is on these walks that I was able to identify the four areas that I think will help us have a fantastic fall.
At the end of September, we are making a pilgrimage to Philadelphia to attend Mass with Pope Francis. That’s our first order of business for the next meeting. We are excited and we will share our adventure when we return.