All blended families encounter communication issues at one time or another. Given that communication is a hallmark of all successful relationships, a breakdown in this sensitive area can prove detrimental to ensuring familial well-being. Listening, brainstorming and problem-solving are all components of the family meeting. By engaging in a family meeting and teaching this problem-solving process, you not only seek to solve your family’s issues but you provide your children with tools for the complicated adult world awaiting them. A fortunate by-product is teaching mutual respect among all family members.
1. Agenda. No, you don’t have to have a pretty white sheet of paper that entails each and every question that needs to be addressed. But you need to be straightforward about what precipitated the meeting. What are the issues that need to be addressed? If possible, one issue at a time should be undertaken so that a clear solution can be found before attempting to move on. Also, allow your children ample time to prepare for the meeting. Often they may need to write their thoughts or feelings on paper if they better express themselves in that manner. And if you feel the need, post that little white sheet of paper on your refrigerator with details of where, when and how.
2. Participation. In blended families, it is especially important to address everyone’s needs. Therefore, encourage everyone in the family to participate. Some children are not present in the home at all times due to custody arrangements, however, all hands need to be on deck to address family issues. Moreover, if you don’t engage with all of the children, those not participating may feel left out and unimportant. Therefore, attempt to schedule a time that works for everyone.
3. Where? Pick a place where everyone is comfortable. My family has been known to gather at the kitchen table or in our great room. By ensuring that everyone is in a comfortable space, you will be inviting more participation.
4. Everyone is heard. Everyone should be given the opportunity to be heard. Encourage kids to talk. It’s not just about the adults in the family setting rules and the children obeying them. The point is to encourage open discussion. But keep the topic clear. Use uncomplicated words with evident meaning, such as “When this happens, I feel…” Don’t allow the time spent together to turn into accusatory banter. Finger-pointing and name-calling are off limits. Nurture respectful attitudes amongst the children.
5. Brainstorm. A family meeting is not only for the purpose of being heard. Brainstorm ideas and solutions to the problems at hand. You will not all agree on how to solve each and every issue, therefore, you must work towards all viable options. Be creative. Think outside the box. Be open to all suggestions.
6. Get consensus. The solution needs to remedy the problem. Can everyone agree on the solution? Is this an answer that is meaningful to all of the parties, kids and adults? If so, put it into practice for a trial solution period. Determine the time limit for the trial period to keep the entire family accountable.
7. Evaluate. Check back on a regular basis to evaluate the ongoing nature of the solution. Is it working for all involved? Are there still trouble spots to be addressed? You may need to revisit the problem-solving process.
Finally, when all else fails, seek professional help. Your family is the rock upon which you and your children build your futures. Morals, values and commitments take shape right in the heart of your home. Commit to making it a priority and if that means reaching out for help, don’t hesitate. Your future and that of your family is on the line.
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