The Fall Family Meeting Reboot!

This week during a coaching session with one of my clients, we talked about the value of having a weekly Family Meeting. It has been nearly four years since I recorded my Family Meeting video, and I sent it to her as a resource for her to use as she prepares to implement Family Meetings in her own blended family. I thought I’d share it again here as well, because as Fall is officially upon us, it’s a great time to implement this new practice if Family Meetings are not currently part of your family rhythm!

If you missed my original post about our Family Meetings, click here to learn more and see some relevant links that might be helpful.

Here are the Bible passages and questions I have planned for next month’s Family Meetings. Discussion is a big part of Family Meetings, and these are simple, foundational passages of faith that help start great conversations with kids and help connect the dots between our faith and praxis. In addition to the passage, I’m sharing a question for discussion. Depending on how much time you allow, I know from experience that these discussions can be wonderfully rich opportunities to get a sense of how your child sees the world.

For those of my viewers/readers who do not share my faith, I see you! I’m also sharing some inspirational quotes that can be a great impetus for meaningful discussions.

Bible Verses and Questions for Family Meetings:

  • Read: John 3:16-17
    Ask: Why did God send Jesus Christ to the world? A lot of times people quote John 3:16 without including verse 17. Why is verse 17 so important in understanding verse 16?
  • Read: Proverbs 15:1
    Ask: Why do you think the author of Proverbs said this? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Read: James 1:2-3
    Ask: How does being tested help us grow in perseverance? Can you think of any stories or movies where this has been demonstrated?
  • Read: Psalm 3:3-4
    Ask: What does it mean that God is our “shield?” What does it mean that he lifts up our heads? Tell us about a time when you have called out to the Lord. Do you feel like He answered you? Why or why not?

Additional Inspirational Quotes for Discussion:

  • “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” (Anne Frank)
    Ask: What do you think she meant? What are some ways you can start to “improve the world” today?
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
    Ask: How has someone else’s actions affected you? How have your actions affected others?
  • “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” (Barak Obama)
    Ask: What does it mean that “we are the change that we seek?”
  • “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
    Ask: What does it mean to “feel inferior?” Have you ever felt that way? What are some ways you can respond when someone makes you feel inferior?

Do you hold regular Family Meetings? I’d love to hear about them! Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash

3 Ways to Foster a Connected Family

If you have been a foster parent for any length of time, you have surely learned that foster parenting is both the best and the hardest thing you’ve ever done. The layers of dynamics and stress that go along with inviting strangers into your home and trying to provide a nurturing environment where they can heal and grow, while continuing to carry around in their bodies and brains the effects of trauma and neglect, is no small feat. To foster parent well requires a significant amount of intention, effort, and work.

Flourishing as a foster family does not happen naturally.

Recently, I invited trauma and adoption therapist Lesley Joy Ritchie to be our guest for a Flourishing Foster Parent coaching call, and she said something that was so important: despite how hard it is, and despite how stressed out we can be much of the time, it is vital that we find a way to connect and enjoy one another every day.

This is much easier said than done.

When you deal with challenging behaviors on a daily basis—lying, tantrums, oppositional or defiant behavior, violence, etc.—it can be very tempting to, in Lesley’s words, “consequence all of the joy out of life.” But that is the most counter-productive thing we can do if we want to help our kids heal and grow emotionally healthy. In fact, one of the hardest parts of trauma-informed parenting is recognizing that, often times, when our instincts tell us to issue a consequence for unacceptable behavior, what our child really needs is an opportunity to connect.

I confess that I have not done well with this over the years. I am someone who is naturally inclined to cancel fun activities as punishment, rather than do the work of letting natural consequences do the teaching. As trauma therapist and fellow foster-adoptive mother Dena Johnson said on another FFP coaching call, “We all want our pound of flesh!” Sometimes it feels good to punish a child who has given us a hard time—but it doesn’t help solve the root cause of their hard behavior.

One of the ways I have attempted to address my own weakness in this area is to create a weekly rhythm of family life that has built-in, non-negotiable opportunities for connection. This way, even if I’m frustrated with one of my kids or a child has really blown it, we still have opportunities to connect, whether we feel like it or not. Here they are!

Family Meals. We eat dinner together every night as a family. It’s one of our stated expectations when new children join our home—we make it clear that everyone is expected to come to the dinner table when the dinner bell rings (yes, I use a dinner bell). If you have an older child who spends most of her time alone in her room, this is one way to guarantee connection with her every day, which is vital if you find it hard to wade through teenage hostility (or even just the laundry on the floor) to connect. We always try to have at least one item on the table that everyone likes (rice, baked potatoes, or bread are staple dinner items, as well as Caesar salad, which everyone in our family likes) and we encourage, but don’t insist, that everyone try everything being offered. Sometimes, we use conversational prompts (such as these from The Family Dinner Project) or just let the chatter run wild. It’s loud, it’s messy—and it’s important to helping the family gather and see one another every day.

Family Movie Night. Every Friday night, we have a Family Movie Night, when we order pizza and watch a movie together. It can be challenging to find movies that appeal to everyone, as our kids range in age from 5-17, but we have managed to do a pretty good job for the most part. There are great Disney Pixar films of course, which are enjoyable for all ages, and we’ve loved introducing some old favorites from our childhood as well (we recently watched Escape to Witch Mountain, which I had forgotten was about two siblings in foster care). The kids and adults always look forward to it, and it’s the one time each week when we are all guaranteed to be gathered together in one room sharing the same activity. Also, we never take away Family Movie Night as a consequence. It’s a vital part of building family connections.

Family Meeting. Once a week, usually on Sundays, we hold a Family Meeting. I have written about our Family Meeting here and shared on YouTube here. (Full disclosure: this has been less structured since the time of quarantine began, as we are together all the time and connecting more throughout the week. That said, my husband and I just committed to restarting the more structured meetings again). Having a time to connect with the whole family, share compliments and appreciations, play board games together, hand out allowance, and review calendar items so everyone is aware of what’s coming up in the week is invaluable fostering family connection and a healthy overall rhythm of family life. We see a huge difference when we skip family meetings.

These are just three things we do consistently to ensure that opportunities to connect happen every week. For kids who come from highly dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems, the consistency of these positive connections works wonders. It also provides good opportunities to model clear communication, organization, preparation, and planning. And since more is caught than taught, we see our kids imitating the skills they absorb in family meetings, from financial management (we give allowance, but insist that 10% go into a savings account and 10% go into a giving jar) to time management (our kids all understand how to read a calendar and are empowered to consult the family schedule when they wonder what’s happening the the week ahead).

What are some ways you foster connection in your family? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Photo by Stefan Vladimirov on Unsplash

Do You Know About Cooperative Board Games?

I first learned about cooperative board games a few years back, and I was a little slow on the uptick. Until recent years, I have always been a pretty competitive person. A game without a clear winner? What’s the point in that?!

Now that I have children and routinely face the reality of rabid sibling strife, I totally see the point.

In a cooperative board game, players work together in order to achieve a goal, either winning or losing as a group. As the name suggests, cooperative games stress cooperation over competition. Those playing the game are the team. They either win together or lose together, but either way, they’re all in it together.

Sibling rivalry exists in most families with more than one child. This is a fact. Even the healthiest families often deal with challenging sibling dynamics.

But when children have experienced neglect or trauma, their need for attention and empowerment can be even greater. As we have struggled with significant conflict between siblings—both biological siblings and foster siblings—we have found that playing cooperative games has been a great way to build connections and laugh together minus the competition of traditional board games.

Cooperative games are also a really positive way to connect with your child. While it’s fun to play Candyland or Connect 4 with them, it’s not as much fun for them if they lose. With a cooperative game, they are never the only “loser.”

Here are five of my favorite cooperative games. They are all aimed at younger children, but when we play together as a family, everyone has fun.

  1. Outfoxed. This is my favorite and the one that everyone young and old enjoys. It’s a “whodunit” game where players collect clues and solve a crime. This is something we often give as birthday presents for kids between 5-9, but our four-year-old can totally play it too.
  2. Hoot, Owl, Hoot. This is great for little ones. The game maker recommends it for ages 4-8, but it works for 3-year-olds if they are playing with an adult who can coach them through the play.
  3. Race to the Treasure. I love playing this with all of my kids (ages 4-10). It involves strategy and cooperation, plus it teaches some geometry basics!
  4. Count Your Chickens. This is a great game for kids as little as three that reinforces counting and social skills.
  5. Silly Street. This is a game we love playing at Family Meeting! Everyone playing gets to be silly together. Laughter abounds when Mom and Dad are demonstrating how a kangaroo might do karate or standing like a flamingo. While there is a “winner” in the sense that one person reaches the end of the game first, we keep playing til everyone reaches the end, then we have a dance party!

I absolutely love cooperative games! How about you? Do you have any favorites to share?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” [Disclaimer Credit: Michael Hyatt]