The 3 Questions I Ask My Kids at Every Family Meeting

published May 18, 2022
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

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Through the years, we’ve had various iterations of family meetings, some better than others. For a while we went through different character traits, such as brave and dependable, read some related stories, and had laminated “badges” for “Courage Under Fire” or “Star Shooter” (which was the award for going above and beyond) for whoever exhibited the trait the best throughout the week. This was great, but it required a great deal of preparation from Mom and Dad. As the kids got older and had more activities, it became unsustainable and family meetings fell by the wayside. I always wanted to revive them, though, so when I read a strategy for family meetings in The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler, I knew I had to try it. 

Why Family Meetings Are Important to Me

I have a Pinterest board called Kids’ Projects that has over 1,500 pins. It includes things like night and day agamographs, nature cutting sensory bins, and the most glamtastic pipe cleaner crown you’ve ever seen. Obviously, I (no longer) have any delusions about being able to complete even a fraction of these projects. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to fit in two or three this summer!

But the Pinterest board, for better or worse, is symbolic of my intentions with my children. While it matters relatively little if one or the other craft projects are completed with them, the board represents quality time spent with them doing things that they may one day outgrow when they’re totally consumed with sports practice and after school activities and friends and summer jobs (*SOB*). 

I’m aware that my time with them is fleeting and I try to be purposeful about making sure at least some of the things that really matter actually happen. (Actually, narrowing it down to just a few makes it far more likely they will.) For instance, it’s very important to me to read to my children. I want them to be imprinted with memories not only of life-changing stories, but of the time we spent enjoying them together. 

Family meetings are an opportunity to make sure everyone in the family has a chance to feel heard.

This is also why we have family meetings. They are an opportunity to foster communication and make sure everyone in the family has a chance to feel heard about how the household is running. It’s a forum where we can discuss important topics and iron out interpersonal hiccups in our family dynamic. Most of all, I want to have family meetings to strengthen the sense of our family as a unit. I want to take every opportunity to make this unit strong and healthy because it’s the base from which they fly and, like every parent, I want them to soar — and to come home to rest. 

Credit: Chris Perez

The 3 Questions That Changed Our Family Meeting Format

In The Secrets of Happy Families, Feiler explores theories related to what makes a happy family not by looking to traditional experts on the family like psychologists, but by talking with experts in other fields: 

“Determined to find the smartest solutions and the most cutting-edge research about families, bestselling author and New York Times family columnist Bruce Feiler gathered team-building exercises and problem-solving techniques from the most creative minds—from Silicon Valley to the Green Berets—and tested these ideas with his wife and kids. The result is a lively, original look at how we can create stronger parent/child relationships, manage the chaos of our lives, teach our kids values and grit, and have more fun together.”

The very first chapter, entitled “The Agile Family Manifesto,” discusses a software development methodology, called “Agile,” and how it can apply to the family system. The book describes: “The core idea of development is that life is constantly changing, and we have to organize ourselves in ways to allow us to react to changes in real time. The centerpiece of the program is a weekly review session built on the principle of ‘inspect and adapt.’”

Sounds like a good family meeting formula, doesn’t it? It is. We implemented the three questions suggested in the book for family meetings. These questions are the framework for each meeting, providing the way for everyone to discuss how the family is doing. The questions are:

  1. What things went well in our family this week? 
  2. What things could we improve in our family? 
  3. What things will you commit to working on this week? 

The framework has been a resounding success. Sticking to three questions keeps our family meetings short and focused, but the questions themselves are open-ended enough that just about any topic of concern can bubble up. 

In addition, answering the questions has made such a significant difference in how our family functions throughout the week. We’ve addressed topics from how to make sure we don’t double up on feeding the dogs to how we might be able to uplift the atmosphere in our home through how we speak to one another. 

While our family meetings support our family system on a daily and weekly basis, I believe they’re also reinforcing the family unit as a whole. The predictable framework of the three questions helps the meetings happen week after week, even if we’re only able to grab twenty minutes at a time, and this consistency turns the meetings into the security and identity that come from tradition and ritual. 

Furthemore, the way these questions give the kids an opportunity to offer input underscores what we always tell them, that we want them to have a voice in the things that pertain to them. This increases their confidence, their communication skills, their ability to advocate for themselves and one another, and the likelihood that they’ll comply with whatever solutions we come up with together. The kids feel like they have ownership over their responsibilities and over their role in our household. Morale rises and all of us are happy

Little by little, the birds in our nest are growing their wings, even through something as seemingly mundane as family meetings. I’m so thankful for the formula that finally made them manageable.