In Praise of Family Meetings

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Sunday afternoon is our time for family meetings. It is a strategy I read in some book somewhere, and my partner and I decided to try it in response to some defiance we were experiencing from both of our kids. We felt that maybe they didn’t feel empowered in their lives — like we were just making all of the decisions for them and dragging them about from here to there. The main purpose of the meeting is to tell them what will be going on during the upcoming week so that they can know what to expect. Right now, it’s working very well, so if you are struggling with out-of-control kids, this is a way to control them while giving them a sense of control.

Our family meetings go something like this: 

1. Agradecimientos (Giving Thanks)

We begin the meeting with agradecimientos (gratitude). Each person takes a turn saying what they are grateful for from every other member of the family. We don’t allow the kids to get in a rut and say the same thing week after week. It doesn’t have to be gratefulness exactly, it can just be something good that they noticed about another person from that week.

2. Plan de la Semana (Weekly Plan)

The main event is to talk about what is happening during the week so that the kids feel somewhat in-the-know about guests who are coming and any unusual events that may be taking place. For this, I print out a weekly calendar and fill in the boxes as they tell me the typical things we do every week: school, H-E-B, basketball practice, soccer practice, etc. We include their after-school activities as well — on Tuesdays the older child decides what to play and on Thursdays the younger one. This gives them a choice and an opportunity to have input over their own lives. It helps them to see it written — even the one who can’t read yet — it must make them feel stable. Lastly, the kids choose the meal for Wednesday nights: one chooses the dinner and the other chooses dessert, so this is the time to solidify what they will help me cook for that week. Yay for routines.

family meetings calendar3. Postres (Desserts)

 We have had a lot of fights about desserts over the years. We don’t eat it every day, and sometimes it’s fruit and other times it’s something sugary. They complained when it was nothing or fruit, so it felt like we couldn’t win. Mostly, the kids rush the adults through dinner by asking, “What’s for dessert?” We tried forbidding that question at the dinner table, but they got around it in ways only kids can think of. Instead of giving up altogether on having dessert, we decided to put it on the calendar in advance. Now we allocate three days to something sweet and two days each to nothing and fruit. The kids no longer complain about what’s for dessert — they just look at the calendar.

4. Lenguaje (Language)

Since we are raising our kids bilingually, we also needed to address the typical problem of kids not wanting to speak in Spanish. We asked the kids at one of our family meetings what we could all come up with as a solution to our problem of parents trying to raise bilingual kids and resistant kids. My older son wanted to model our house after his dual-language classroom, so he suggested we break the days up into English or Spanish. We choose ahead of time which day will be for which language, and since there is one day left, we devote it to honoring the unofficial language of the RGV: Spanglish. When the kids begin in English on a Spanish day, we ask them to consult the chart to check the idioma del día (language of the day). We have avoided many battles this way.

5. Close it Out

We close our family meetings by doing a sports-style hand-gesture and scream “familia”! This is only one example of how you could run a family meeting. What I have learned from doing them consistently is that kids want to be consulted, and there are areas in which they can give input and feel very proud for doing so.

If you run family meetings, what do you do differently? We would love to know!

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Mariana loves sandwiches best, although going 95% vegan two years ago means having traded in ham and swiss for eggplant and roasted red pepper. Her boys, Santiago (5) and Sebastian (3), agree that sliced bread is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The boys are native Spanish speakers despite the fact that neither of their parents is, which has made raising them in Spanish a labor of love. Her commitment to raising bilingual children was made possible by being a first-generation Chilean-American born and raised in New York City, and by having spent two pre-kid years living abroad in Mexico City and Salamanca, Spain. Mariana moved to the RGV in 2010 and never wants to live anywhere else. While the kids are at school, Mariana is a full-time Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UTRGV. She has written for the New York Times, Womankind Magazine, and Yahoo Parenting.

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