If Mom or Dad has to work late, if there’s a PTA or other organizational meeting, if the Rotary Club is having its dinner, or if some other commitment intervenes, one of the parents may be absent. And if Ashleigh has band practice or tap class, if Scott has Scouts or baseball practice, or if either of the kids has stayed at a friend’s for dinner and homework help, one of them may be missing from the dinner table.

But on Sundays, everyone’s presence at dinner is mandatory because of what follows: Family Council.

Family Council (known in some families as Family Meeting) can take as little as five or ten minutes, or as much as an hour or more, depending on what’s on this week’s agenda, on the ages of the kids involved, and on the number of members in the family. Your family may choose to hold meeting weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, though weekly meetings work best for most families.

Family Council is the place for grievances, requests, announcements, and discussions that have to do with your family. Obviously many day-to-day matters (e.g. “Can Nanci come for dinner tonight?” “Can you help me with my diorama? It’s due in three days.” “Make Drew stop coloring in my comic books!”) won’t wait for Sunday and the Family Council meeting. But many other matters will. And once the kids learn that Family Council is the proper place to bring such matters up, they’ll stop bugging you just when you’re trying to get ready for work or are in the middle of cooking dinner, if the topic at hand is one that’s suited to Council.

What is suited to Family Council?

  • Discussions about increases in allowance. This may be a request from a child, or an unasked announcement by a parent.

  • Discussions regarding a change in regular chore assignment. A child may feel that this year, with more homework than ever, his chores are too numerous. Or he may feel that his younger sister is now old enough to assume some of his chores. Or his parents may feel that he’s old enough now to take on more or different chores.

  • Requests for a later bedtime.

  • Requests from a child that the family switch to a vegetarian cuisine, or an announcement from a parent that the family cuisine will now be Atkins-friendly, or vegetarian, or low-fat.

  • Discussions about the kids’ eating habits in general.

  • Discussions about the kids’ behavior (good or bad—Family Council isn’t only for complaints; this is a good place for a pat on the back, too).

  • Discussions about the family getting a new pet, or about problems or other situations regarding an existing pet.

  • Discussions about an upcoming family vacation. (Depending on the ages of the children, and other circumstances, this may be an announcement by the parents: “We’re going to the Grand Canyon.” Or it may be open to discussion, with pleas in favor of Disney World, Grandma’s house, and renting a cottage at the shore all considered.)

  • Discussions about ongoing or recurring complaints on the part of one family member against another. (This may be a sibling squabble, or a complaint that Dad is stricter than any of the child’s friends’ dads.)

  • Discussions of family rules and requests for changes in them..

  • Announcements of Big News: Dad has a new job, Mom got a promotion, the family is going to be moving, Mom is pregnant, Grandma has bought a house just down the street, the family is getting a swimming pool put in the backyard.

  • Serious cautions: “There have been three robberies in the neighborhood, so be sure to keep the door locked and don’t open the door if you don’t know who’s ringing.” “A bad person has been hurting kids in the neighborhood, so does everyone remember the precautions for staying safe?” “There was another kid hit by a car at the corner of Elm and Oakwood, so be very careful crossing at that corner.”

By handling family business in a businesslike way, it’s easier to minimize (I didn’t say “eliminate,” but minimize) the squabbling. By making all major announcements at the Family Council meeting, you’re surer of having the kids’ attention, so they don’t claim afterward that you never told them this or they don’t remember that. By postponing till Family Council meeting all requests and discussions that don’t require immediate answers, you avoid getting into difficult discussions at inconvenient times. By announcing good news and giving out praise at Family Council meetings, you keep the event from being one that the kids dread. And by making attendance at Family Council meetings mandatory, you insure that there is at least one meal a week at which all the family will be present.

Family Council—it’s a businesslike way to settle family matters, so when you “mean business,” bring it to Family Council.