Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Calling the Family Meeting.


I call family meetings. I never thought I'd be the type, but I am. And, worse, the family meetings are sometimes intense and include assignments -- watching something, reading something, to be discussed at the next family meeting as well as follow up assignments about goals or solutions to problems... They're intense and honest and we lay our stuff out there.

(Right now, you might think: why the Will Smith picture? I'll get to it.... Have a little patience.)

I didn't grow up with family meetings probably because we had family dinners. Look, I got an incredible education at my dinner table growing up. My father was a lawyer and loved to argue. He'd argue a point and if he changed your mind, he'd switch and argue the other side. My mother's OCD kicks in around food and she sometimes threw things. My grandparents laid bets on which kid would first spill their milk and/or storm off first. We were arguers and stormers, but we covered some intense ground -- a lot of current politics, pop culture, familial history.

Every once in a while my father would say, "How about we only speak French tonight?" And this was kind of golden because my father refused to believe that none of us really spoke French much beyond pass the butter so it was quiet.

I believe (for better or worse) in the family dinner. We just can't seem to pull it off -- with soccer and art ... But sometimes I need all six of us in one place to talk it out, whatever it is. So I call a family meeting.

Mainly the meetings are about some transition coming up that we all have to be ready -- like a touring season for me or to mark a lot of personal changes for the kids. We like to look back on a school year or take time to gear up for one. Summer's sprawling out before us, how do we get some goals so it's not squandered? We sometimes call family meetings specifically for big world events -- ones that have rocked us.

We talk about our lousy attitudes. We talk about money. We talk about everyone helping out. We talk about how we're all working hard, about accomplishments, about new challenges. We talk about how to take in the long view. We tell stories about things we've learned (that we wish we'd learned earlier). We talk about the future.

This past week, I sent everyone (even the French kid living with us) a link to a video of clips from different Will Smith interviews over the years. I told everyone to watch it. A few days later, we had a family meeting. Dave and I always huddle first, get a list of what we want to talk about, more or less, and then we wing it.

I found the link at a new site called GLAD LAB: LIFE IS SHORT. DO WHAT MATTERS. Here's the Will Smith link. They all got different things out of it. Good stuff.

One of the things we hit was Will Smith talking about building a wall one brick at a time. I like the idea of building a house, metaphorically, more than a wall. So the kids take-away assignment was that I wanted each of them to tell us -- in the coming days -- what their house is for this year and how they intend to build it one brick at a time. We told them that we can support them, but they've got to tell us what that house is first.

(We've also recently started talking about what the kids want in a lifelong partner. This brings me to Family Quizzes, which we do on long car rides and the stranded waiting parts of family trips... I can get to that. It was a friend of ours who told us that they talked a lot about future relationships with their kids... It's good.)

Do the kids love family meetings? No. But they don't hate them either. The meetings are messy and there are always distractions, antsiness, and sometimes they get heated. But, all in all, I need them as a parent. I need to have that focus. I need to express what I see going on that's not working and what I think we could do -- if we could start to imagine it ...