How Does a Family Meeting Work?

Although family meetings can be hard, they are a good way to pull together and support you and your loved one. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with organizing the meetings. And remember that everything will not be solved all at once. Providing care is an ongoing task. Pulling the family together to provide that care is also ongoing.

 

Hold a family meeting at a neutral and comfortable place. This could be someone's home, office, or even a diner. You may also choose to ask your loved one’s doctor if he/she has a room you could use. For families that live in different areas and are unable to meet in person, it may be helpful to set up a phone conference.

 

Pick a place that is quiet and where you will not be interrupted. Ask people to turn off their cell phones or put them on vibrate. If family members or friends with kids will be there, have a sitter watch them in a different part of the house.

 

Each member of the team brings his or her own ideas and issues to a family meeting. Expect and accept family members' differences of opinion and coping styles, and try to work together.

 

Prepare an agenda. Give it out before the meeting. This can be helpful to keep everyone on track at the meeting. Put the most important items first.

 

It's easy to get caught up and spend your entire time on one topic. Try to put a time limit on each item. For example, "We will talk for 20 minutes about money and then we need to move on to helping with housework." Ask someone to keep track of the time.

 

If a family member is taking over the conversation, remind him/her of the time limit. This is one time that it may help to have an "outside person" lead the meeting.

 

You will most likely be talking about a lot of issues so have someone in charge of taking notes. This person should write down the decisions that are made and what tasks are assigned to each person. After the meeting, make sure that everyone gets a copy of the notes. This makes sure everyone is on the same page.

 

If someone from the health care team is present, it may be helpful for them to explain the overall goals of care that they have for the patient.

 

Each family member has their own strengths and limitations. If you decide that you are going to work as a team, use each other’s strengths by having each individual do the job that suits them best.

 

Difficult Situations and Difficult People

Family meetings can be tough because family members often bring a lot of issues with them that do not relate to providing care. If you are faced with this challenge, using an "outside person" to lead the meeting can be helpful. Talk to this person before the meeting and tell them what things you would like to talk about. Give them a list and a little background about past relationships and troubles so that they can prevent bad feelings from getting out of control.

 

Communication

One of the most difficult things about family meetings is learning how to communicate well. It takes a lot of practice, and can be harder to do with family members than with strangers.

 

Here are some helpful tips to try when communicating with others. It might be helpful to make a copy of these and give them to the people who will be at the meeting.

 

  • Use "I" statements when talking with others. "I feel..." or "I need..."

  • Check to make sure that what you said to someone was heard correctly. Ask them to repeat it back to you.

  • If you are nervous telling others what you need, write it down and hand it to them.

  • Practice saying what you want to in front of a mirror. Saying it out loud to yourself may help you to say it out loud to others.

  • Look people in the eye when you are talking to them. Hold your head and shoulders up.

  • Watch how you hold your body when you tell people what you think.

 

End Result

It would be great if you were able to solve all of the care problems, meet all of your loved one’s needs, and everyone went away happy. This is not always the case. It may be too much to hope that everyone will be happy or that all the issues will be resolved in one sitting. Remind family members you may need to find some middle ground. If two people have set ideas, try to come up with something that both can agree to. If you cannot do this, agree to try it one way for a month and set a time to meet to talk about how things are working.

 

Be clear at the end of the meeting about the decisions you have made. Go back over each agenda item and state what the family has agreed upon. Then, write it down and give everyone a copy or e-mail it after the meeting. When you have your next meeting, pull your notes back out and review how things have gone. At the end of the meeting, set up a time and a place for the next family meeting. Keep in touch with family members who are unable to attend the meetings.

 

 

Topics you may want to talk about at a family meeting:

 

  • The latest report from the healthcare provider.

 

  • Daily caregiving needs.

 

  • Financial concerns. For example, who will be in charge of making decisions? (financial, medical, hiring a caregiver, etc.)

 

  • What support does the primary caregiver need?

 

  • What support role does each person want to play?

 

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

Consider the following questions when choosing roles:

 

  • Who is best on the phone, finding information, keeping people up-to-date on changing conditions, or offering cheer?

 

  • Who is good at supervising and leading others?

 

  • Who is comfortable speaking with medical staff and interpreting what they say to others?

 

  • Who is good at paying bills on time, keeping track of bank statements, and reviewing insurance policies, and reimbursement reports?