The Character Movement

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Family meetings help promote values

By Sarah Aadland, Doing Good Together

Even when you’re doing your best to keep things simple, family life can be full at best. Too often it’s downright frazzled and unruly. Most weeks, it feels as though my family is racing in too many directions. And we’re not alone.

I catch the knowing, what-have-we-signed-up-for smiles from other parents during pick-up and drop-off times. Someone I know shares one of those meme’s touting all of the reasons dance or soccer or whatever is worth the time and sacrifice. The truth is, we all have different thresholds of feeling busy and overwhelmed.

My own family met ours this fall. And we made a few tweaks that lightened the load. The most useful tool we adopted was the weekly family meeting.

Family meetings give us the time – just 20 or 30 minutes – to pause for a moment and evaluate how the week behind us has gone and what the week ahead has in store. These meetings are an opportunity to explain why we’ve said no to an exciting new hobby or event, and more importantly, they remind us of what we are saying yes to and why.

Of course, these meetings aren’t magical. We’re not significantly less busy. But the load feels lighter. Life has fewer white caps and more still waters than it did.

The essential path to contentment is to live with purpose, to live your values. Regular family meetings help us all – adults and kids alike – keep an eye on our values, even during the busy weeks. If someone took a peek at your family calendar, would they know, without a doubt, where your priorities lie?

The practical tools below will help you stay committed to your family’s priorities and double check them on a regular basis. If you follow through with regular family meetings, along with the tips listed below, a few wonderful things will happen.

First, you’ll free up actual, measurable time by eliminating items from your family calendar that aren’t working for you.

Second, you’ll communicate your core values – directly and repeatedly – to your children. You’ll have built-in opportunities to ground your whole family in the reasoning behind your decisions about whether or not they can do, have or buy whatever is bewitching them at the moment. Plus, you’ll have an opportunity to set a few big-hearted goals for doing good together.

Third, you’ll strengthen your whole family’s sense of empathy and responsibility for one another by taking the time to ask and really listen to the goals, fears and joys of one another.

Fourth, you’ll teach responsibility by setting high expectations for whole-family contributions to chores and meal preparation.

Finally, you’ll feel less busy, even with a full calendar. When what remains has been chosen, intentionally and with the big picture in mind, you no longer begrudge the next thing on your to-do list. And if you’re anything like me, you feel physically lighter moving through the world with purpose, making space for what you love, what you intend to do more of, and what brings you joy.

It’s a change in thinking that can change your whole world.

Use Big-Hearted Family Meetings to Nurture a Calm, Connected Family

Create a Family Mission Statement.

I’m not talking about one of those cute signs with house rules (though in the end, you’ll have that too). I’m talking about a framework for your family’s priorities, a screening tool to remind you that when time is limited (and it is) you may have to say no even to some of the fun stuff to keep everyone on track.

Hold weekly-ish family meetings.

Research continues to place family meetings at the very center of a well-communicating family. Print four copies of Our Family Meeting Agenda to see you through your first month.

My family has found that meeting a few times in a row sets us on the right track during the busy skip weeks. Whenever we realize we’ve slid out of the habit, we make meetings a top priority for a few more weeks.

Brace yourself for meeting flops.

Some weeks, meetings fall by the wayside, when travel plans or tournaments overwhelm the family schedule. Other times, disgruntled kids appear to ignore the entire meeting. Don’t let these minor setbacks scrap your good intentions.

In my experience, even the most reluctant child absorbs the conversation the rest of us have, and weighs in later, when they’re feeling more “chatty.” You’ll discover more about the stresses, worries, and hopes of your children than you otherwise might. And my kids are always proud to hear their parents share their own goals and concerns.

Even the rocky meetings make us feel more like a team.

Assign chores, and stick to them.

On our printable agenda, you’ll notice space for specific chore assignments and meal preparation on our meeting agenda. I’ve mentioned this before, but sticking with chores has made a huge difference to our family. The kids are taking better care of their things. I’m getting through my to-do list faster. Best of all, during chore time we are truly supporting each other. Sure, I’m still the only person to change the toilet paper rolls, but with all three kids participating in everyday tasks, our evenings have a little more breathing room.

Visit our newsletter, The Surprising Power of Chores, for tips to make this happen.

Work hard toward a goal.

In our meeting agenda, we ask each family member to share something they will “work hard” on each week. This is really a space to set goals. Kids who practice setting and reaching goals, even simple ones like finishing a special book or getting all their homework done before dinner, at a young age, are more likely to stick with challenging tasks as they grow older. For more on this, check out Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Don’t forget to have fun!

Make time at the end of your meeting for a board game, a good book, a family dance party, or a walk in the park.

Looking for a good book for the kids? Check out the book lists below. Or at least grab a copy of Jon J Muth’s The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy. This philosophical story will feed the hearts and minds of your whole family.

Family meetings are a wonderful way to tame the frazzled business of modern life. They instill a sense of ownership over family duties. And there is no better way to regularly reflect on how well we are living our core values.

This post was originally published on Doing Good Together’s website and is re-published with permission. Doing Good Together™ is a Minneapolis-based national nonprofit that works to make volunteering and service, along with daily kindness, easy for every family.

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