Monday, March 15, 2010

Parenting Toolbox: Family Meetings

originally posted at Reepicheep's Coracle

I just came back from an awesome Positive Discipline certification class (so I can eventually teach parents how to use these tools I love so well) that I took with Jenn. I'm certified! I learned a problem solving model that parents in my classes can use to help each other find new solutions to behavior problems. I learned how to use experiential activities and role playing to give parents a new perspective on the problem. But along with how to teach, I also learned something new about positive discipline that I wanted to take home and use with my family.

I had read about family meetings before, but I never seriously thought about doing them. Basically, a family meeting is a time when the whole family sits down together, gives some compliments and thank yous, discusses and problem solves any issue that the family has been having, looks at the calendar for the coming week, and then does some fun activity together. I never even thought about this for us because of our unusual family situation.

Livy and I are together 24/3.5, meaning she spends half of her week with me, but during that part of the week we are hardly ever apart. We solve problems as they come up, and since it is just the two of us most of the time, it's pretty easy to come to solutions we can both live with. Throw in Aaron, who is with us more or less depending on the part of the week Livy is with me (our schedule changes by the semester). So, when Livy is with me during the week, Aaron is hardly home when she is because he works such long hours. When Livy is with me over the weekend, Aaron, Livy, and I are together most of the time.

To add more complications, Aaron is my partner and Livy is my child, but their relationship with each other is out of the normal way. He is not her step-dad, and he isn't in a parental role. He's a grown-up that she likes who lives with us and is important to mom.

So, I thought, family meetings sound like a great tool for mom, dad, 2.5 kids, and a dog to attend. During the workshop, I completely turned my view on this around. Jenn pointed out to me, and I can't believe I didn't see this earlier, that in some ways they have a sibling relationship. They want to come to me about problems with each other. These problems are few and far between, mostly I think because both of them are so insanely easy to live with, but they don't talk to each other about them. Examples: "Mom, can you make sure no one eats the last brownie? I want to eat it tomorrow." "Kelly, where should we put Livy's new computer that I just finished?" Neither of these problems is hard to solve, but they both talk to me alone about it.

Though I don't want to push their relationship, I don't want to prevent its normal development either. They live in the house together, and they should be able to talk and solve problems together without me in the middle. So, I think the family meeting is a perfect idea. I like it when the three of us are together; there is something wonderful about having all your most beloved people together around a table. Here's my ideas about how each element of the family meeting will benefit us:

The compliments and thank yous: This will be a good experience for Livy and for me, in particular. Aaron is very appreciative, but she and I could use some work. It will be excellent practice for the two of us to think throughout the week about what we really like about our family members and what we want to thank them for. It will also be a chance for Livy to see me thanking Aaron for what he makes possible for Livy and I to have together (all that time and leisure).

The problem solving bit: This will be good practice for the two of them to work together on problems that involve them both. They can talk to each other, not just to me, about where the computer should go. I also like the idea of Livy seeing Aaron and I modeling good problem solving skills. We do them, but rarely in front of her. It will be excellent for her to see us figure out how to deal with my irritation about not putting a new trash bag in when you take the old one out. This is a nothing problem to us, but she needs to learn how these kinds of domestic issues are resolved. Finally, I think she needs to be more involved in our household decisions. It's good practice for real life to help mom and Aaron decide on how to spend money and how to handle household chores.

The calendar part: It will be great for Aaron and Livy to know more about what the other one is doing. I sort of manage everyone's calendar (not his work one). Livy isn't always aware that Aaron is going to do a board game day on Saturday, and he doesn't always know the neat things we have planned during the week while he is at work. I think knowing what the other one is doing will be a nice bonding thing, and I will feel less burdened by sharing all the calendar and planning stuff that I keep up with.

The fun activity part: We really do love to play games together, and this will be a good chance to do it. Maybe a card game or a board game. They both really like strategy games, which aren't my thing, but after the warm fuzzies of having them in a family meeting with me, I am sure I will be willing to play Settlers of Catan until their hearts are content. They also like it when I read aloud to all of us, and maybe this would be a good time to choose a book for the three of us (a family meeting problem we could work on together?) and read it only after the family meetings.

I'm going to talk to both of them about doing this, set up our first meeting, and I'll report back and let you know how it went.

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