Last Sunday we had our first family meeting. This is a practice I was encouraged to adopt by The Learning Habit, a book I endorse and will probably talk about at some length on a later post. At any rate, the purpose of family meetings, as suggested by The Learning Habit, is to have short, focused discussions about current family rules, routines, and issues.
The format of such meetings is simple: discuss an emerging issue, introduce new rules or revise old ones, and review previous efforts. I would add: re-affirm our commitment to each other and higher covenant as a family.
Here’s some suggestions from the book:
- Have an agenda that all caregivers have decided on in advance.
- Be topic specific; one topic is discussed, not several. If a family member brings up another topic of importance to them, it can be scheduled to be addressed at a different family meeting.
- Keep the meetings short, clear, and respectful.
- Family meetings work best when they are regularly scheduled events, usually early in the day and on weekends, when everyone feels relaxed.
This first meeting was about allowance and chores. Again, I draw inspiration and exhortation from an outside source: The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. You can listen to the Slate Money podcast talk to him about some of what he covers in his book:
Although there’s an established understanding in our home that the kids are expected to participate in housework and contribute to household matters, we think having a set checklist of daily and weekly chores gives Biggie some more structure, autonomy, and responsibility. He’s usually glad to participate and more so if expectations are established ahead of time. We read through what we thought were a reasonable set of chores in the meeting, and he nodded along to the whole thing.
We’ve also decided to give Biggie a 30-cent-a-day allowance divided into three buckets: spending, saving, and giving (a Lieber suggestion). He is allowed to spend with nearly complete freedom any funds from his spending jar. A record of his expenditures must be kept, however, and we plan not to bail him out from poor financial decisions. It is expected that he tithe from the giving jar as well as donate to charitable causes. He is not allowed to dip into the spending jar without parental negotiation and approval.
Although both chores and allowance were items on the agenda of the same meeting, I want to be careful to differentiate any connection between the two to Biggie. I don’t want him to think that his allowance is payment for his chores. Instead, allowance is our gift to foster his sense of stewardship.
Stewardship is a core value for me, and a big part of what I want to impart to my kids. One of my former students compared me to Carson on Downton Abbey—probably because I’m testy, snooty, and beleaguered—but I was inwardly pleased at the comparison. I believe we should have a detachment from our stuff and activities and realize that they are talents on loan to our care. We are not what we own or what we do… we are defined by how we serve and who we serve.
I wish my children to feel that they are in the caste of samurai and sous-chefs, proud Gamgee gardeners and regal Alfred Pennyworths. I wish they won’t worry about earning their value but focus rather on honoring and enjoying trust.