Consultation. A deceptively simple word for a deceptively simple concept. To put it into practice is a whole other question, which is why last month’s post talked about the importance of practicing consultation within the family. Most people who hear about starting a family consultation process are quite keen on getting it going; but many aren’t quite sure how. We surveyed a dozen families on how they integrate consultation in the very fabric of their family’s life; here are some of their tips.
Start Them Young
Start as soon as possible! It might sound a little weird and feel even weirder, but do have a family meeting every week when the kids are tiny. Start with a routine—a prayer, lighting a candle, reciting a quote or a poem about family life—then have a very simple and very short conversation (two or three minutes) about a matter that relates to the whole family. Start with simple questions the answer to which can be as complex as the person answering: Did we have a good week? What should we change this week? Your kids participation will increase throughout the years in parallel with their capacity.
Have a Specific Day and Time for Consultation
Starting the kids young on family consultation is oftentimes more about teaching the parents to carve out a regular day and time. And as the kids grow older, they will learn to plan their weeks around this family tradition.
Have a Few Firm Rules
While too many rules will stifle the consultation, a few very well-thought out ones will create a fertile ground for consultation. Here are a few: What is said during family consultation cannot be shared with anyone else. No interrupting; use a talking stick if needed. Take time to think about what was said. Stop the conversation if emotions run high. Make a clear decision as a family, instead of letting the consultation just taper off.
Set a few very simple rules—just one or two to begin with—that the chairperson has to reinforce. It can be particularly hard for parents to take a step back here. And it can be a power trip by some kids. But it’s all part of the learning process.
Start With an Important Reminder about the Family Consultation Process
Start with a reminder that this consultation is about both the members of the family, the family as a whole, and under the umbrella of the marriage of the parents holding the family together. The well-being of all three has to be taken into consideration at all times.
Frank and Honest, but Tactful and Wise
Being frank and honest are vital to consultation; but they must be balanced out with tact and wisdom. It’s good to encourage everyone to think about how they are talking, from the words chosen to the tone of voice. Well-known practices of saying things like “I feel…” really help; a couple of people shared that closing eyes while sharing something particularly difficult can also help.
Keep a Record of Decisions Taken
This is something families with older children and teenagers tended to do. It doesn’t have to be long, official, or complicated. Just the date and the decision jotted down in a notebook. The purpose is for the family to keep itself accountable; if it doesn’t, what is the point of the process?
Consult about Consultation
Oftentimes we think we are consulting, when in fact, we are pretty much just talking. Consultation is very difficult and can take years to just understand, let alone put into practice. Parents should constantly be reflecting on the process of consultation in these family meetings and, as the children grow, they should be brought into the reflection about the consultation itself.
Final Thoughts on a Family Consultation Process
It can seem daunting, but all the families I talked to assure me that consulting as a family is a joyful and oftentimes hilarious event that brings everyone together. It teaches children to share their thoughts and helps parents remember that they have to listen. It strengthens the family as a unit, the marriage as an institution, and each family member as an individual.
If you have any experience starting a process of consultation in a family setting, please drop any insights you may have in the comments below!