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Holding a Family Meeting

When a loved one becomes sick or ages to the point of needing care, their loved ones will need to develop a care strategy. This strategy should cover how the duties and responsibilities will be dispersed, both now and over time. A mistake many families make is to assume that everyone will just step up to help as needed without being asked. This mistake, more often than not, leads to confusion, frustration, loneliness, and family tension. Instead, it’s much more effective to have a formal family conversation that discusses the details. In this article, we’re going to explain how to have this conversation, who to invite, and ideas for what to discuss.

Who Should Attend the Family Meeting?

Every family and situation is different. In some families, only a husband/wife and their children are considered “family.” In other families, aunts, uncles, cousins, current and ex-in-laws, and close friends may be included in the definition of family. When planning a family meeting, it is important to include everyone who is or will be part of the caregiving team, and this may include a family friend, neighbor, or paid caregiver. You may also want to include the care recipient in at least a portion of this meeting so their needs and questions can be specifically addressed.

Note: If a family member doesn’t live nearby, it’s still worth including them at least virtually in the meeting, as there are still responsibilities they can assist with from afar.

What Should We Plan To Discuss?

The agenda for this meeting will vary depending on the ailment you’re caring for, its prognosis, and the responsibilities you’re facing. But to provide a guide, your meeting might include topics such as:

  • The latest report from the physician

  • Sharing of feelings about the illness/caregiving

    • Fears:

      • About death and dying

      • About being overwhelmed

      • About what will happen to family members after the death

    • Sadness, confusion, anger, guilt, shame

  • What does the person who is ill want and need?

  • Daily caregiving needs:

    • Should the sick person move in with us?

    • Does she/he need to be in an assisted living facility or nursing home?

    • How much time does each family member have to visit or provide care?

    • Are there other ways each person can help (such as a distant family member - can they provide financial support or offer part-time respite care)?

    • What other help might be available (through non-profits, local organizations, etc.)?

  • Financial concerns in caregiving:

    • How much will it cost?

    • How much work can family members afford to miss?

    • What financial help might be available from outside (through non-profits, local organizations, etc.)?

  • Who will be the primary caregiver?

  • Who will make decisions (e.g., financial, medical, hiring a caregiver, etc.) and how will they be made?

  • What happens in the event of an emergency? (e.g., if the primary caregiver can’t get there, who is the next in line?)

  • What support role does each person want to play?

  • What sort of support does the primary caregiver need?

    • Need for respite (a break from caregiving)

    • Help with meals, shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc.

    • Emotional support by telephone or email

    • Help with chores—i.e., taking the care recipient to doctor's appointments

  • How will the caregiving and support needs change as the illness progresses?

  • Problem-Solving: at the end of the meeting, who will prepare the following:

    • A list of tasks that need doing

    • A summary of meeting and schedule for next meeting

    • A written summary of what each person has agreed to

    • An email or telephone tree for regular updates

Tips for a Successful Meeting

Beyond the topics of discussion, there are other ways to set the meeting up for success:

  • Choose a set amount of time and stick to it. Shorter meetings are usually easier for getting and holding attention, and by sticking to the schedule, family members will be less likely to skip subsequent meetings.

  • Choose a neutral location. Try to pick a location that is peaceful, calm, convenient, and distraction-free (or as close to such a location as possible).

  • Allow everyone to be heard. One of the most important aspects of a successful meeting is ensuring that every participant feels heard and has a chance to express themselves openly and honestly.

  • Set expectations for future meetings. These meetings will, in all likelihood, not be a one-time event. Set the proper expectations that this will be one of many, so you can increase the likelihood of participation in future discussions. As the illness/ailment progresses, personal situations change, etc., additional meetings will likely need to be held.

  • Find a professional mediator. If you think this meeting may cause challenges for your family, or if there’s an uncertain dynamic, it can be helpful to bring in a third-party or neutral professional mediator to the discussion.

Closing Thoughts

Caregiving can put a lot of stress on a family, and many families will never be the same after. This is why holding family meetings to discuss the needs and action steps will help to ensure that everyone can participate, no one feels isolated or left out to dry, and nothing is overlooked.

For further reading and resources, we invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.


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