Every Sunday, my wife and I (and our infant son – not that he does much of the talking yet) have a family meeting. We tweak the format slightly every week depending on what is happening in our life, but we have done it for a few years at this point and the approach is now getting quite consistent week to week. We find it useful for staying in sync.
The purpose of the meeting is to sync up about what is happening in our life during the coming week, and talk about what happened in our life the past week. It is more about logistics than it is about reflection, the idea is that we have already reflected on the week, and are ready to discuss it together. We do it every week without fail, and it is always useful to all of us.
We split the subjects to cover in the meeting into groups and prompts. Each group is something we want to talk about. At this point, there are five groups, but we have had more (when we were getting married) and less (before the baby came) in the past. Here are the groups we use:
- Check in on our personal finances
- Plans for the coming week
- Check in on our habits and routines
- Baby updates
- Relationships check in
These groups evolved through considerable iteration. If we thought something needed to be covered more frequently, it would be, but we tend to save our big topics of discussion for the meeting and try to fit them into one of the groups. There is no open group for additional topics.
Under each group, there are various prompts that basically force us to check in on a certain thing. The prompts follow the important aspects of each group. This all sounds formal but again, we started small (always talk about family matters on Sunday) and then evolved the format as time went on. To get a sense of the prompts, here is what we use for finances:
- Cash balance (how much cash do we have? why?)
- Burn rate (how much are we gaining or losing per week cash wise? why?)
- Income (how is our income increasing or decreasing? why?)
- Big expenses (what big expenses are coming up? anything we need to prep for? discuss?)
- Purchasing wish list (what do we want to buy? is it urgent? any alternatives?)
- Discuss X budget (depends on the season, could be for vacation or gifts)
- Cash flow planning (update the spreadsheet if it’s the end of the month – shortfall or surplus?)
By discussing these things on a weekly basis, we are both on the same page about our personal finances. As our family grows this will get more complex and the denominations will get higher, but we intend to keep the same structure because it works well for staying in sync.
The other categories have various prompts that follow the theme. In plans for the coming week, we talk a bit about what we spent our last week doing and whether we have any spots of resentment or regret. Then we sync up on what’s on for this week across the family.
When we check in on habits, we look at all the important areas (according to us, in our experience) of our habits and routines and make sure nothing important slips through. This includes diet, exercise, sleep, chores, work, self-care, other-care and medical needs.
Baby updates and relationship updates don’t typically take as long, but we leave them until the end so we can expand them if necessary if there is something big that needs to be resolved. We talk about similar issues for the baby as we do in habits (eating, sleeping, learning, etc.) and for the relationship part, we talk about how our relationship(s) are going and whether we’re okay.
It is hard to say the impact in practice that having the meeting has had on our relationships and finances. I think the impact is significant, and easily justifies the half hour to an hour long block we spend on a Sunday talking through these issues. We observe that one of the biggest areas of relationship and family dysfunction in people we know is not being on the same page. This can be resolved in a systematic way if you meet regularly to discuss these core issues.
We tend to hold the meeting whenever we feel like we have enough energy and time during the course of the day on Sunday. Usually that is somewhere between late morning and late afternoon. Occasionally we will forget or have something going on that prevents it. We consider that to be completely fine and pick-up where we left off with a slightly longer meeting next week.
We haven’t had to implement much in the way of rules (talk about this, don’t talk about this, talk about this in a certain way, etc.) because the meeting and the format have evolved over time. We both prefer to operate this way, but a difference structure (like the weekly going out for dinner my family did when I was little) might work better for difference kinds of families.