Why regular family meetings matter
Often, parents and their children are reluctant to adopt family meetings because they don’t understand their purpose and structure. Some parents fear it will lessen their authority. But if handled right, experts say family meetings reinforce values, and nurture positive relationships within the nuclear family.
As a single mother of three, Marcyline Otieno shares that making family meetings a norm has made parenting easier for her as the sole parent. While it might have seemed easier to settle on a day and time, a spontaneous meal time works the magic.
Putting things in order
“I hold family meetings with my children, especially when we are eating. So, when I have an issue that I need addressed, I wait for meal times when we are all together. I don’t tell them prior that we will be having a meeting — once every one is settled, then we talk about burning issues. Having these meetings has helped us bond. It influences the children positively in a way, because no one wants to be scolded when everyone is present — everyone wants to be praised during such meetings, so the children try to behave themselves hence giving me an easy time as a single mum,” shares Marcyline
Mombasa-based actor Dan Sonko, intimates that until 2020, he had subscribed to a scheduled family meeting. But the Covid-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to venture into new and challenge how things are done. He shares how family meetings as people know them, sound serious and more of business structured, which should not be the case.
“In our setting, we don’t call them meetings, we don’t schedule them. Growth is continuous… the purpose of the meets is to address issues, see where people are in order to move forward and in our house, that is a daily thing. Whenever we have an opportunity to chill, that’s an opportunity to meet. Our dinner table is the main meeting spot. When preparing breakfast, we talk, discipline, counsel. My partner and I don’t restrict it to the table… sometimes in the bedroom when we play checkers. We promote constant regular dialogue whether as a group or individually,” shares the father of two boys.
This approach, he attests has been bearing fruits.
“My two boys have matured following these talks. I know my sons in and out, they know me and they know my wife, Winnie Bwire. The most important tip is to call a spade a spade during these talks. Be brutally honest about everything — not in a way that will hurt them— but to let them understand how you feel,” he advises.
Child psychologist Faith Mutegi shares that family meetings play an important role of getting everyone on board and bridging the gaps in the family. It is important that families use this time to both work out challenging situations as well as celebrate accomplishments.
“As a parent you have to be careful not to be a ‘headmistress’ and make the children’s life all about following rules. Ask yourself; what are the main concerns in my life? What about my children? What are my children going through,” says the psychologist who also has a YouTube channel, ‘Parenting Conundrums.’
The expert shares how today families are constantly managing stressful obligations that are often pulling them in various directions. With demanding work schedules, school commitments and social events, taking time to discuss the needs and expectations of family members requires intentional planning and structural focus.
“If you are interested in introducing this tool, decide on a day or time. It could be a Sunday afternoon, Saturday or during the holidays. Don’t stress too much because schedules are different in every home. It does not have to be every week. When thinking about the perfect time, you can settle for meal times. For instance spare 30 minutes for the meeting after the meals,” she says.
Making it work
And while picking a family meeting time or place, she advises that it is important to bring into consideration the age groups that you have in your home. For instance, two-year-olds attentions dissipate. Consider a good timing depending on number of children and age, so you don’t lose others during the conversation when their attention wanders off. A rotational chart is also important.
“During the meeting, give a rotating responsibility chart. Have rules on what needs to happen during the meeting. Consider taking minutes. Know who does what. Parents should use this time to not only talk at their children, but also allow their children to ask questions and share. Children should be given the opportunity to share their opinions even if their parents do not agree. By doing so parents are establishing healthy lines of communication,” shares the expert.
While being a parent commands authority, meetings should be non-judgmental. A child may give you feedback about you as a parent that does not go well with you, but do your best to tune into their world without going into attack mode. And on instances when they are not okay with talking, you can allow them to write notes in advance, which will be put in a basket. The other option would be recorded audios prior to the meeting.
“This way, you get to know the child well, what is happening in their world, their friends. They will also know the importance of planning and budgeting even for the upcoming activities. Remember that it is not an instant fix, so you have to keep on adjusting with time and also with age as they grow,” shares the expert.