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Holding a Family Meeting

I hope the image that you conjure up when you hear "family meeting" isn't one of Archie Bunker and "Meathead" going at it with Edith trying to keep peace between them. If that describes your family, ask a social worker or some outside, qualified person (parish priest, minister, or rabbi) to facilitate the meeting. Even if everyone has to pitch in to pay for a social worker, it will be well worth the expense.

Why a family meeting? Unless you are an only child and your parent has no living relatives, you owe it to yourself, your parent, and your siblings to have the entire family actively involved in caring for your parent. This can be a very rewarding experience for everyone; it's a time to say thank you to the one who has raised you, to gain closure on the most significant relationship of a lifetime, and to forgive and forget. And quite simply, you'll need the help.

Here's how to have a positive and productive family meeting:

  1. Do your homework. Clearly lay out your parent's medical, physical, social, and mental health needs. Share medical reports and doctor's notes on your parent's condition(s) with treatment recommendations.
  2. Write up a daily routine that shows a typical day of caregiving so that other family members get a practical sense of what is involved.
  3. Present a budget identifying your parent's resources and monthly income in one column and the expenses of caregiving in the other column. Identify potential debts.
  4. Invite your siblings to the meeting. If in-laws are close and usually participate in other family decisions then it may be appropriate to include them, too. The spouse of the family caregiver should be involved because his or her life is definitely affected by the caregiving situation. Your parent's wishes must be respected. If Mom or Dad is competent, he or she should be involved. You might also want to involve a more distant relative who has expertise in a certain area, like a cousin who is a lawyer or nurse.
  5. Create an agenda. Call family members ahead of time and ask them the three most important things they would like to discuss at the meeting. You'll find that many of you will share the same concerns. Determine among you who will facilitate this meeting. That person's job will be to organize the agenda and keep the discussion on task.
  6. Chances are most of the family members will have had experiences in being a part of other meetings with basic ground rules. It will probably feel a little strange for your family to act so formal. But it is a safeguard from falling into old patterns of teasing brothers and hair-pulling sisters. Here are some tried-and-true strategies in productive group discussion:
    • No cutting in. Wait until someone is finished talking.
    • When you have something to say, it should reflect what you think, not what you think others think. So start the sentence with "I."
    • No accusations. (As in, "you always side in with him.")
    • Stay focused on your parent's needs. Rally around what's best for Mom.
    • If you're not clear on a point that someone else has said, ask that person to clarify it rather than assume something he or she didn't mean.
    • If you want to make sure you've interpreted what the other person has said, try this approach: "This is what I heard you say .... Is that correct?"
Silver Lining

If all of you live out of town and can't get together for a family meeting (even during a traditional family gathering), try a conference call. It's important that you all share in the decision-making, if at all possible.

At the end of the meeting, the facilitator should wrap up what everyone has decided and check to see if this is what everybody understands as the action plan. Someone should be responsible for writing up the plan of who is going to do what and what was decided at the meeting. Make copies and distribute them among each other.

Making the Decision

If you have been able to go through all of these steps--assessing your parent's needs, his or her resources, your resources, and what other family members are willing to do to help you--you're in a position to make a well-informed decision. Now, you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with the members of your immediate family who will be literally living with this decision. Young children deserve to understand what's going on. With Grandma living with them, the youngsters will soon learn that the whole world doesn't revolve around them. You'll need to be sensitive to their changing needs and their feelings of guilt when they secretly wish that Grandma would just go away or even die. Make your children feel like part of the solution; they, too, can have chores that they enjoy doing to help Grandma.

And then there's your marriage. Don't bludgeon your husband with a guilt stick into accepting this new venture, as if he has nothing to say in the matter. The road of caregiving is filled with compromises which only work if they are made mutually.

More on: Aging Parents

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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