I originally wrote a version of this article for TakePart.com, an interactive publisher and the digital arm of Participant Media, the company responsible for award-winning films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc., Waiting for Superman, Charlie Wilson’s War, Contagion and The Help.
Back in early June, sweet summer beckoned with infinite possibilities. Hopefully some of the good ones became realities for you and your family. Either way, summer has come and gone, the frost is on the pumpkin, and we’re up to our knees in a new school year.
Now and always, you are your child’s most influential teacher. Which means that every day you have wonderful opportunities to lead and mentor so that next June you and your child can look back and say, “This has been a great year.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. How about calling a family meeting to take stock of how things are going? Don’t like the term family meeting? Call it whatever you want, but before any more time flits by, gather the troops for an open conversation centered on what is working well with your Monday-Friday routine and what isn’t. This conversation may take 30 minutes (give or take), so everyone ought to be comfortable. Sitting around a table is good for that. It also encourages eye contact, always a plus when talking to someone. Appointing a “secretary” with a pen and paper to record ideas/agreements is very helpful. Oh, and snacks are always appreciated.
One more suggestion—during family meetings, unplug from all phones, etc. I realize many of us, and our connection-addicted kids, may feel uncomfortable without our phones, but unplug anyway. A digital-free family meeting sends a message: This discussion is important to our family and we want everyone to have a chance to speak and to be listened to with respect. That means no interruptions.With ground rules established and the clear goal to improve family relationships vs. playing a blame game, let the conversation begin.
School-related causes of family stress include:
- Getting out the door in the morning (including waking up on time, bathroom, getting breakfast, preparing lunch, getting schoolwork into backpacks, etc.)
- Afterschool activity schedule
- Afterschool childcare arrangements
- Afterschool pickup schedule
As you and your kids focus on each of these areas ask, “How is that working for you…son/daughter? Here’s how it is for me.” Be honest with each other. If, for example, mornings are tense because Brother can’t get himself up and out the door on time, then it would be foolish (OK, insane) to go through a whole school year like that. Something has to change. Talk about how it feels to wait for him, stressing, and then to have to drive to school like a crazy person because you’re late. Talk respectfully (no blaming or shaming). Then work together to create some solutions so the family doesn’t get locked into a continuous loop of unacceptable behavior.
The same goes with unacceptable parent behavior. If, for example, Dad agrees to pick up Daughter after sports practice at 5 p.m., but ninety percent of the time he arrives at 5:20 p.m., then something needs to change. (Are you listening, Dad?)
Talk and listen respectfully. Brainstorm new strategies. Hold each other accountable. That’s the way to conduct a successful family meeting. But don’t stop with the negative stuff! There are things that you and the kids are doing very well this school year. Take time at this meeting to acknowledge the cooperation and the successes. Those are the things your family wants to—and needs to—keep repeating.