Family Communication: How My Family Learned to Communicate

My family is like many other American families — two working parents, three busy kids, one demanding dog, and a chaotic household — dealing with the daily grind of school, work, activities, homework, dinner, and everything else that today’s busy families have on their plates.

Which is all well and good, except for the fact that we weren’t communicating. Nobody knew what the others were up to, where they were going, and where they had been. Things weren’t working and we knew they needed a change.

Family Communication: How We Figured It Out

So, being a copious reader and researcher, I began looking for ways to better our family, and I came across the term “family meeting.” This got me fired up! As a driven businessman, I know how to run a meeting. In my mind, the family meetings would be the perfect opportunity to discuss family values with the kids and start truly communicating.

My wife, Monica, who always chastised me for treating our family like a business, was, understandably, hesitant. But thankfully she knew my heart was in the right place, so she agreed to give it a try.

When we started our family meetings, it was a weekly affair, every Sunday night. The meetings were parent-focused, agenda-driven, repetitive, and dictatorial. And they were long — sometimes hours long in the early days. If the kids weren’t bored, they were intimidated and scared to speak. The meetings were overwhelming and ineffective, and they just weren’t working.

Monica and I quickly realized that we needed to make the meetings less formal, more fun, and more engaging. Here’s what we did:

Step 1: Leave all technologies and distractions at the door.

All phones, tablets, video games, etc. were banned from the family meetings. Everyone — Monica and I included — had to be focused and present and not be looking at or working on anything else. There is no multitasking in family meetings.

Step 2: Make it a true conversation — no lectures.

Instead of me lecturing, Monica and the kids started leading the meetings and owning the conversation. It became less about agendas and more about creating an environment for positive conversations. The meetings became a time where everyone was given an opportunity to share and exchange ideas, to discuss what was going on in their lives, to learn from their mistakes, and to teach as a cohesive family.

Even though our family meetings were becoming more open and collaborative, there were still obstacles to overcome. Initially, the kids complained and griped about the meetings, saying that they were merely ways to force the family together for quality time.

Consistency was a problem, too. We found that weekly meetings were too infrequent — things were happening too often and too fast to remember, and we missed a lot of “teachable moments.” We tried to keep track of everything with apps, but that meant that we were distracted by technology and not in the moment. The weekly family meetings were great for long-term planning and big picture ideas, but we needed something to keep us going on a day-to-day basis. So we began the practice of frequent family huddles.

Step 3: The Family Huddle

Now, we have family huddles every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, and a family meeting every other Sunday night. The huddles last for ten to fifteen minutes and are a time where everyone gets to discuss what went well (and not so well) for them the day before, and to review the upcoming day’s agendas and responsibilities. Everyone knows what is going on in each other’s lives, and there is a free flow of open, honest, and timely communication.

It wasn’t always easy, and it took a lot of time and patience, but by checking our egos — and devices — at the door, we were able to create an open culture of communication within our family.

You can do it, too. Gather your family together and get started today.

Dale W. Vernon, a business and investment advisor and professed imperfect father of three children, is co-author of How Imperfect Parents Lead Great Families. He is a frequent speaker about the importance of establishing family values, creating a culture of communication in your home and being an intentional parent that understands the importance of being the best example you can for your children.