by Carol Higgins Taylor
Special to The Weekly
Remember when you were a kid and your parents held “family meetings?” Was your typical
reaction to these get-togethers eye rolling and groaning and dreams of growing up and never having to sit through them again?
Well, now you are older, but so are your parents and if you’re caring for them and providing
support for them, family meetings need to be, once again, on the docket of your life.
Caregiving is difficult and can be a strain if the responsibility rests with one person. It is easier to
deal with a crisis or even with on-going issues if everyone is on the same page. Family meeting are the best bet.
Here are some guidelines on holding successful meetings:
• Agree on who may attend. Some families limit the meeting to parents and adult children only.
Other families will include aunts, uncles, family friends, in-laws and ex-in-laws. A good practice is to include everyone who will be a part of making the decisions.
• Choose a meeting time and location that works for everyone. For working family members,
weekends may be best.
• Hold the meeting on neutral ground instead of a family member’s home, if possible, such as a
conference room at a hospital, senior center or school. This prevents one person being responsible for holding the meeting and avoids the possibility of the home court advantage feeling.
• Do not, under any circumstances, even if a family member pushes all of your buttons, use the
meeting time as a power play. Sentences that begin, “If you really loved Mom, you’d …” never end well.
• Have a time limit for the meeting and an agenda and then stick to it. This helps to prevent
people from going off on tangents and wasting everyone’s time.
• Send important information in advance to all who will be attending.
• Have child care available so that small children will not be a distraction. While it’s lovely to see
them, this is not a family reunion. There is serious business to discuss.
• Have a moderator and someone assigned to take minutes for the meeting. Or use a tape
recorder. Write down issues that aren’t on the agenda, with the agreement that they’ll be discussed at a later meeting.
• And finally, let every person speak. Listen respectfully and actively, don’t just bide your time
waiting for your turn to talk.
It’s also important to remember that caregiver tasks can differ. One family member may spend
more time doing day to day care, while another may accept a larger part of the financial responsibility.
Someone else may do shopping, take the person to appointments or provide respite. Let go of family rivalries or unresolved conflicts with the person you’re caring for. And if you need professional help or support, get it.
Although getting family meetings off the ground may be a challenge, the result of having everyone aware of the elder’s needs is worth it. Sometimes families end up with closer relationships after coming together and working toward a common goal for a loved one.
Remember, Eastern Area Agency on Aging’s family caregiver program can help you with
referrals, resources, respite, support and support groups, and education on caregiving.
EAAA has family caregiver specialists who are trained on caring for someone with
Alzheimer’s disease. You could even take the Savvy Caregiver training and learn how to be the best caregiver you can be for a person with dementia. Call 800-432-7812 or log on eaaa.org for information.
Sometimes just talking to someone can make a big difference. Start building your caregiver team.
Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns a public relations firm in Bangor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.