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Family meetings and summer realities

A temporary population spike – in the form of a college student home for the summer and a high schooler with tons of upcoming freedom on her hands – prompted our family to convene a meeting.

This is a grand old tradition in a group that really digs plans and organization, at least in theory – but whose reality is often a collision of previous commitments with late-breaking priorities like that longed-for beach trip that finally came together, or that crucial party at Maeddyssonne’s house, or whatever.

“I know I’m supposed to mow the lawn today but her dad is finally letting her use the car but today only and it’s not supposed to rain so can’t I please mow the lawn tomorrow instead? Pleeez?”

Oh go have fun. That’s the point of summer, right? Whereas, one point of family meetings is establishing the pattern: Here’s how you discuss important stuff in a civil and businesslike way. Here’s how you re-establish a little clarity and routine in a household that may feel chaotic and random – and where certain problems are either visible on the horizon or already landing in your lap.

For example, our household’s general state of cleanliness improved after kid No. 1 changed his address to the dorm. It declined again upon his return. We’d grown quite content with the new status quo. Meanwhile we barely see the returnee, who keeps night-owl hours but generously leaves us evidence of his presence here.

Therefore we posted a “Summer Meeting No. 1, Agenda,” on the fridge. We asked around and scheduled a convenient time. And we encouraged the other inmates to include their own agenda items too, of course.

Here’s the rundown of topics we covered.

  • Check in. How are you today? Giddy with summer sunshine? Exceptionally grumpy? Everybody takes an uninterrupted moment to share. It may help focus attention and establish some nice closeness. Or it may explain the yelling and screaming to follow. Just kidding.
  • Cooking rotation. What day works for whom? How rigid or flexible should the schedule be? How does the shopping get done? Who cleans up?
  • Housekeeping and chores. How tidy a home are we trying for? What’s ideal, what’s reasonable?
  • Money and allowances.
  • Finding a summer job.
  • OK, failing that, finding summer volunteer work.
  • Transportation. For our family of four people, three drivers and two vehicles, it’s the crucial topic, e.g., Mom wants the van for Tuesday afternoon shoulder-pad-pumping class but Brother must check in before 12 noon, or else, with his parole board; can Brother drop Sister at her summer pickleball daycamp and then transfer the van to Mom, who’s meanwhile inline-skated down to Barstucks for her Clutter Cutters support group, and who’ll pick up both Brother from the work crew and Sister from pickleball in time to meet Dad for Applebeez Happy Hour? (Does this actually sound familiar? Anybody heard of the bus? Ah, but that’s a topic for another day.)
  • Anything else? Are we clear on who’s doing what? Is anybody miserable?
  • Check out. Is everybody happy?

Obviously our situation involves older (teen) children who’re good at expressing themselves and negotiating without resorting to tears or fists. When the children are smaller, experts advise that the meetings stay short and expectations relatively low. Maybe there’s more appreciation and celebration than grappling with problems. Maybe meetings with smaller children are really rehearsals – that is, training – for more truly businesslike and productive sessions in years to come.

When that time comes, some experts even recommend elected officers – like a chair who keeps things moving and a secretary who takes notes – and a regular, inviolable, weekly meeting time. To me all that feels a bit formal, but for families dealing with complicated issues, or just seeking to rein in lots of chaos, maybe it’s essential to have a routine, regular recordkeeping and a facilitator with an eye on the clock? Each family can determine its own needs and comfort levels.

Secret for parents: Holding family meetings will teach you just as much as it teaches your children – about everything from managing logistics to building family togetherness. Meetings that go well have been known to leave us feeling so friendly and pleased with ourselves, nobody wants to leave when we’re done. That’s a beautiful moment in the life of a family with busy teenagers.

OK? Thanks for coming. I’m feeling good! Meeting adjourned.