Holidays are about families coming together in celebration. This time of year also offers an opportunity to hold a family meeting to address the needs of aging parents. Bringing the family support network together is a crucial step in planning for the aging process or addressing immediate concerns.
Just as you dedicate time and energy to planning holiday gatherings, you can apply similar efforts for family meetings. Here are family meeting considerations:
Select a time to hold a family meeting that is convenient to as many participants as possible. Try to avoid gatherings when family traditions take place or non-family members are present. Select the best time of day for the parents’ energy level; often older adults are more alert in mid-morning.
Select a location that is easy to get to, accommodates wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen tanks, or whatever the parent requires. Try not to gather standing around a kitchen island. Instead, find a comfortable location where participants can settle in and discuss sensitive topics. Sometimes a neutral location is best.
There is no rule on who should be invited to family meetings. The only determination is relationships. Should only parent-born children have input or are stepchildren, in-laws, grandchildren, or cousins welcome? What are the cultural norms of the family? These answers will be unique to each family.
Look beyond the family roles and ask who else is close to the parent? Would a pastor/rabbi or neighbor have a valuable perspective that should be considered? Is there a care manager who is best informed about the parent’s physical and cognitive challenges?
Like at other family gatherings, food and alcohol will impact participation. Family members under the influence of alcohol may be more emotional or less rationale, thus unable to represent their true positions on the topics. Try to avoid situations when family members are under the influence.
When planning a family meeting, consider the use of a facilitator. This can be a family member or a third party. There are professionals who specialize in facilitating family meetings. The facilitator is responsible for managing the discussion and following a set agenda. In addition, they can ensure that all voices are heard and diffuse tensions if they become elevated. Often a non-family member without an emotional connection to the parent is best in this role.
Aging challenges abound and it is not realistic to expect to address everyone’s concerns in one meeting. Select and communicate what topics will be covered in advance. This will help set expectations, manage the flow of the meeting, and allow participants to reflect in advance. Often participants are surprised to learn their siblings’ or parents’ positions on topics addressed but advanced preparation, research, and reflection may help foster understanding.
Holiday gatherings are documented with photos; document family meetings with good notes. Record any decisions made, options discussed, alternatives eliminated, and action plans agreed upon. These should be sent to all participants.
As much as holiday gatherings are rooted in celebration, family meetings must be rooted in dignity and respect. Each participant must have an opportunity to contribute during the meetings. Solving all problems is not paramount but ensuring everyone has a chance to be heard absolutely is.
Life Managers & Associates supports older individuals as a surrogate family member with the administrative and organizational responsibilities required to age in place. As a trusted member of their team, we help families feel safe and supported — alleviating stress for all.