Following what is quickly becoming our tradition, we looked at the United Nations calendar of observed days to figure out a theme for this May newsletter. May 15 was International Day of Families, and May 16 International Day of Living Together in Peace.
Naturally, for a parent educator and a parenting coach who has been on the frontlines helping families/parents get through Covid in one piece this past year, these were timely and attractive topics which I decided to combine.
(and also couples without children, roommates, colleagues…)
As some of you might already know, I am a Certified Parent Educator with PEP, the Parent Encouragement Program based in Kensington, MD. PEP is a non-profit organization which teaches parent education classes based in Adlerian Psychology (the psychology of Alfred Adler), since 1982.
In the last year, since Covid begun, we have seen families struggle like never before: between parents working from home, children attending remote school from home as well, not to mention all the losses everyone experienced. This unprecedented time took an unbelievable toll on everyone, and especially on families. How does one work from home efficiently when there are children who need tending to? How do you stay calm in the face of a tantruming toddler? How do you not lose your cool in the midst of a full-blown power struggle with your child or your spouse? In a nutshell, how do you keep a peaceful family in the face of utter ambient chaos?
What I learned at PEP about parenting is based in the following Adlerian principles:
- Encouragement (the universal antidote to discouragement)
- Democracy (every family member has a voice)
- Belonging (everyone wants to feel significant; that they matter and they count)
- Mutual respect (every family member has the same right to dignity)
- Social interest/contribution (when we contribute, we feel significant)
You might be wondering what the link is between a peaceful family and these principles?
Consider this: have you ever been in a situation – say, for example, at work – where you have felt completely discouraged? Utterly demotivated? Down? And if you look closely at what was going on at the time, could you have felt that way because you weren’t getting a sense that what you did or say mattered? That you weren’t being listened to, or heard? And/or, perhaps, you felt disrespected? And as a result, you definitely didn’t get a sense that you were making any significant contribution?
Same with kids: how often do we truly give them a chance to feel heard? That their voices and opinions truly matter? Do you remember ever sending your small child who wanted to help you in the kitchen away, to “go play” – because you didn’t have time for them to slow you down in your dinner making? Or, this past year, how many times have you used “screens” as a babysitter because you simply didn’t have a choice?
Can you feel, now, how discouraging these behaviors can be?
The problem with discouragement is that when we feel bad, we do bad. In other words, when we feel discouraged, we are going to tend to misbehave: to not behave in a productive, cooperative, respectful, nice way toward others. And so… discouragement usually leads to conflict. Discouraged people will easily get into fights.
And that’s how our families end up not being peaceful.
The good news? There is a powerful antidote – a tool which families can use to help all family members feel more encouraged and lead to more peace in the family: the FAMILY MEETING.
Suzanne, my oldest daughter, must have thought it was an impactful tool in our family as it ended up on one of the Mama Jar notes:
“You pushed us to do family meetings”
Our family didn’t experience Covid when my children were growing up – but another sort of powerful “family tsunami” as Steve, my husband and their dad, died in 2011 of cancer. There was a lot of discouragement in our family at the time. A lot of people who weren’t feeling good, and therefore weren’t doing well (and that was not just the kids!). Thankfully, I had learned about Family Meetings at PEP and our family had been practicing them for many years before Steve died. I am not sure how our family would have survived this time without them – and certainly not as well as we did.
Steve, my husband, didn’t react positively to family meetings at first: a senior executive in a large multinational company, the last thing he wanted when relaxing at home on the weekends was to have yet more meetings. I begged him to “help me with my PEP homework” and to please give it a try. I knew he was “sold” when I saw him shed tears (for the first time ever in our relationship), when our youngest, Eva, who was four-years-old at the time, gave him an appreciation. He ended up being so impressed with the positive change these meetings were creating in our family through the power of encouragement, that he brought the meetings to his team at work. He called them “the huddles”, and years after his death, the huddles endured (I have the outline of the huddles – anyone interested, please just reach out! Happy to share his legacy).
So - how does one “do” family meetings?
Start by having an initial family meeting to decide how you will do family meetings! The discussion is open and democratic, all voices are heard, all opinions matter, everyone is treated respectfully, and decisions are made by consensus:
- When will the meetings take place (day and time)
- Where in the house
- What will the family meetings roles be (i.e. chair, secretary, timer, snacks person, logistics…)
- When will the first meeting be
- What will be needed for the meetings (a timer, pen and paper, a talking stick).
And this is how family meetings are organized:
- Meet once a week at a pre-determined and approved day and time
- In a given place
- For a given duration that’s set with a timer (usually no longer than 15/20 minutes)
- The meeting starts with mutual appreciations or compliments (everyone appreciates someone else, or everyone else. These appreciations should be specific and heartfelt)
- Then the meeting moves to business (sharing and syncing calendars for the week, planning family fun and special times, planning weekends and possibly vacations, dealing with any money matters such as allowance…)
- If there is time, family problems can be discussed and resolved
- The meeting ends on a fun note with a fun question (for example: “if you were an animal, what would be and why?”). It can also end with a shared snack.
Let’s be clear: the NUMBER ONE goal of a family meeting is ENCOURAGEMENT.
Rudolf Dreikurs (who was a colleague and work partner of Alfred Adler and wrote the seminal book on parenting “Children, the Challenge” in 1964), said it best:
So if there is not enough time to do anything BUT mutual appreciations, then so be it. That’s perfect and good enough. An encouraged family is a cooperative family and a cooperative family is a peaceful family. If there is no time to solve problems at the family meeting, since the family is in a better place, problems will more easily be solved even at other times.
When my husband died, my daughters were 10 and 12. I was now a single mom in charge of the family by myself, with a pair of very active pre-teens on my hands and a business and household to run. There was NO TIME for family meetings! But I quickly realized that without those regular meetings, the family was falling apart into the dark hole of discouragement. Really, making the time for family meetings was an INVESTEMENT: it cost time upfront, but saved so much time later in power struggles not had, fights not happening, and as a result a much smoother and more harmonious day to day family life.
At family meetings, it’s important to take notes (usually the secretary does that) and keep them. Not only is it useful to capture important information that surfaces during the meeting, it also helps to be able to go back when people disagree on what might have been decided or agreed upon. A bonus benefit is that it’s a wonderful family treasure to look back on fondly.
These are some of our family meeting notes from a meeting we had in 2007. You can enlarge them by clicking them: Eva was the secretary and was 7 years old when she took the notes (with a little help from adults here and there). At the top you can see the roles for next meeting and the jobs everyone has for the week. Below are the appreciations Eva was able to capture. We also had a “sad or happy” question. Below is the calendar for the week, and then the problems to be solved under “business”. And underneath that the finance notes (allowance and IOUs) and finally the fun question. The notes were by no means perfect and perfect notes weren’t the goal: the goal was that everyone has a significant role (in this meeting, 9-year old Suzanne is the Chair (= the “boss” of the meeting) and 7-year old Eva the secretary. Pretty mighty roles!
My daughters also created the “roles” wheel (so that it would be easy to remember who would have which role at the following meeting), and the “jobs” wheel to determine who would be responsible for what jobs the following week. These were created together during the meetings.
Like her dad who brought the “family meetings” to his team in the form of the huddles, Suzanne also recognised the power of those meetings and decided to bring the same principles to her college roommates when things got rough between them. Now they do weekly “roomie” meetings, which have improved their relationships and the functioning of their college roommate community.
Whether you introduce this idea with your family (like I did), with your college roommates (like Suzanne did) or with your colleagues (like Steve did), one thing is for sure: you are putting into practice the art of encouragement and are sure to make a wonderfully powerful difference in these people's lives...including your own!
With parent coaching, you will better understand your children’s behaviors, acquire the tools to help you handle them more effectively, and learn the skills to raise the good citizens of tomorrow. Through the parent coaching process, you feel heard, understood and supported, and reach a state of peaceful and hopeful parenting. Your family becomes an encouraged and cooperative family, of which everyone is a proud and happy member! With parent coaching, parenting can be fun again.
These are some of the issues we work on in parent coaching:
- Discipline that works
- Irresponsible children
- Not listening
- The Big Battles (eating, sleeping, brushing teeth, doing homework, cleaning up…)
- Power struggles
- Fighting Siblings
- Setting limits effectively
- How to use Consequences
- Chore Wars
- Anger Management, Tantrums
- Parenting children with health issues
- Dealing with the modern plague: screens
- Blended families
- Gender issues
Are you READY for joyful parenting?
There are many FREE parenting videos, podcasts and radio clips in the media section of my website, giving you the chance to not only get some useful advice but also see me in action!