Almost two years ago I started listening to podcasts (where have you been all my life?) in search of uplifting content to feed my brain and heart. The radio just wasn’t doing it for me anymore, and neither was the news. (Remind me one day to tell you the story of how I discovered I am allergic to CNN…)
The Ziglar Show was one of the consistently upbeat podcasts I encountered, and fairly early on in my podcast habit, I came across an interview on Ziglar with a guy named Mark Timm. He talked about how he and his wife conduct formal family meetings at his house with their six or seven kids. Family meetings! Yes! This was an idea that I had considered for my own family once upon a time, but frankly they were a bit too young for it then.
Timm’s reminder came at just the right time. My kids were then 12, 7, and 5, and while we thought maybe we were pushing it with the youngest one, Lance – honestly, would he understand what we were trying to do? – we gave it whirl anyway, the last Sunday of January 2016. I was determined to make it a new year’s resolution so we had to sneak it in before the month was up!
Timm mentioned that when they first started doing their meetings, they had to bribe their kids with ice cream which gave me the idea: we would call our meetings the “Louie Scoop.” Get your ice cream and the info about what’s going on with our little family of five right here!
In our first meeting, I printed real agendas. We went through the formal “call to order” and adjournment protocol. I walked through our expectations for the meeting which I shamelessly borrowed from work, and then we went through the schedule for the week, a preview of the month of February, goal-setting, gratitudes, some housekeeping reminders (specifically related to the state of the kids’ bathroom), and then we closed out with celebrations. After a couple of months, we introduced character traits and “mystery question”.
Actually before we even got started, we kicked off the meeting with prayer, the little “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen.” one, except we do it Louie style: we hold hands and let our arms do a crazy wave so we feel the energy between us when we do it. It’s not even a wave like a stadium wave, where one big swell is going around. Oh no…we have waves all over the place. My husband introduced this form of “prayer” (ahem) to the kids one dinner when I was out of town. If it were up to me, I’d have nipped it in the bud immediately but I wasn’t there and well, it stuck.
In terms of expectations, we had four. 1) Listen with your full attention. 2) Look for the best in others. 3) Say thank you for a job well done. 4) Show humor, not at the expense of others, but to inject a little joy into the discussion. Yes, these are totally borrowed from work but you know what? They work.
And Lance, our youngest? He dutifully raised his hand shortly after the first meeting started and explained that he understood our new family meetings to be a lot like the Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Happy Kids that he was learning in kindergarten. (Yes, kindergarten. Did I mention I love our school?) We were being proactive by meeting, with our goal setting we were “beginning with the end in mind”, and by listening with our full attention we were putting “first things first”. My husband and I looked at each other with startled and bemused faces: yes, the youngest totally gets what we were trying to do, maybe even better than the older two!
In terms of previewing the upcoming month, it’s surprising to realize how much we have going on: day trips, soccer tournaments, dance competitions, camps, concerts, birthdays and anniversaries not just for our immediate family but our aunts, uncles, cousins and even the grandparents who have passed. Even though we don’t get to see our extended family all that much anymore, we want the kids to know we think of them and to remember them on their special days. It also gives us a chance to talk about their grandparents in heaven so they know a little bit about them.
Goal setting: yes, we introduced the idea to the family and got everyone to state a personal goal and then one that we could work on together as a family. As the weeks progressed, we gave an update on how we were doing with our goals and celebrated if anyone achieved theirs. This has turned into goal setting for the calendar year, summer, and school year. It’s a pretty powerful segment of our meetings, let me tell you!
Now gratitudes: we go round-robin and ask the kids to name three things they are grateful for and why. It was hard for them to come up with something at first but now their arms shoot up in the air to be the first to share, and it isn’t hard for them to come up with things to say. Even more so than goal-setting, I hope this is the one habit they always cultivate.
So why a character trait? We know kids learn primarily from example, but I wondered how we could be sure that our kids would learn everything we wanted them to know before they left our house. Our oldest was already 12! Think about it: 2/3 of the time he would spend with us was already over….and I don’t know that we lived through enough life experience together to be certain that he understood what was important to us and what we hoped would be a solid foundation to his own character, let alone to the character of our other two kids. It’s SCARY how fast the years go!
So we started out with a list of character traits that are taught by the Heartland Education Community (https://www.heartlandorrville.com/character-education-0) in Orrville, Ohio. We ran through these for about 18 months until I got the idea for my husband and me to compile a list of values that are important to us, so now we’re working through 48 of those. We have just enough time to spend a month on each one before the oldest graduates from high school and is on his own.
Celebrations are an uplifting way for us to end the meeting. We spend a little more time lingering on the best part of the week just finished: vacation highlights, birthdays, parties we attend, school awards…whatever could possibly give us a reason to smile and cheer.
Mystery question was one of the best additions to the Scoop! I downloaded a bunch of questions to ask your kids from Pinterest and printed them on tiny strips of paper. On the day we introduced this feature, we decided to hold that particular meeting outside to christen our new fire pit. Our oldest asked if it was true that tossing something written into the fire was like making a wish or saying a prayer and the words would make their way to God as the fire consumed them. I told him yes, people often do that as symbolic gesture, so we all agreed we would read our question to the group, answer it and then toss our question into the fire.
We took turns selecting a mystery question from the bunch I created and Lance went first. He read his question aloud: “What’s your favorite word?” and with absolute glee and no hesitation whatsoever he blurted out “FART!”
A look of horror washed over his face right then. “Omigosh, God heard me say that!” as he drew his hands to cover his mouth. “No, nooo! Not fart! LOVE. Love is my favorite word!” and little tears welled up in his eyes and his chest heaved to keep it together.
We howled in the firelight. I mean, come on. We know our kid! I rubbed Lance’s back and reassured him that while, yes, God heard what he said, he laughed in delight just like we did. God already knows Lance’s favorite word is fart and he knows that Lance has enormous love in his heart, too. God loves him exactly the way he is, just like we all do.
Honestly it was the most magical moment, that unseasonably warm November evening, with the fire casting a glow on our five faces. We were all kinda in a grumpy mood going into that meeting, but the mystery question changed everything.
I won’t pretend our kids love Louie Scoop every time we hold it. Sometimes it goes on forever, and sometimes we start it way too late in the evenings when everyone’s tired and not in the mood at all, but we find have a lot of stuff to discuss as a family. We all know we can bring a question or idea to the Scoop. And we feel out of sorts when we don’t have it every Sunday.
Just one of the ways we live, laugh, and love Louie.
Ice cream photo by Andris Romanovskis on Unsplash
Fire photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash