Game-Changing Questions for Family Life (Hint: fun is involved)

It’s been four years since I read a book that changed the life of our family for the better. Much better. The book is Honey I Wrecked the Kids: When Yelling, Screaming, Threats, Bribes, Time-outs, Sticker Charts and Removing Privileges All Don’t Work by Alyson Schafer. I picked it up in a time of need over the Christmas holidays.   I was looking for help in my parenting of my youngest son. All of the tricks and tips I had picked up in my years as a mother were insufficient for the challenges I was facing. My kids were 5, 10 and 13 at the time. I did have a few years of parenting under my belt but I needed a new approach… Yes, the title of the book spoke to me deeply!

As I have mentioned in other posts and in my workshops, I have had to up-level my parenting over the years to be the Mum that my youngest needs. It’s been incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding, often with other unexpected benefits, such as what happened when I read this book. Alyson Schafer hooked me in the first few paragraphs where she basically says, “bless these children who require us to grow”. I had many takeaways from the book and the biggest impact, as I said above, was to our family as a whole.

I finished reading it on a Sunday and that night we had our first family meeting, as prescribed by the book. I had read about family meetings in the past but my children were much younger and I was still more of a dictator parent at the time, so it didn’t feel right. My husband was totally on board with trying family meetings, as was my young son. He had heard of us attending meetings for work and was excited to learn what a meeting was. Since we started this practice, he is often the one to remind us that we need to have the meeting. 🙂   My older kids were somewhat reluctant to try it, not surprisingly. But I remained calm about this having been coached in the book to expect this, to not be flustered, but to simply say that they don’t have to attend but that means they wouldn’t get a say in making the plans.   No one has ever missed a meeting. We all appreciate them.

There are two very powerful questions that we ask at the family meeting – the most important parts of the meeting. First, who do you want to thank or appreciate, and for what? (Showing gratitude). And second, what are we doing for fun as a family this week?

I always notice a palpable shift in the energy of the family when we do the gratitude exercise. There is no denying the power of gratitude! It sets us up nicely for the rest of the meeting. It can also be really interesting to see what people choose to say here – I get a lot of insights from those thank yous. I see it cultivating cultivates empathy too: increasing our emotional intelligence. (See more on power of gratitude here.)

The second question, “what are we doing for fun as a family this week?” was a game-changer for us. Until that Sunday in January 2012, we had never asked that particular question in that way. Of course, we had had fun times as a family, but there may not necessarily have been the intention of fun.   Family fun in this context doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it is intentional. Sometimes we plan to play a board game (with the requisite acquiescing groans from at least one child), sometimes it’s movie night, a walk to get ice cream…etc. But to me the game changing part is asking the question. Even if we don’t actually follow through on the plan for some reason, we asked the question. The seed was planted. And we notice when the planned fun doesn’t happen and we miss it.

I am blogging about this because it is really important to me and I have noticed that many of the women I have talked to and coached are craving more fun in their lives. Sometimes fun happens spontaneously and sometimes we need to create the conditions for it to happen.

Another benefit of the family meeting is the logistical aspect. Once we have covered the first two questions, we get to the logistics for the week – who is going where and when. This good clear communication helps keep us calmer through the week. I really notice the difference when we don’t have the meeting: I feel slightly disoriented because I am unsure of the logistics of the family.

Finally, the family meeting and the closeness that it fosters have helped us overcome obstacles and find opportunities in the midst of challenges (growth mindset – see posts here).   I was keenly aware of this benefit when we were on a family holiday over the Christmas break.   There was an issue that needed resolving and everyone’s emotions were high.   Luckily, I had a walk on the beach where I was able to get some perspective on it and actually look for the opportunities in the challenge. I was also able to cultivate some empathy for each member of the family and their perspectives. We had a family meeting that day to resolve the issue and it worked. Thank goodness!

In conclusion, I am grateful that my being challenged by my son has resulted in a major benefit to our family overall. I am also grateful for Alyson Schafer’s book.  And, I love that we now have a weekly gratitude practice and a practice of generating family fun.   These practices help to anchor me as my parenting challenges continue, evolving as we all grow.

So, what are you doing for fun as a family this week?

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2 Responses to Game-Changing Questions for Family Life (Hint: fun is involved)
  1. Valerie
    March 11, 2016 | 12:22 pm

    Hi Milisa,
    Family meetings get groans in my house too. I love the idea of starting with gratitude, and remembering to add fun. We get very caught up in logistics and I usually feel worse after. Your advice will help!

    • Milisa Burns
      March 12, 2016 | 8:13 pm

      Hi Valerie, I am so glad you think this will help! Let me know how it goes!! Warmly, Milisa

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