Solve Family Problems with Family Meetings
Building Families © Martyn Carruthers
Many couples are not prepared for the challenges of raising children, and many children feel confused or anxious about their roles and responsibilities. Parenting without mature guidance can lead to children with unpleasant conflicts, limiting beliefs, compulsions and obsessions.
Building & Rebuilding Families
It can take about twenty minutes to create a baby
and about twenty years to create an adult.
Many people seem to assume or at least hope that they, their partners and their children will effortlessly create a family – just like in the movies. Good intentions should be enough, right?
While new partners may experience joyful anticipation, children may feel uncertain and stressed. What does their future hold? What is happening in their extended families? Stressed children may withdraw or act out their emotions.
Feeling part of a family includes the sense of connection called love. If love is not felt by children, they may be unable to make their feelings and behavior comply with their parents’ wishes. A perceived lack of love can give rise to a multitude of problems.
During family challenges, stressed children may become burdened with learning disabilities and emotional problems – some of which stay hidden until adolescence. A wonderful way to prevent, prepare for and solve family problems are family meetings.
Starting Family Meetings
Families can hold regular family meetings to discuss topics of interest, to set individual and family goals and to discuss ways to achieve their goals.
Who is your family? Do you consider a family to be limited to two opposite-sex partners and their children? Or do you include uncles, aunts, cousins, in laws and close friends? You may want to invite god-parents, close family friends, neighbors and paid caregivers – even babysitters if they are willing.
One model for healthy families is a healing ritual called
ho’oponopono in old Hawaii. Ho’oponopono consisted of family
meetings conducted to build harmony and heal family conflicts,
which were perceived as a major cause of illnesses and disease.
Who would you invite? Will you include sick or aged family members in family meetings? If a family member might not understand the purpose and goals of the family meetings, it might be appropriate to hold some meetings without that person.
If some family members prefer to share thoughts, ideas and feelings that would be painful for a distressed or ill person to hear, consider holding a private family meeting to discuss this, and a later meeting with that person present.
Expectations of Family Meetings
Expect uncertainty, especially during the first few meetings. Expect conflicts over responsibilities, rules and discipline. Expect teenagers to complain. Expect parents to try to follow their own family traditions (i.e. – what was normal for them when they were children). Expect grandparents to side with their grandchildren.
Family meetings can challenge existing rules and roles, and any changes in these rules and roles may seem uncomfortable or even feel wrong. But a lack of limits and boundaries may signal to children that their parents just don’t care about them. Children may deal with their own difficult feelings by withdrawing, avoiding each other or fighting.
All my life my parents seemed to hide behind each other. Berlin
Parents can avoid asking children – including teenagers – for advice about partnership, money, custody or legal issues. Parents can reassure younger children that decisions are for their best interest, and ask older children for their thoughts and feelings – and that although final decisions will be made by the parents, their opinions are important.
Leading Family Meetings
A family is not a democracy! We find that family decisions based on votes can have unpleasant consequences! Family meetings can be a great way for parents to explore and hear all points of view so that the parents can make better family decisions – they are not ways for people to manipulate each other!
Remember that children want to love both parents. Children may react as if any criticism or rejection of the other parent is criticism and rejection of themselves. (And many children will hide their emotional pain until adolescence.)
Ideal settings for family meetings are quiet and private locations, with chairs arranged in some sort of circle or around a table. Everyone should be able to sit down if they wish. Include some refreshments (water, tea, biscuits, fruit …).
Most parents have different experiences and different parenting skills. Parents who have been mostly absent may be shocked to find themselves parenting teenagers. Expect family stress if parents struggle to catch up on years of parenting skills. (Some parents may try to leave all parenting to the other parent, often to a female parent who may resent this lack of partnership.)
Expect family members to have different ideas about internet use, food, homework, curfews and television. While parents are unlikely to please everyone all the time, family meetings provide ways for everybody to speak … and to listen.
In healthy family meetings, all family members are respected. Children have responsibilities appropriate to their age. Parents encourage emotional expression and individuality, and anybody can freely ask for attention. Rules are clear, consistent, and yet flexible. Family members are encouraged to pursue their own interests, while honoring other member’s boundaries and goals.
Better Family Meetings
- Parents can meet privately to discuss their marriage, children, parenting beliefs and other concerns before the meeting. It is better if the parents appear united and do not argue with or criticize each other during family meetings.
- Parents with problems that their partners cannot help them manage (e.g. medical, financial, emotional or behavioral) should consider getting outside help – perhaps soon.
- Do the parents have appropriate knowledge on family development and the requisite parenting skills … or do they need coaching, classes or books?
- Can the parents talk to (not nag or lecture) their children? Many family challenges are normal adjustments. Parents can make space for all family members to talk to one another about their problems, solutions, concerns, goals and plans.
- Although family meetings are a time when everybody can talk about their goals, needs and solutions – everybody cannot talk at the same time. Allow each person a quiet space in which to talk, perhaps with time limits for the talkative.
- Parents shouldn’t expect their decisions to be gratefully accepted immediately (or at all) by their families. Some decisions (e.g. about moving to a new home) may be disliked or even hated … and yet may be unavoidable.
- It is usually pointless to ask children to just accept a new reality – unless you can show the children why and how to accept it – and the consequences of rejecting it.
- Some people consider children to be stupid because they cannot articulate well. Help children communicate their goals and needs clearly (e.g. I want a bigger bedroom; or I must have quiet when I do my homework).
- Listen to your children carefully. Discuss common goals that can help unite a family (e.g. family vacations). Listen and be willing to adjust to help your family develop the tolerance and flexibility needed to survive – and prosper.
- Deal with conflicts … for example, older children may want more time with friends while parents may want more family togetherness. How much time does each get? How are rules decided? Who has the last word? How can limits and boundaries be enforced?
We help parents manage their own individual issues, and our couple counseling can help parents manage partnership issues. We help partners to appreciate each other’s perspectives and make family decisions together.