November 2nd, 2016
Typical modern family life is blended, diverse, complex and busy. Our experience of family is changing and evolving faster than ever. Rapid technological developments have improved and empowered our lives by giving us more immediate and unlimited access to information and each other, but have also burdened us with more distractions and increased potential for negative interference. As a result, the experience of really being present and connected as family is more challenged than ever.
Regardless of the form our family takes, it is critical to take time to slow down, be present and share with one another. Otherwise, our experience of family can devolve to feeling like we are living with strangers. If we don’t take time to be aware of each other, we do not feel seen or known or understood. When we don’t feel seen we feel alone, and eventually it is very likely we will begin projecting and resenting other family members for perceived abandonment or inconsideration. Conversely, when we take time to intentionally be aware of one another, there is intimacy. There is love.
Initially, being intentional about connection and intimacy can be a confusing and messy process. The following is a format to help give some structure and routine to connecting as a family.
The Family Meeting
One person is designated to facilitate the family meeting. This can be the same person every week or it can change from week to week so long as each person that facilitates the group understands how.
The meeting can begin with a prayer or affirmation that affirms why the family has come together. The prayer or affirmation should set the tone and intent of the process. An example of a family meeting prayer is give below.
After the facilitator leads the family in the recitation for the prayer/affirmation, the meeting begins.
Each member of the family, ending with the facilitator, will be given an opportunity to address any or all of the other members during the group with a negative and then a positive ‘I feel/felt’ statement. In other words all statements made by members attending the meeting should begin with the words “I feel” or “I felt” and ALWAYS contain the name of a particular FEELING that the member will describe having felt. In essence the statement will always be an “I feel” statement. It can contain more but it is absolutely essential that each member understand that their turn is never an opportunity to bash another family member—instead it is an opportunity for them to express how they felt towards a behavior or towards their self during a given situation that occurred previously.
Feeling messages. Feelings are important. They are messages. We can’t understand our experience without feeling feelings. We can’t know what experience means to us when we don’t pay attention to our feelings. We mis out on new insights when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our feelings. And we don’t allow others to witness our feelings we miss out on really seeing and knowing one another.
Here is a list of basic feelings to help get started:
The facilitator will begin by passing a conch either to his right or his left and stating, “negative.” The person with the conch will then have the opportunity to say a negative to any or all of the individuals present. After each “negative” the family member will have a chance to respond to the holder of the conch. The facilitator will ask “response?” and that member can respond with their own “I” statement or choose to “pass.” The member with the conch then moves on to his/her next “negative.”
Note: A response statement can evolve into a short conversation that promotes understanding between the two or more members but this is always determined by the facilitator’s discretion. The facilitator has the option of stating, “We’re not ready yet, let’s move on.” This is to eliminate the possibility of discussions intensifying to unproductive arguing during the meeting.
After that member makes her/his way completely around the table, the conch is passed and the process begins again.
After each person has had his/her chance to address all of their “negatives” the process starts over with “positives.” There is again the opportunity to respond and each member gets a turn.
After the facilitator takes her/his final turn issuing “positives,” the meeting is then adjourned by reciting the family prayer/affirmation.
Family Meeting Pro Tips:
Cell phones are turned over and silenced. Best to place them all in one place where everyone can see that they have been surrendered for the duration of the process.
Before the meeting begins it might be helpful to go through the list of feelings and define any of the words that any members may not be familiar with.
Keeping a Family Meeting journal might be a helpful way to ritualize the experience and it creates a record that can be helpful in identifying patterns that may need addressing. One person can be designated the scribe for each meeting and record each family member’s negative and positive experience.
A prayer or affirmation is a powerful way to open or close a family meeting. Here is the prayer I wrote for my family:
- Our home is a temple and this ground is holy ground.
- There is peace and happy feeling with every sight and sound.
- Respect and care are everywhere and everyone is fair.
- And when I have some for me I always want to share.
- We all feel free at home and move at our own pace.
- We clean up after ourselves and maintain a healthy space.
- Pleasure is taken with gratitude and chores performed with love.
- Here we come to rest and heal and receive the lord above.