In the hustle bustle of modern family living, it's easy to literally forget to talk to the people we love. It's common for mothers and fathers to go days, weeks, months without sitting down to really share what is going on in their lives, discuss important matters, and connect in a deep way. Children are often being shuttled around and rarely get the chance to have the issues, experiences and ideas they are living with heard in the family unit as well. A practice which can help to create more communication, closeness and a sense of smooth operating for families is the weekly family meeting. My neighbor does this with her family each Sunday evening from 5-6pm. She has a large piece of paper taped to the fridge with "Family Meeting Topics" written at the top of it where throughout the week when an issue, topic or need arises for anyone in the family, they can jot it down so it is sure to be discussed on Sunday evening.
At the meeting, each family member is given a certain amount of time (5-10 minutes) with a timer to speak what is on their mind, share how they are feeling, make requests of other family members that are specific and address needs which have arised. One week, Sally may ask Jonah to be sure to put the toilet seat down so that when she wakes up groggy in the morning, she doesn't nearly fall in. Dad may ask the kids to be sure to clean up their toys before he gets home so he doesn't have one more long task to complete at the end of a long day. Mom may ask Dad to be sure he picks up groceries this week because she has a Moms Night Out. Those are the practical requests.
Each family member also is invited to share anything that is happening in their world that has strong feelings attached. For instance, Sally shares that a friend she really counts on has started to flake on her and she is feeling nervous and sad. Jonah explains that he has his heart set on making the baseball team but has been disappointed at his own performance at tryouts. The rest of the family listens wholeheartedly, without trying to fix anything, just to hear what their sister, brother or parent is going through and to offer compassionate awareness. If the family member wants feedback or input, he or she will ask. Mom and Dad also share what is really going on for them emotionally: a difficult encounter with a boss, a friend who is sick with cancer, concerns over an aging parent's health. This way, part of the family culture is being created in openness, vulnerability, trust, truth and authenticity.
If you find yourself wishing your family felt more like a unit with close ties than it does currently, and your youngest child is verbal, this could be a structure to start incorporating into your family's weekly life. It's a ritual that has meaning, fosters closeness and opens up the family unit to work together, be aware of one another and accept each others' experiences wholeheartedly. And it can be a lot of fun!