Lesson 5 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance family

How to Hold Effective
Family Meetings

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/fam/meeting.htm

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      This is one of a series of articles on evolving and enjoying high-nurturance (functional) families (Lesson 5). The series exists because the wide range of current social problems suggests that most families don't fill the primary needs of (nurture) their members very well. That promotes the epidemic effects of this lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle.

      This two-part YouTube video offers suggestions for improving family functioning. The video mention eight self-improvement lessons in this site. I've reduced that to seven.

      This article assumes you're familiar with

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it    

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 5

  • traits of a high-nurturance family

  • Q&A about families

       Family "How-to" authors often suggest "have a family meeting," and assume adults know how to do that. In my experience, combinations of five common hazards often prevent such meetings from happening or being productive, and most adults don't know how to overcome this.

      This article...

  • suggests why to have family meetings;

  • defines an effective family meeting;

  • defines specific reasons stepfamily-members need to meet;

  • offers suggestions for successful outcomes; and...

  • provides a menu of useful meeting topics. 

Why Have Family Meetings?

      People communicate ceaselessly to fill local mixes of up to five needs. Meetings occur when some member/s want to communicate with several other people to do one or more of these:

  • Exchange ("discuss") information;

  • Clarify something - reduce confusion and doubt;

  • Create something - like a vacation or holiday plan;

  • Change something (solve a problem) - i.e. reduce someone's discomforts;

  • Coordinate group members on their task responsibilities

  • Teach something of value to everyone

  • Strengthen bonds, relationships, and group harmony; and/or to...

  • Enjoy a common activity together.

Can you think of other reasons to have a meeting?


      Millions of typical multi-home stepfamilies eventually divorce psychologically or legally. So average stepfamily members have extra reasons for regular family meetings:

  • discuss and agree on their identity as a normal multi-home stepfamily

  • agree what that identity means to all members

  • review what's normal (what to expect) in typical stepfamilies

  • discuss and agree on who belongs to the stepfamily

  • review and discuss family-adult priorities (marriage or children first?

  • review the complex process of merging several biological families

  • review the special tasks of stepkids 

  • discuss acceptable first and last names and role-titles

  • compare and contrast stepparenting with traditional bioparenting

  • assess members' status on grieving major losses (broken bonds)

  • review common stepfamily stressors, and what to do about them

  • discuss the benefits of being in a high-nurturance stepfamily

  • clarify and resolve any old issues about prior divorces and family reorganizations, and...

  • discuss issues unique to this stepfamily

      Learn perspective and factual information on each of these topics in self-improvement Lesson 7 here.

Criteria for an Effective Family Meeting

      You've attended many meetings in your life. Why have some been more satisfying and effective than others? I propose that the odds for all your family members feeling "That was a good meeting!" rise when your adults and kids meet conditions like these:

  • Everyone is clear _ who called the meeting, _ why, and _ who leads it.

  • The leader/s pick a time and place to meet that optimizes everyone's comfort; and...

  • They acknowledge that (a) each person attending has several surface and primary needs that may conflict, and that (b) everyone's needs are equally important, regardless of age, gender, or family role.. 

  • Leaders acknowledge that long-term group needs may outrank short-term needs (except in emergencies), and that some family members (like kids) won't know or care about long-term needs; and...

  • Leaders conduct the meeting so that everyone feels heard and respected well enough; and...

  • The meeting leader/s...

    • consistently spot and resolve any relevant conflicts between participants, within local restraints (like time and patience), while...

    • keeping the meeting focused on the original agenda.

  • At the end of the meeting, the leader/s may summarize what happened and any responsibilities and actions that were agreed on. They may also check to see how satisfied each participant feels, invite suggestions, and thank everyone for contributing.

  • The leader/s (or ideally, all adults) stay aware of these factors as the meeting progresses; and..

  • When appropriate, someone will let absent family members know what happened at the meeting, and how the meeting's outcome may affect them. (e.g. "We've decided to become a smoke-free home.") 

By definition: at the end of an effective family meeting, each adult and child will feel their needs for inclusion, respect, information, and comfort were met well enough. 

      How does this set of criteria match your idea of "what's needed for an effective family meeting?" If you've tried such meetings, how did they turn out? As you see, many factors determine how well each person's needs get met. Where can average family adults learn these factors?

Suggestion Checklist

      Discuss these options, and select those you think would help your kids and adults all get your needs met more often. Option: print this and use it as a checklist...

_ 1)    Learn how to tell when true Selves are guiding your family adults. When they are, your odds of planning and facilitating effective family meetings go way up - and vice versa!

_ 2)  Evolve agreement among your members as to what constitutes an effective family meeting. Then use it to monitor your effectiveness together, over time.

      Option: at the end of any meeting, ask each person to honestly grade how useful it was to them - e.g. 1 to 10. Use high "grades" to affirm you all, and low grades as motivation to improve ("What would have made this meeting better / more useful / helpful / interesting for you?").

_ 3) If some adults or kids resist family meetings, or come but don't participate, see that as a chance to learn, not to blame them and/or avoid meeting. Their disinterest, reluctance, or cynicism is probably some mix of barriers like these. With awareness, patience, and empathy, each barrier can be reduced over time.

      Note that evening meals may serve as natural family-meeting times, if you don't overdo it. Option: consider inviting "resistant" members to come as an "observer," so they "know what's going on." Often - specially in meetings that affect them in/directly - they'll join in...

_ 4)  Work out some clear adult criteria for when to have a group meeting vs. discussions with two or three members. The latter are usually a lot simpler!

_ 5)  Learn the skill of digging down and prioritizing together to determine clearly

  • what you and each other family member need,

  • in what order, and...

  • who's really responsible for filling each need. Also,...

  • break complex problems into smaller "chunks" (goals).

These habits will help you consistently set clear family-meeting agendas and provide a useful example for your kids.

_ 6)    Make (vs. "find") time to plan important meetings and discussions first. Consider things like...

  • who should attend and

  • why (what type of meeting will it be - informational, problem-solving, family-building, or enjoyment);

  • when and where to meet;

  • who should lead, and...

  • why;

  • who has the shortest attention span;

  • what specific outcome/s you want; and

  • limiting the agenda to just a few targets. A series of short, focused, effective meetings is more nurturing to your family than several long, boring, and/or complicated meetings.

_ 7)  Help all your adults and kids learn to talk about R(espect) attitudes and messages Such talk includes learning how to say "I just got a '1-up' or '1-down' message from you." Awareness of your R-messages and attitudes is vital to effective communication in or out of a family meeting!

_ 8)  Explain what values conflicts, loyalty conflicts, and relationship triangles are to every adult and older child, and discuss your ideas on how best to spot and resolve each of these common family stressors. Option: interest kids in this by inviting them to be a conflict and/or triangle "scout," and rewarding them for spotting these problems. Make sure they don't feel responsible for causing or resolving them! 

      Recall - this is a checklist of suggestions for having effective family meetings.

_ 9)  Have all your family adults read and discuss these ideas about improving communication effectiveness with adults and kids. Then teach all your family members:

  • the five needs we all try to fill by communicating (even infants!), and

  • what happens when two or more persons' communication needs don't match.

  • Develop a language ("I think my needs don't match yours right now - let's check, OK?") and...

  • Evolve a strategy that any of your kids and adult can use if this need-conflict happens during a conversation or family meeting.

Option: ask a child to be a "need-conflict" scout in your homes. If you do this, let all family adults know what you're doing and why... 

_ 10)  Watch for chances to affirm individual and group successes as you all experiment with how to meet, talk, and problem-solve effectively together. That can sound like "Mike, you did a real nice hearing check just now - way to go!"; or "I'm appreciating that in the last 25 minutes no one interrupted anyone else. Good for us!"; or "Alexa, I know you had to work hard to get here on time - and you did. Thanks!

_ 11)  When you're meeting to solve (someone's) problem, help everyone focus on identifying and ranking primary needs. "Problems" ultimately turn out to be someone's unfilled needs - i.e. emotional, spiritual, and/or physical discomforts.

_ 12)  Help everyone learn and use the difference between requests ("No," "Not now," and "I can't say" are acceptable responses); and demands (These are not acceptable responses).

_ 13) Since you all are evolving family relationships and roles together, see how everyone feels about these wise guidelines, and encourage each other to use them in confusing situations. Option: open any meeting by reading these brief inspirations or something else to center everyone.

_ 14) Note your option of combining "business" (information exchange, problem solving, family-building) with some fun - like a game you all enjoy. The Ungame and LifeStories are two interesting, non-competitive board games for all ages that combine fun and family-building.

_ 15) In long, complex, or important family meetings, it can help if at the end, the leader/s summarize:

  • who called the meeting, and...

  • why (e.g. "Maria wanted us all to discuss whether we should get a dog");

  • what key needs surfaced ("We discovered a lot of mixed opinions on this"), and

  • who agreed to do what, by when (" We agreed we're still too disorganized from moving in together, and that Maria's responsible for calling us together again to decide about a dog in early August."

_ 16)  Consider rotating the meeting leadership role, so older kids get a chance to develop and practice their "chairperson skills." Co-parents can act as coaches and consultants, and retain ultimate responsibility for meeting process and outcomes.

_ 17)  When important decisions were reached, decide who will follow up to see if what was agreed on actually happened. Otherwise cynics will be justified in saying "Family meetings are a waste of time - they don't work."

_   (add your own effective-meeting suggestions)

Useful Family-meeting Topics

      There are many subjects you adults can include in a family-member meeting or discussion. You  can focus on...

  • defining and resolving a specific role, relationship, or other family problem,

  • plan a celebration, vacation, reunion, or discuss a change;

  • education - i.e. growing family-member knowledge; and...

  • having fun together and growing your "us-ness" (bonds).


__  Use the quizzes and Q&A articles in this educational Web site as sources of useful topics.

__  Have a series of meetings to discuss and practice the seven communication skills in Lesson 2.

__  Draw and discuss your family tree, genogram, and/or structural map.

__  Discuss and draft a family mission statement .

__  Review and celebrate your family strengths, and work to improve them together.

__  Define and discuss your family identity.

__  Teach young people about their ancestors and heritage, and encourage their curiosity.





      This Lesson-5 article...

  • defines an effective family meeting,

  • defines unique reasons stepfamily-members need to meet

  • offers suggestions for successful outcomes, and...

  • illustrates useful meeting topics.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need?

      Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with?  Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else'''?

  Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll .

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