When I was seven years old, I called my first family meeting.
I posted the handwritten notice to the refrigerator for all requested attendees (my mom, dad, and older brother). It included the date and time, location (my bedroom), agenda, and the assurance that snacks would be provided (a necessity in our home).
My intention was simple: I wanted us to come together to discuss the future of our family. What prompted this action? It started when I saw both of my parents go to meetings . . . talk about meetings at the dinner table . . . and lead conference calls on the telephone. There was a tone to their voice that would change when they were in “meeting mode” - and I could sense this is how things got done in their world.
I was inspired – and I wanted to have my own meeting as a way for my little voice to be heard in the chaos of family life. Plus, I liked the idea of leading change like my parents. One of my big ideas on the agenda was that we would put away a “dollar a day” for the next ten years!
At the meeting, a handout was provided after completing the sign-in sheet. Clearly I meant business. Other than being a little nervous, I don’t remember the outcome of that first meeting . . . but they did continue as an important family tradition. I remember my brother called a meeting to renegotiate video game restrictions. My dad liked to combine family meetings with pizza nights. I can still remember how my mom, with a little bit of desperation in her voice, would exclaim:
We need a family meeting!
Granted, not all of our meetings were productive. But I can say with absolute certainty that they contributed greatly to our sense of togetherness – and helped me to cultivate my own leadership voice over time.
Here are the three things I learned about the positive power of family meetings.
They are encouraging. The fact that everyone showed up to my first meeting was truly special. Even as the youngest, I felt a new sense of inclusion . . . and responsibility in the family. Instead of just going along with the regular flow, I now felt empowered to bring my small voice into the action.
I witnessed how when we slowed things down into our family meeting format, we were all a little more thoughtful . . . a little more helpful to each other. Plus, when you are young, your ideas can feel boundless – and at times scattered. My dad added the “no bad ideas” rule that kept the space safe. I also learned that while ideas may start alone – they flourish with the support and collaboration of others – especially those who love you most.
They build confidence. My first meeting was a game-changer for me. While I was only mimicking what I saw in my parents, there was something uniquely powerful about having those six eyes on me as I led them through the agenda. Not only was I being taken seriously, I was in charge . . . and I liked it!
It is important for parents to know that as children, we often feel more like passengers than true crew members in routine family life. It can be incredibly empowering when young children get to help or lead in some way. The family meeting can draw everyone into crewmember status – gaining their ideas, help, and input on a regular basis. Their confidence will grow as they see how their ideas matter, too.
They are emotionally safe. As a young child, I was painfully shy. In preschool, I did not say a single word during my first year. My mom had to video tape me playing school with my stuffed animals – just to confirm for the teacher that I was actually capable of speaking! In reality, I had tons of thoughts, feelings, ideas -- but I wasn’t quite ready to share them in my first “non-family” group setting.
As I look back, I can remember how I shared my day (in endless detail) with my family at the dinner table and beyond. The little girl who wouldn’t speak at school was now an energized chatterbox. What a wonderful gift to have a family that would patiently let me share a day’s worth of seemingly endless observations and experiences in their safe presence.
It’s hard to deny that these family meetings have played a pivotal role in helping me grow into the woman I am today. Sure, we all are routinely humbled in this challenging world we live in. But I’ve always felt a special strength that helps me weather the setbacks that naturally occur — like not getting the job, a failed project . . . or a misstep in a relationship. I can trace this resilience back to finding my voice at an early age in our family meetings.
Not surprising. Any time we provide safety, loving support and the opportunity to speak freely, our children will thrive. Start your family meeting tradition today.
Mackenzie Morrison is a writer and artist living in Hollywood with her two little dogs, DD & Maxine. She has co-authored two children’s books with her dad and write a lifestyle blog, www.boyclair.com.