Recently a frequent reader of my blog suggested I write a post about how a family meeting can help primary caregivers resolve conflicts between siblings and extended relatives. Having experienced conflict among her family, this reader praised how the family meeting allowed each of them to express their concerns, and while not everything was resolved, they came out feeling better. As a health care professional, I've also been witnessed to the benefits that can come from family meetings, and in many cases have facilitated them myself. What should be understood is that family meetings can only be a successful tool if there are certain aspects in place. These aspects, which should be exhibited by everyone who participates, are...
Willingness and Respect
Everyone who attends the meeting should, at the very least, want to attend and respect the viewpoints of other family members/attendees. This is not to say they have to agree with everything that is said, but if they are solely attending the meeting to get others to side with their viewpoint, then it won't work.
A Clear Objective
The purpose for the meeting should be made very clear when inviting people to attend and should also be reviewed at the start of the meeting. Family members/attendees should not show up believing certain topics will be addressed because it could lead to a feeling of mistrust, skepticism and in some cases, complete disregard for what is being said.
Whether this individual is a professional or the most level-headed person in the family, having someone who can make sure the discussion doesn't get too personal can be of great assistance. During family meetings, it is not uncommon for past conflicts or accusations to get in the way of the objective for the meeting. Having a mediator can help refocus the group.
Limiting Your Expectations
Assuming that this meeting will solve everything, will only set you up for disappointment. Any family meeting, especially the first few, will most likely be filled with a lot of clarification, explanation and emotion. Set your goals low but aim high. Once you get a feel for how the meeting is flowing, then you can get a sense for how many topics can be addressed.
While there are no guarantees that a family meeting will resolve your caregiving issues/conflicts, there is a great chance that people who attend a structured, goal-oriented meeting will come out experiencing a greater understanding of another person's viewpoint and a sense of relief. If a plan of action is devised and agreed upon by all, then the meeting was definitely a success!
Have you had a personal experience with a successful family meeting? Are there any do's and dont's you would recommend? If so, please share them below.
Christine M. Valentin is a geriatric clinical social worker in NJ and NY. She specializes in providing information and counseling to family members who are concerned about an older adult, spouse or significant other. She has an office in Downtown Summit, NJ and is currently accepting new clients. She also hosts a free monthly educational and supportive group for caregivers in NJ and NY. To join the group or learn about upcoming meetings, visit http://www.meetup.com/familycaregivergroup/.