Over the past several years we have started a tradition that will stay with our family. We have family meetings and intentionally share our lives with each other. And I can truly say these times have been life giving for us, a place where we center, refocus and re-frame, remind each other of our purpose, and encourage each other in our journey. Now before you think these are times that begin and end with everyone singing kumbaya in perfect harmony while holding hands let me be clear: we are no experts and honestly
This might be way more than you want to or need to know so please use what is helpful and ignore the rest. We first started with a family mission statement. When we did this our girls were very small so it was mostly Jason and I that came up with the mission. It was a really important process for us too. We found ourselves in Africa away from family, our culture, and everything "comfortable" and we realized that in the chaos we needed to make our home a centering place for us. But I think this is true anywhere. This world demands a lot from us and our kids and our home needs to be a place where we can process it all, be known and loved, and feel secure.
We realized that we really had not discussed in specifics what we wanted for our family since we got married and wrote a marriage mission statement (and those youngin's had no idea what life with kids would really be like..let's be honest!) It was years since we had taken the time to really pray and write down "how are we doing?" what do we want for our family? How do we keep God at the center of this all?" It can be daunting starting from nothing so we used some of these questions to start our thinking on this:
* what 3 words do we want to be used to describe our family?
*how has God blessed and uniquely made our family?
*what makes us feel alive?
*what drains us as a family? what derails us?
*how can we serve each other and our community and world?
*what can we do better as a family?
*what are our top priorities as a family?
*what do we want for our family in 5 years? 10? 20? 50?
We also loved the resources here and here.
This took at least 3 "date nights" to discuss and was a lot of work. Again, don't be discouraged! It is worth it! It was so awesome to see how we visioned our family and honestly made me love my husband even more as we sought these answers together and were both willing to compromise too for the sake of the whole. It really was a great process. This also empowered us to say "no"to many 'good' things in favor of the 'best' things so we can keep our values as a family. In a world where there is so much to do it can help you answer questions that arise. This might sound bizarre but it helps our kids understand why we say 'no' to certain things and focus on other things. For example because we value time together we make the decision that each child can only do one after school activity at this stage of life because we really want to protect our limited time. The girls' have also asked for something new and we asked them if they really thought we needed that thing because we want to "live simply." Because we desire for us all to be "thinkers and learners" we prioritize cultural events that allow us to learn from others in the world. It has helped guide our decision making but as a family not just Mama or Papa saying 'no.'. So even though it is saying "no" it is really saying "yes" top our priorities. Here is what we came up with for our family vision and mission......
8. Is there anything anyone wants to share with our family? This time is just for the kids or us to share about anything that was not covered in other areas. We can bring up any big changes or issues going on in our family. Last week Anni said she wanted to share the things in her Africa keepsake box and why they were special to her and we all loved remembering the amazing times we had there. This time can also be for any "family business" or things written on the board we need to discuss.
- What do you discuss? How often do you have them? What do you require as far as participation form Evy? We discuss anything and everything! We always tell our kids they can tell us anything and that we have family meetings because we want to always get to know each other better so we can love each better. We originally tried to have them once a week but it was too much so we aim for bi-weekly but if we are going through a lot of changes we try to have them more often just to check in. For Evy (who is 4) we want her to fully participate but also understand age appropriate behavior (sometimes she is sharing while hanging backwards off the couch). She did go through a period where she had a nasty attitude, "i hate family meeting humph!" and we just gently (tried) to remind her by saying "we love you and want you to be a part of this." It was really hard, no lie, but as we stuck with it she now loves it! We also stop and "reset" (everyone take a 5 minute break or pray) whenever there is crazy disruption and I'll say it again if you start these THERE WILL BE. The enemy hates families to be close and practice loving each other. Fight the good fight Mama! It gets better I promise (and then it gets harder again) but I can say after doing these for a few years now it is always worth it!
- Do you address/acknowledge eye rolling? Do you set an agenda? We do deal with eye rolling or disrespectful behavior because you cannot listen to someone else if you are rolling your eyes or doing somersaults (not that that has happened except that it totally has). But we really try not to freak out and make it a battle. This is also where having a fun treat comes in handy. I'm all for a little "incentive" as needed for the younger set (heck for flourless chocolate cake I'll listen too!). If you make it worthwhile your kids will want to do it! We are not super strict in demanding the kids sit completely still but it is the overall attitude of their hearts that matters. We treat them with respect when they share and we expect the same from them. We don't set an agenda for each time and honestly I am such a procrastinator that even the thought makes me shutter in fear! As mentioned, we have a chalkboard under our framed mission statement in our dining room and if the kids want to discuss anything at the meeting they write it on the chalkboard that week so we won't forget to bring it up during our time (recent examples include: 'can we have a pet?' and 'go to the beach' (this one cracked me up as it polar vortex up in here right now). I'm sure some much more well organized mamas do agendas and they are rockstars but I know that would make me crazy! We do write everything down in our family journal though and sometimes go back and look at what we discussed earlier (this is really awesome as last year when we encountered some difficulty in trusting what was next for us Annikah brought up a meeting where we prayed for a place to live as we were leaving Africa and she exclaimed "God answered that so quickly!!" Yeah, I wanted to cry)
- Is there a time limit? Are they scheduled or as needed? I recall Anni's request to be baptized as the subject of a meeting. Do you have a suggestion board? Or a need to get off my chest type of board? We usually do them every other Sunday afternoon and have had to make time in saying no to a lot of weekend stuff in order to make sure we have the space for them. Sometimes they take 30 minutes and sometimes we have talked for well over an hour. It just depends on the kids and what we are discussing. Yes, Anni did request to be baptized through our suggestion board and you can read more about it here. The board helps me make sure if they have something important (or even just silly or little) we honor them and discuss it later. The key is you need to make this a priority and that means making time. Even if you have weekly activities that you feel are very important, it's worth evaluating the health of your family and what is the most valuable way you can spend time together. For us that has meant skipping a party or church once in a while so we could have family meeting.
Penzi la Mama tamu, haliishi hamu (a mother's love is sweet, you can never have enough) and
Dua ya Mama ni baraka kwa mtoto (a mother's prayer is a blessing to her child)
I pray our family meetings and time together are small ways that communicate that my children are treasured by us and their Creator and that they know we pray together and for them because we all need more of God's love and grace manifest in our lives. This role of Mama is the important work of helping our kids live this life to it's fullest. Peace to you on your journey,