Guide on how to hold a family meeting

Elizz is pleased to partner with RBC Ventures on this article, and we jointly encourage our family caregiver readers to download RBC Ventures’ newly launched FREE care coordination app, CareEasy

When it comes to caring for aging parents, virtually all caregiving sites and experts will give this one piece of advice – have a family meeting to discuss current and future care needs. It’s sound advice, but without knowing how to go about this, it can be daunting and even a bit of a disaster for family members.  Read on for a step by step guide on how to hold a family meeting that leaves family members feeling connected and focused, or at least not at each other’s throat!

The bottom line

The stress of caring for an aging parent, watching their decline and eventual death, can, quite frankly, tear a family apart or bring them closer. To get to the latter often requires some emotional intelligence, a willingness to let go of previous hurts and resentments, and some guidance about practical steps to take. Hopefully, this guide on how to hold a family meeting will help you and your siblings bond more closely to one another. As someone on the other side of this, I feel gratitude for my brother and sister literally every day. They are an indelible connection to the memory of my parents that I cannot get anywhere else.

Guiding principles and common goal

The whole point of a family meeting is to set out agreed upon facts or what is currently known, to give space to hear family members varied perspectives and feelings, and to work together as a team to care for aging parents.

A step by step guide is provided below. If you proceed from certain principles and a common goal, from the outset, the details will unfold naturally:

  • Inclusivity: everyone has an opportunity to have a voice 
  • Respect for each family member’s feelings, opinions, perspectives. How is respect conveyed? 
    • All feelings and perspectives are acknowledged.
    • No one is made wrong.
    • Use “I” statements, rather than “you” statements in order to speak from your own experience and preferences. (This is a basic communication 101 principle, which many of us need to be reminded about, myself included
  • THE goal from which everything else needs to pivot is providing the best care possible for your parent/s.

 Step One: ’Calling’ the meeting

These meetings are usually called by the primary caregiver. Just so you know, caregiving is not typically shared equally amongst the siblings. The reason for the meeting should be outlined. Just like a work meeting, there should be a proposed agenda and definite time frame.  Suggested agenda items are:

  • Relevant medical information 
  • Current caregiving needs, broken down into tasks (a table or spreadsheet will help)
  • Future care needs 
  • Current and anticipated future expenses and care costs.

Ideally, the agenda is sent to all family members for their suggestions. It may feel weird to have a formal agenda for a family meeting, but it is invaluable for its role in keeping the meeting focused and on topic. It is something any family member can use to bring the focus back as well should the conversation and topics veer away from caregiving.

Step Two: Deciding who should be there (or at least be invited)

The short answer is: every family member, including the parent/s.  That might seem obvious but well -meaning daughters and sons sometimes exclude the parent (because the topics will be difficult and emotional, or because there is some ageism at play and the parent’s perspective isn’t taken into account); or exclude the family member who is not able to physically attend because of geography; or exclude the family member who is expected to likely voice unpopular opinions and thoughts. 

There may be exceptions to the whole family attending this meeting. If there is a cognitive decline such that that the parent cannot be present in a meaningful way, for example, or if there is tension and conflict with the parent/s or family dysfunction and honest expression of thoughts and feelings will only make the situation worse, the first meeting might be best amongst siblings only. At this meeting, it can be decided how to involve the parents for subsequent meetings. 

A word of caution. Think long and hard about excluding parents because it could result in them feeling resentful and powerless, which will only make the future caregiving more challenging. 

Step Three: The location

Choose a location that is comfortable and convenient for as many of the family members as possible. If there are long distance family members, consider having an online meeting.

Step 4: The meeting

  • State the goal of the family meeting (for example, working on a plan to help parents out/make life easier/how we can all help with parents’ current and future care needs).
  • Have current relevant information and facts available. For example, there may be doctor’s reports, or brochures or price lists for various services, housing options and costs.
  • Ensure each family member is given time to voice their perspective. You may want to suggest each family member talk about what the ideal outcome is, from their perspective, and what their greatest concerns/fears are. 
  • Create and distribute a task and costs list (and add to it as needed based on other family members’ contributions).
  • Ask family members to sign up for tasks and expenses. Ideally, this step is based on means, strengths, and interest. 
  • Don’t expect there to be an equitable distribution of either the tasks or payment of expenses. You can hope for it and you can ask for it, but you are setting yourself up to expect it. 
  • Consider having the meeting facilitated by a mediator, or case manager or social worker.   When might this be a good idea? 
    • If family dynamics are historically dysfunctional and end up in shouting matches; 
    • If a history of family members working against each other instead of with each other is a factor;
    • If deep divisions and resentments exist that surface at most family gatherings.

Step 5: Develop a system for ongoing communication and tracking

Obviously, care needs and tasks and expenses will change over time. All family members need to have an avenue to give and receive updates. These days, many family caregivers use apps for this step. One app that I love is the RBC Ventures app, CareEasy, because it is a platform for family communication and connection (including pictures) and has sections to track both tasks and costs. Streamline these caregiving activities and family connections with one app, instead of needing three different apps.  Anything that makes the journey of caring for aging parents smoother is a welcome addition.

Learn more about the FREE CareEasy app or download it in the App Store or on Google Play.

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