Tradition & Innovation

Family Meetings

By Rabbi Rona Shapiro

Many families hold a formal family meeting on a weekly basis to touch base, make plans and handle issues that arise.

In her book Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen advises weekly family meetings. During the week, family members write agenda items on a large paper or white board somewhere anything they want to bring up with the family is fair game. Adults write for younger children. At the meeting, items are gone through in the order in which they were written. Some items are dispensed with quickly others may have to be tabled for future meetings.

She offers a methodology for problem-solving, as well. In general, people suggest ideas for how to solve the problem. All ideas are written up and no one argues with any of them at this juncture. Then the family weeds through the list, crossing off ideas that are unacceptable to one or other family member. Eventually, you are left with a list of workable solutions from which you can choose among and implement.

Nelsen argues quite convincingly that children are excellent problem-solvers and are much more likely to abide by the solution when they are part of creating it. This also gives children great skills for life.

Family meetings are also used to plan a fun family activity for the coming week or month. She advises keeping meetings short and regular and holding them at a time when everyone is generally available. Some families also begin their meetings by appreciating one another; one family, described in Meg Cox's The Heart of the Family, has a spotlight on one person each week everyone else has to say a nice thing about the chosen person. Others note what went well this week before beginning on what needs improvement. Some pass a talking-stick only the person holding the stick can speak.

Family meetings can begin with a blessing or a word of Torah. The blessing can be for the gift of family or for bringing everyone together or even for wisdom and discernment to work out the problems which will be confronted. Alternatively, family members can alternate teaching a small piece of something from the weekly Torah portion, or from another Jewish source which interests them.

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