Even when you're doing your best to keep things simple in your home, 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 frequently catch the what-have-we-signed-up-for smiles from other parents during pick-up and drop-off times.
I often see friends share one of those memes touting all of the reasons dance or gymnastics or soccer (or whatever) is worth the time and sacrifice. Usually, I nod my head in agreementIt's gratifying to watch my daughter's confident smile as she masters a challenging dance routine. Other times, it feels as though her schedule is preventing the rest of us from having a normal human existence.
The truth is, we all have different thresholds of feeling busy and overwhelmed. My own family crossed our threshold last fall when too many activities pulled us in too many different directions. It was time for us to make some changes.
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 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 a year ago.
The practical tools below will help you stay committed to your family's priorities, and double check them regularly. If you follow through with regular family meetings, along with the other tips listed below, a few wonderful things can 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.
Third, you'll strengthen your entire family's sense of empathy and responsibility for one another, by taking the time to ask and listen to each member's goals, fears and joys.
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 resent the next thing on your to-do list. And if you're anything like me, you'll feel physically lighter moving through the world on purpose, making space for what you love, what you intend to do more of, and what brings you joy. It's a change in perspective that can change your whole world.
Here's how to host family meetings to nurture a calm, connected family:
1. Create a family mission statement.
I'm not talking about one of those cute signs with house rules. 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.
Ask your family to chime in on a few key questions before you craft your statement:
- What are our top 10 priorities as a family?
- What are we doing to live these priorities?
- How would we each spend free time if we could do anything?
2. Schedule weekly-ish family meetings.
Research continues to place family meetings at the very center of a well-communicating family. Download this important, nuanced printable meeting agenda from Doing Good Together™ to get started. In my experience, even my most reluctant child absorbs the conversation during family meetings. Often, they'll weigh in later. Plus, you'll discover more about the stresses, worries, and hopes of your children than you otherwise might.
3. Assign chores—and stick to them.
Surprising research says that doing chores, beginning at a youg age, is a proven predictor of adult success. It teaches responsibility, competence, perseverance, the value of hard work—and the idea that in a family we help one another out. Not surprisingly, children who are regular chore-doers turn into adults who are more likely to respond to other people's needs.
4. Work hard toward a goal.
In the meeting agenda linked above, each family member is asked to share something they will "work hard" on each week. This is 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.
5. 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.
Our first family meeting was not the glorious, start-the-year-with-a-bang event I hoped it would be. Instead, it was a ragged affair with a few tears and one full-scale protest, as one child accused the other of getting better chores. Yet, everyone came back around and eventually we did have an interesting conversation about why pitching in makes the load lighter and teaches everyone useful skills.
Family meetings are an excellent 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 out our values.