Guide: Conduct a Family Meeting

Written by Julia on October 27, 2015

Do your siblings assume that because you are single you have all the time in the world to care for aging parents? Are your sisters and brothers better off financially yet never contribute to eldercare expenses? Do you fear for your parents’ future well-being and don’t know where to start?

Complexity of Eldercare

Parent care is complex and time-consuming, and family meetings can be an efficient way to deal with these and other caregiving issues. There are many benefits to family meetings. Perhaps you’re worried about a parent’s situation and looking to brainstorm caregiving ideas. Or you may be feeling overwhelmed and a meeting will create an opportunity to invite others to share the care.

Whatever the case may be, all sorts of family issues come up before, during, and after the meeting—old ones and new ones—and family squabbles are common.

Who should attend?

Limit the meeting to people who are directly affected by the situation. If your spouse or partner expresses a desire to be included by all means extend an invitation to him or her. If you suspect that the topic of the meeting is going to be heated, invite a neutral moderator such as a long-time family friend, professional mediator or social worker who specializes in older-adult issues.

Should parents be invited?

The first meeting usually takes place without parents present. The goal is to discuss problems and create a plan of action to work together as a team. In some cases, calling a family meeting may put a temporary truce toward a family feud.

Before the Meeting

Decide together when and where to hold meetings

Whether you choose an office, restaurant or someone’s home, decide on a setting that presents few distractions. Families often find that meeting after sharing a meal together is conducive to a congenial atmosphere. Create a plan to include those who are unable to attend in person—speaker phone, conference calling, and Skype are a few options.

Agree to a specific timetable

What time will the meeting begin and end? Often a series of shorter meetings are more productive than longer ones.

Decide on a goal for each meeting

A narrow focus works best. As a result, prioritizing issues upfront ensures that critical matters are given full attention.

Acquire current factual information

For example, if you plan to discuss the need for Mom or Dad to move to an assisted-living community, have on hand medical information, and research the costs ahead of time.

Working Together

Establish ground rules

Everyone deserves respect. Discuss the following:

  • Policy regarding interruptions including cell-phone usage.
  • Allow everyone no more than ten minutes to state concerns and points of view – use a timer if need be.
  • No interrupting.
  • There should also be no insults, or derogatory remarks, and absolutely no yelling.
  • Stick to the agreed-upon time table.

Agree on a facilitator to lead the meeting, and designate someone to take notes

Open the meeting by restating the agreed-upon agenda. As people consent to specific actions, record what they have agreed to do. Also, keep in mind that agreements can be made on a time-limited basis, and future discussions can be used to revise them. Reach consensus before moving on to the next topic.

A productive meeting ends with a “recap” of the issues and any decisions made 

Consequently, you may find you need to set a date for the next meeting.

Establish how everyone plans to stay in touch

Exchange phone numbers and e-mail. Or, perhaps the family computer wizard will create a family website in order to make it easy to coordinate schedules and keep everyone updated.

Reprinted with permission from Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner (revised and updated, 2009, Random House). Everything you need is in this book. Time- and money-saving checklists, worksheets, websites, step-by-step action plans, low-cost resources, and questions to ask professionals—an essential resource for anyone struggling with the many challenges that face today’s caregivers.  

Joy Loverde is a popular keynote speaker for a variety of audiences. She has been featured on the Today Show, CBS Early Show, National Public Radio, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Consumer Reports. For more information