Calling a family meeting

Family meetings won’t cure old hurts or solve every current problem. But if they nurture teamwork, they can provide a solid foundation for the continued well-being of the person in need of care.

Creative solutions often emerge at family meetings, and the burdens of caregiving get redistributed in a more balanced fashion.

Tips for successful meetings

  • Decide who should attend. Anyone with a stake in the situation should be invited, but keep it to fewer than ten people. Use technology as needed so that location is not a barrier and everyone can “attend.” Ideally, include the older adult. Consider a premeeting without them, though, to air feelings and establish roles (timekeeper, note-taker …). If the elder has dementia, family meetings may be too overwhelming.
  • Create a safe space. Agree upon ground rules so everyone understands that all points of view are important and to be respected.
  • Consider a facilitator. A social worker, therapist, or care manager is trained in family dynamics and keeping group meetings courteous and productive.
  • Agree upon overall goals. This is not about the past, but about the future. The point is to find a way to work together to do what’s wisest for your relative so their elderhood is as close to their desires as possible, given the circumstances.
  • Set an agenda. Be realistic about what you can cover in an hour and a half. Determine who will be the timekeeper so everyone gets a fair share of time and the meeting ends when planned. You might begin by hearing each other’s assessment of the situation and any concerns. This may bring up a lot of feelings.
  • Take notes. Ask someone other than the facilitator or timekeeper to take notes. The notes should identify concerns and the different tasks each participant has agreed to take on. Notes should be sent to everyone soon after the meeting.
  • Understand there will be hiccups. When emotions are running high, many of us drop into childhood patterns of interacting. Acknowledge this challenge at the outset and ask that everyone aim to remain in their adult self. Also, forecast that no one is likely to get 100% of what they want. Try to be flexible and open to new ideas.
  • Expect further meetings. If Meeting 1 focuses on concerns, Meeting 2 may explore solutions and Meeting 3, implementation. Consider touching base regularly after that.