When an elderly parent needs help, adult children and even grandchildren may become caregivers. It’s important that everyone is on the same page. Even if your parent has been clear about their wishes for care and has advance directives in place, holding a family meeting may become necessary as your parent’s health and ability to live independently change.
A family meeting gives everyone—including your parent and their spouse or partner—the chance to discuss options, share opinions, and resolve differences. The primary caregiver, whether adult child or spouse, can get support and help. Family meetings allow you to evaluate your parent’s needs and available resources (such as time and money) and come up with a plan. Everyone can weigh in on solutions and help make tough decisions.
However, family meetings can become contentious. Family members often have different communication styles and different ideas and opinions about what needs to be done. Stressful situations can make emotions run high.
It’s important to remember your main goal: your parent’s well-being.
Here’s what to consider as you plan and hold a family meeting.
If possible, hold the meeting before, or as soon as possible after, the need for care arises.
You may need to plan a few meetings, especially if you’re reacting to an emergency (such as a fall or serious illness). Multiple meetings over time will allow you to keep everyone up to date on your parent’s condition and will give family members time to deal with complicated emotions before devising a final plan. Holding multiple meetings can reduce the stress of feeling like you must resolve everything at once, and it gives people time to think about suggestions.
To stay on topic, identify what needs to be discussed as specifically as possible. Questions to think about:
For example, has your parent’s health declined to such an extent that he or she needs more help than your other parent can provide? Will your parent need help after coming home from the hospital? What sort of help will be needed, and what are the options?
Does help preparing meals include grocery shopping or arranging for food delivery? Does it extend to cleaning up the kitchen? Does your parent have sufficient balance and mobility to carry a plate of hot food from the microwave to the table?
Consider the topics of discussion when you decide who should—and should not—attend the meeting.
In general, start by asking your parent, their spouse or partner, and the primary caregiver who they think should attend. Avoid excluding anyone who should be there, especially if they are part of the caregiving team (such as a home health aide). If your family struggles with communicating, you may want to invite a facilitator (such as a geriatric care manager, clergy member, or social worker) to help you stay on topic and resolve conflicts.
Pick a location that’s convenient for everyone. You may want to choose a neutral place like a meeting room at a library or a facilitator’s office so that everyone feels safe in sharing thoughts and feelings. Your meeting space should be private and free from distractions.
For those who can’t be present, look into video chat or conference calling with video or screen sharing.
Send an invitation to all the participants, specifying the location and time.
Prepare an agenda listing all the topics you need to discuss, based on the needs and goals of your parent and the primary caregiver.
Send the agenda before the meeting so everyone knows what topics you’ll be discussing. If people suggest topics that don’t fit with your agenda, plan to discuss them in future meetings.
Collect as much information as you can that’s relevant to the agenda.
As you do your research, try to come up with solutions you can propose, and state those solutions in terms of what you want. “I don’t want mom to move to a nursing home” is a valid statement, but it doesn’t offer solutions to choose from. “Instead of moving mom to a nursing home, I think we should hire a home health aide. Here are the reasons why I think this is a good idea.”
Depending on how many people attend, how difficult the topics are, and how emotional people are, consider setting (or reminding people of) rules, such as the following:
Give everyone the chance to speak. If your parent is at the meeting, let them speak first—they are, after all, the reason for the meeting. Remember that they have the right to make their own choices, even if you disagree—unless there are safety issues or if they are cognitively impaired.