As a caregiver for an ill or aging parent or family member, you know that family cooperation can be extremely valuable in helping you provide good care and minimize stress. A family meeting is often recommended by counselors and social workers as a great way to develop a care plan and get everyone on board. Of course, holding a successful family meeting can be easier said than done. Here are some family meeting tips and suggestions you can try.
Who should attend my family meeting?
This is really a matter of personal preference; some families limit attendance to the ill person’s spouse, children, and siblings, while others invite even distant relatives to involve them in the family care plan. The most important thing is to get together everyone who will have a role, or is willing to get involved, in providing care for your loved one.
If your loved one is able to attend the meeting and can understand what’s going on, AgingCare.com suggests you include him or her. Would you want to be excluded from a family discussion about you?
Sometimes, there may be emotionally difficult or contentious issues that need to be addressed in a family meeting, or family resentments that interfere with a calm, productive meeting. In these cases, it may be a good idea to invite a social worker, counselor, member of the clergy, or even a neutral facilitator to oversee the conversation, AgingCare.com advises.
When should we have a family meeting?
Some families schedule a regular family care plan meeting every month or quarter to ensure ongoing communication and cooperation, according to caregiver.org. Others prefer to call a family meeting when something new needs to be discussed. In general, you may want to call a family meeting when there is a change in status or an issue to address regarding such things as:
- Your loved one’s condition or prognosis
- Daily caregiving needs or living arrangements
- Financial issues affecting the loved one, caregiver, or other family member who participates in family care
- Health care and end-of-life decision-making
- Primary caregiver support
- Estate planning
How do we keep my family meeting running smoothly?
Once you’ve managed to get your family members together, here are some tips from Caring.com, AgingCare.com, and SeniorList.com to keep your meeting on track:
- Make sure you choose a “neutral” site for the meeting. If there is family strife, don’t hold the meeting at the home of someone at the center of the conflict. Everyone should feel comfortable and welcome.
- If necessary, use a speaker phone or online video system to include family members who can’t easily travel to the meeting.
- Stick to the agenda and keep the meeting focused on the issues that need to be discussed and decided. Don’t turn the meeting into a therapy session where you try to fix difficult family relationships; the goal is to manage family care for your loved one.
- Even though you have an agenda, try to manage your expectations; don’t insist that every topic you had in mind be resolved, or even discussed.
- Make sure every family member has an opportunity to be heard by the group if he or she has something to contribute.
- Use “I” sentences instead of “you” ones. For example, say “I need more help getting Mom to physical therapy every week,” not “You are never around when Mom has a doctor appointment.”
- Try to get consensus. Not every problem can be solved at a family care session, but you can look for areas of agreement as you explore solutions. If you can all agree that Mom can no longer live independently, then you can discuss your brother’s preference for part-time home health aides versus your sister’s preference for a live-in caregiver and how each would work for your family.
- Be open to compromising. You may not get everything you need as a caregiver, but if you’re willing to accept some give and take, at least you might get something. For example, your sister might not be able to sit with Dad one afternoon each week, but she may offer to pay for respite care so you can go to your book club meeting every month.
- Remember to put things in writing. Assign someone the responsibility for taking notes and recording the decisions you make during the meeting. You can even prepare a monthly or quarterly calendar after the family meeting with each person’s commitments blocked in; this is a hassle-free way to remind your family members of their obligations between meetings and keeps everyone on track.