Will Family Meetings Help You?

Family meeting

Bringing ourselves to focus on what we want, making our expectations explicit, can help every family member come to a shared understanding about family chores, activities, highs, and lows. A simple family meeting gives you structure to make common ground happen.

Mindful Family

Over the past few months I’ve considered how mindfulness helps us as individuals, as parents, in teaching our children, and in our marriages or partnerships.

I find that meeting new ideas tends to be easier than integrating those new ideas into the fabric of life. So, now I’m sharing with you how my family is pulling mindfulness into our routines.

We’ve held family meetings on and off since my children were about 5-8 years old. It’s like meditation—you wander then you return. No judgment, just return.

We’re returning again, this time with a structure I picked up from Marcia Naomi Berger’s Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (2014).

Family Meeting Agenda

We are in week three of marriage meetings, which we started to celebrate our 20th anniversary, and in week two of family meetings. This is the easy part, though.

Marcia Berger suggests that you start with easy topics as you ease into the routine of meetings. I understand that. It’s a good idea to start with a guaranteed win before tackling the big issues.

The agenda for each meeting is the same:

  • Expressing appreciation
  • Coordinating chores
  • Planning for good times
  • Addressing problems and challenges

For more explanation of the four parts of the meeting agenda, I recommend you read Marriage Meetings. It has certainly helped my family.

Scheduling Family Meetings

She suggests a marriage meeting of no more than 30 minutes. Since we have four people in the family meeting, we have given 45 minutes.

To keep the meeting-ness of this time together from being overwhelming, we are scheduling marriage meetings on Sunday, game night on Monday, and family meetings on Tuesday. We just have a short commitment each evening, then we are free to be together or apart as usual.

Younger children are more likely to to follow your lead. I didn’t have any trouble getting my children to sit with me when they were small, but I did find that I needed to translate ideas for their developmental levels. At that stage, I bought a book with ideas for meeting topics. We talked about how to adjust our house to our needs, how to have fun together, and how to be kind to one another. That’s not much different than the structure we’re adopting now.

Now, though, I have teenagers who have strong opinions.

So far (just ONE meeting with this structure), they have embraced this weekly check in. We recorded our commitments in our upgraded family binder, and we’ve followed through.

You Create the Structure You Need

The four-part agenda is just one idea of how to structure a regular check-in with your family. Try it. Try other ideas. Just find a way to give your each of your family members a regular place and time to share their needs.

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Importance of Family Meals

Family Mealtime

The average family mealtime lasts only 20 minutes, but that time spent together builds a foundation for a child’s health and well being. Benefits range from nutrition to language, culture, and even mental health.

Who wouldn’t want to set their children up for less likelihood of substance abuse, greater vocabulary, fewer behavior problems, less likelihood of asthma, less obesity, and better balanced meals with fewer calories than fast food.[1]

Family meals can do all of that? Yes, that is what research shows. Your investment now while your children are young will continue to benefit them as individuals and all of you as a family. As your children reach their teen years, you will be glad that you have created a strong family routine of sharing during mealtimes.

“A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.” Robin Fox, anthropologist at Rutgers University in TIME Magazine.


Family Mealtime Education

At mealtime, parents share information about food and family without the children really realizing it. Just in passing, as kids ask “Why are we eating this?” we talk about our choices. Sometimes we might tell children why one choice is more healthy than another. Sometimes we might help them understand why we need quick meals on busy days.

My children love homemade rolls. They would love to have rolls every day at every meal, but this is a food that takes time to prepare. So, this is a Sunday routine because that is the day when we have more time. As they help prepare the rolls from live yeast, they learn the science of baking painlessly. I’ve also noticed over time that they smile just at the smell of baking bread. Baking bread means family and home for my children, and I think that is a great start.

When we eat foods from our own childhoods, we share information about multiple generations of our families. I like talking to my children about the foods my mother and my grandmother made. This often leads to talking about where our families came from, since food traditions are often passed down through mothers. We no longer eat a lot of heavy German food passed down from my mother’s mother’s family, but, when we do eat those old foods on occasion, I talk about how and why my family came to North America.

If my children moan about helping prepare meals, I like to remind them that by the time my mother was their age, she was in charge of making dinner for herself and four brothers. Sometimes this just quiets them into helping, but other times they ask more questions. Why was grandma cooking? (She was home first while her mother was working and her brothers were working on the farm.) What did she cook? (She told me the meal she cooked most often was pepper pot soup.) Can we make that? (Certainly!)

In addition to the benefit of healthier eating for families that sit down and eat together, the rituals families develop create a family identity and a closeness for all.


Dinner Time Fun

Here are a few quick tips to keep family dinner time fun.

  • Keep the meal stress free. Don’t spend more time than you have preparing a meal. Save elaborate meals for days when you have time to spend.
  • Involve children in meal preparation. This does take a bit more time, but the long-term investment is worth it. Children take pride in the work they’ve done—and they may find themselves less picky when they’ve helped make the food.
  • For young children, make the mealtime experience visual. You can do this simply in the way you arrange their food.
  • Don’t focus on foods your child doesn’t like. If you serve a food you know your child hesitates to eat, start a conversation about something completely different as a diversion. Involve the child in your stories to keep the focus off the food itself.
  • If your child is a fast eater, keeping them involved in conversation can help them understand that they are still valued at the meal even when the food is finished. A family meal, after all, is about far more than food.


Resources

I don’t usually suggest that you read an academic paper, but the one I read in preparation for today’s post is just fascinating because it reviews studies on family mealtime then goes on to make recommendations for public policy based on the irrefutable benefits. If you need to be convinced how very important it is to start sharing mealtimes with your children while they are young, read this article.

To read similar conclusions in a more popular format, see TIME Magazine.

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Tips for Breastfeeding in Public

As a season of family gatherings approaches, especially if you are a new mother, you may be wondering how best to breastfeed your baby while balancing the dynamics of your particular family.

I tend to be of the whip-it-out militant breastfeeding crowd, but I understand that not everyone is comfortable baring their breasts to strangers—worse yet, baring their breasts to family. Actually, I’m not really comfortable bare breasted in public either, but I find it offensive when it is either implied or asked that I take feeding my baby into a restroom or a private place.

With family, you are carrying a whole different set of baggage. Grandpa doesn’t want to see your boobs. Actually, if he does, you probably don’t want him to. If it were me, I would just not want to go there.

It is just possible that you will be setting an example for other women who will want to be as comfortable with breastfeeding as you are. I remember the first time I saw a woman breastfeeding (at least the first time it wasn’t ME breastfeeding). I was a young teenager, and my cousin was incredibly casual about baring breasts and feeding her baby. Now she’s a grandmother several times over. I recently told her that she was my first breastfeeding model, and I thanked her. Maybe you will be an influence for a young teen girl in your family—or for a young teen boy who may need to grasp what breasts are for.

Overall, I find the best approach among family is to just go about your baby feeding business. If someone asks about it, be clear, direct, and unwavering. Help your family be supportive rather than aggravating them. You don’t need to compromise, but general diplomacy is a good idea when you need to spend time with family.


Get the Right Clothes

If you don’t have a shirt that is easy to open or lift, the whole process will feel more awkward. So, start out with the right clothes.

When I realized, after my first baby was born, that I wouldn’t be wearing my nice, long dresses for years, I was sad to see them go. I really hated the cut-in-half look of some nursing shirts, but there are so many styles available that there are a lot of options for a mother right now. Even a T-shirt that is easy to pull up will do in most situations (though it can leave the issue of showing off one’s post-baby love handles).


Find the Right Spot

When I say find the right spot to breastfeed, I do not mean retreat to the bathroom. You have every right to feed your baby. Just make sure you have a place where you are comfortable and your baby is at ease. Consider the comfort and support of the chair, whether you need or prefer armrests, whether there are lights that will shine in your baby’s eyes, and whether there are distractions that will encourage your baby to look around and try to pull your nipples with her. Find a spot with few distractions.


To Cover or Not?

Cover what you want to cover, but don’t hide.

I’ve seen nursing cover-ups on the market. I find that when a woman uses this kind of cover up, it calls far more attention to her. Fussing under the blanket is a definite curiosity magnet. There are more casual ways to go about breastfeeding. Also, I’ve heard store owners say they refuse to carry these products because they don’t want new mothers to think they should cover up.


Use a Sling Baby Carrier

Because a baby can easily wrap around your front in a sling baby carrier, you can go hands free and get on with things. I used a sling shopping, teaching, and in a lot of family situations. This was my most important out and about baby care tool.

Don’t let the fact that you are surrounded by family throw you off your routine. Your baby still needs you. You just need to find ways to improvise your routine within the new situations.