By: James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC
Senior Staff Therapist,
The Family Institute at Northwestern University
Marital and Family Communication.
Once upon a time, families ate dinner together. There was no eating in front of the TV; no texting or answering the phone and no internet. This was a time when families discussed what was going on in the household i.e. news, upcoming events, behavior issues and general discussions. Dinner used to be the natural time for families to discuss their lives, upcoming events and issues of importance.
Today, I find that families rarely eat together, missing the opportunity for family discussion. Child activities including little league, football, soccer, music lessons, dance lessons, and all kinds of after school activities have come to interfere in this essential family event. Families have become ships in the night passing one another as they head out the door. The idea of after school activity is potentially a good one: keep the kids busy and you will keep them out of trouble. However, what has been lost is the sense of family and the opportunity for good communication.
When I was a child, dinner time was always between 5 and 5:30pm. I had a lot of freedom but I also knew what was expected of me. In this case, it was “be home by 5pm” for dinner.
We would hear stories, news and discuss family issues. Today parents have become dependent on dual incomes in order to maintain the lifestyle they want to give their family. They work late or have different schedules and their relationship suffers. They too, are ships passing in the night. Many couples today report they feel disconnected, their communication has suffered and, in turn, so has the level of intimacy they share. This will ultimately lead to bickering, conflict, infidelity and possibly divorce. How sad that an important family event has disappeared without realizing the major negative impact on the family. Even when couples do realize the problem, there is little that can be done since they are trying to stay afloat financially.
One way to reclaim some of that lost family communication time are family meetings, though some of my clients prefer to call them team meetings. I encourage families to gather at least once per week to discuss four areas. Ideally, this should be done at the same day and time each week. There should also be a pre-family meeting for mom and dad to discuss there issues and get on the same page for the meeting with the children to ensure you are parenting as a team. It’s also a great opportunity to check in with each other as a couple and plan a date night. I recommend two date nights per month to keep your connection strong.
The general topics to discuss are Stars, News, Issues and Feedback. Here are some examples:
1. Stars: Search for things your child is doing well, no matter how small and acknowledge it. It will increase their sense of confidence and self-esteem. Show that you are excited and proud of them. “You did a nice job getting ready for school on time.”
2. News: This is a chance to keep everyone up to date of all the family events coming up. The more informed everyone is, the more opportunities to share the scheduled load and the less stress for last minute- must do projects. “We are going to grandma’s house next weekend or Joey has a science project due and he will need craft paper
3. Issues: We live in an increasingly complex world that challenges us every day with a wide range of disturbing issues. By initiating conversations with your children you will create an open environment and be able to address the tougher topics i.e. homework, curfew issues, chaotic morning or bedtime routine, alcohol and drug abuse.
4. Feedback: Listen to your children and allow them the chance to express their concerns, complaints and express their feelings. You will learn more about your child if you open your ears and close your mouth.
This requires a parent pre-meeting to discuss issues and get on the same page with the message to the children. This is also an opportunity to check-in on how they are doing as a couple. This is an opportunity to plan a date night (at least twice per month) with the responsibility of planning rotating. Keep your connection strong! Plan ahead!
I have found that both parents and children love this opportunity. The only concern is that as much as everyone in the house likes this, parents themselves have a difficult time being consistent. They often report that they were consistent initially but the process hasn’t been repeated in weeks. Be consistent!
For those in the Chicago area, I have offices downtown in Millennium Park and in Westchester near 22nd Street and Wolf Road. For more information, call 847-733-4300 Ext 638.
James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC
Disclaimer: This material is meant to be used in conjunction with psychiatric treatment, medication and supportive therapy. Always share this material and your questions about this material with your doctor and therapist.