About five years ago now, two of my kids were upstairs fighting. Upon hearing what can only be described as a ruckus, my husband Howard who has a lower tolerance than I do for kid noise, bounded upstairs to break it up. I wish I could tell you that his intervention was productive and that my husband was a model of composure, but alas, I cannot. Rather than de-escalating the fight, he got sucked in. From the kitchen, directly below, I heard three raised voices now. He said. She said. Dad yelled.
The next thing I knew, Howard re-emerged in the kitchen. I asked what happened and I got some rundown of a kid squabble that he said he resolved. Then, immediately after this heightened state of emotion, Howard yelled up to the kids, “What do you want for your snack?” as though this three-way fight between them had not just happened only seconds ago. I was beside myself. Snack?! What about resolution or restoration in light of the fight? Though their noise levels were back within the acceptable range, I was quite certain the emotions could not be. I wasn’t even a part of it and my emotions were on edge.
“I’m going upstairs and getting the kids. We need to talk about this,” I said.
“About what?” Howard questioned.
“I can’t live like this. I can’t have a nuclear war one minute and the next have snack. This is crazy.”
This was the start of our weekly family meetings. Prior to this event, we called family meetings when there were big decisions. We’re going to go on a trip, where should we go, for example. Our new weekly family meetings are not about decision-making, they’re about creating community and establishing the culture that I want our family to build and value. This probably makes me sound like I’m some type of mom who has her act together. Like I make my kids’ lunches from organic, free-range avocados or something. I assure you, I’m not that person. I hesitate to tell you, but I don’t care about our fruit or vegetable intake (our dinner a couple of weeks ago on Sunday and Monday night was completely deep-fried—like the vegetable was onion rings). Sunday night is the only night I’m guaranteed to cook and the other nights it’s a little Lord-of-the-Flies-like with dinner being leftovers, Lunchables, and ramen. You get the gist. I’m not a poster-child mom. But I am a human being. I am someone who wants to be around people who treat each other with kindness, respect, and patience. I am someone who cares about what is said and how it’s said. My kids don’t have to be best friends, but I will continue to insist that they are friendly towards each other.
So here’s how our weekly meetings work:
We rotate the leader of each meeting so that we all have a turn. The order stays the same and goes from oldest to youngest.
The leader opens the meeting with a prayer. We hold hands during the prayer.
After the prayer, the leader asks, “Who would like to start by saying one nice thing about everyone?” Everyone has to participate. The nice thing can be a compliment, a thank you, or anything else.
Next, the leader asks, “Do we have any announcements, celebrations, or concerns?” This is the time when we talk about anything that might be coming up for the week ahead (announcements), where we honor anyone’s accomplishments for the week (great soccer game this week), and/or any issues that need to be addressed (it’s really troubling that everyone has clothes all over their bedroom floor).
We transition into the goal section of the meeting. “How’d we do on last week’s goal and what should this week’s goal be?” For example, the goal for last week was to play a game with at least one other person in the family.
The meeting leader then asks a question of their choosing. You can only imagine the questions that have been asked. Howard is good for “what is your favorite…season? Sport? Movie?” The kids dread when it’s my week because they accuse me of asking complicated questions like, “What’s one trait from everyone else that you admire?” As we take turns with the questions, you have to say what the person before you said so that you can demonstrate you were listening. The first person has to say what the last person says.
We close the meeting by saying, “What does it mean to be a family bubble?” and then answer in unison, “Putting each other first.”
Sounds awesome, right? You’re thinking that this is Rockwellian, right? I mean, we literally have the meeting while eating our Sunday dinner that I’ve prepared. What could be better? Don’t be fooled. These are all still the same people who I introduced you to at the start of this letter. We’re flawed and human and struggle. There have been meetings where we have literally had people leave the table out of frustration or anger. Okay, I’m probably the person most likely to get frustrated at the meetings. Why? Because in my head this is sacred time. In my head, this is a time when we should be at our best and putting into practice all of the work that we’ve learned from all of the prior weeks’ meetings. In my head, I really do want Norman Rockwell painting a picture of the Lyon Family. In reality, we’re still doing the meetings because we still have room to grow.
I’m sharing this because it parallels the work that happens in schools. My family meeting is likely your restorative practices circle, your morning meeting, your routine that you do to ensure that students know that you care and see them as people. If you’re not creating space to build relationships, then you’re leaving to chance that the students will build connection with each other and you. People who are disconnected from each other are more likely to behave in ways that disrespect each other. On the other hand, when a culture of value and relationship is built, people are less likely to engage in ways that disrespect the culture that is created. Moreover, when someone does harm the culture, the goal should be to repair the harm—not to erode the relationship through blame, embarrassment, or shame. Meetings to proactively create culture do not inoculate you against challenges; they do, however, help establish shared values and expectations.
In the end, my kids still bicker and fight. My husband and I can still get sucked into that nonsense. I do wholeheartedly believe, though, that our meetings matter and set the stage for how we aspire to be even if we don’t always hit the target. The point is not perfection. The point is relationship.