The True Value and Purpose of a Family Meeting

"Mom, Iris is about to throw up," said my daughter Skye from the living room. I was in the kitchen, standing in front of the coffee maker holding my favorite Ulster Weavers fox printed mug. "Okay, I'll bring you the paper towels," I replied.



I hit the double espresso button to start my coffee, took the paper towels off their stand, and delivered them to Skye who was doing her best to hold the cat off the red wool rug while it vomited.


"I think she was eating pine needles again," said my 17-year old son, Dylan. The main floor of our house has an open floor plan, with a short counter peninsula separating the kitchen from the dining/living room area. Dylan and my husband were sitting at the dining room table looking over the donuts I'd just brought home. "Or maybe she ate too quickly," he threw out as another guess.


I left Skye to deal with her cat and went back to the more critical matter of making my coffee. Within a few minutes I was at the table with my caffeine and Mama's 'Lil Masshole donut (yes, that's a real thing) and Skye was curled up with her cat in the gray wingback chair in the living room.


This is how our family meeting started. A pretty normal Saturday morning at our house.

"I propose," said Dylan, "that instead of assigning points to each chore, we just go through the stack and let each person choose the ones they want to do. Then we can decide if it feels like enough to earn our salaries."


We were holding this meeting to revamp our chore system. Skye had asked for this congress because she wanted a raise in her monthly salary and knew that the only way to get it was to take on more responsibilities.


Spread out on the round, dark walnut table in front of Dylan were over 30 white index cards. Each one, scrawled in his handwriting, had a chore name on it.


"Works for me," I said and everyone else nodded. Two cups of coffee, five donuts, and three hours later, my body protesting and my head buzzing, we'd sorted who would do what chores, how often they would do them, what qualified as being done with each chore, when chores had to be completed by, and when the new raises would kick in — the factor Skye was most concerned about!


"Okay, now everyone can take their cards and schedule them," Dylan said, pulling all of his cards into a pile. He'd run the whole meeting. It's not that he was put in charge, or it was his job, it happened organically. He'd prepared the cards and had the first idea for how the meeting should go and the rest of us were happy to follow.


I loved watching him take ownership of the project and lay out his ideas so the rest of us could give our input. He also had to pull us back on topic as we often ran off the path and started talking about weekend plans and other fun stuff.


Now I'm not suggesting that all family meetings need be child-led, or last for 3 hours! Our family meetings are constantly evolving to fit the moment. In the beginning, when Dylan was 5 years old, they were more about asking fun get-to-know-you questions and deciding what kind of birthday cake to make, while their current incarnation is of a more serious, democratic nature.


People, especially children, are changing constantly and each family dynamic is different — There is no right way to bring your family together to talk. Some do it every day during a family dinner, but we seldom eat meals together because we're all on different schedules.


No matter when, or how people come together in their family team, there are some foundational factors I think are quite helpful:

  • Family meetings are never for shame or blame. Their purpose is to foster communication, get everyone on the same page, share ideas, learn something, take stock, get opinions, solve problems, or simply connect: human to human, not superior to subordinate.


  • Your children will experience life differently than you do — and that's okay. You might have a fond memory from childhood and you want them to have a similar experience, but they're not you. What's important, special, interesting, scary, overwhelming, exciting, or desirable to you will not be the same for them. But it's worth taking the time to understand how things do look to them.

  • The more you stay curious about how your children understand life, without judgement, the more you pave the road for better communication. Most people appreciate the value in learning something about another culture before visiting that culture — Like how giving the American "OK" hand symbol to a person in Brazil is a bad idea. Things like this are important to know if you want to communicate effectively, to be understood, and to understand.

It's the same with our children: they live in their own culture, in their own ideas, in their own world; and understanding this, but not judging it, will go miles towards fostering communication and connection.

Children are filled with brilliant ideas and a desire to be heard, to be loved, to succeed, and to contribute. Isn't this true of all humans? The truth of this gets covered up when people are feeling insecure, overwhelmed, anxious, shamed, etc. But it doesn't mean the truth of who they are goes away. It's helpful to remember what's at people's core. Your children are watching you and it’s okay to be human. From day one kids look to the people around them for examples of what to do and what not to do. You might tell them that it's not okay to yell at people, but then you yell at them. And they'll make up their own minds about how to interpret that. Now, nobody, and I mean nobody is perfect. What is perfect anyway? I bet you and I have different ideas and standards around the concept. After all, you can't put perfect in a bucket. So what if we were just real with our kids?


What if you let them know what your hopes and dreams are? What if you let them know what you struggle with and what you'd like to do differently?


What if you let them into your world, into this grand experience called life and how it looks to you? What if you let them know that you're human, just like them, just like everyone else — and that that is just fine.