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Thursday, 18 October 2018 08:00

Family meetings: Identifying family roles without argument

There comes a time in every family’s life where a formal meeting should be held to discuss the future of an ageing or ill parent. This progression of life is inevitable, and there will come a time where the future of those who once looked after you, needs to be made a priority to ensure they receive the care they deserve in return.
But one thing’s for certain: family dynamics can be complex. With a number of competing personalities, deep-seeded family history and the quality of existing or non-existent relationships, family meetings are not always easy, and sometimes a resolution cannot always be found.
If a family meeting is on the cards for a discussion about the future of an ageing, frail or ill parent, here’s how to approach things for the best possible resolve.

Usually the oldest sibling or primary caregiver of a parent is the one to host this meeting. It’s wise to call each family member beforehand and inform them of the purpose of the meeting, and why it’s important, they be there. Once the meeting takes place, here are a few essential steps to cover:

1. Identify family roles

Family roles are based on the past or present relationship a sibling or child has with a parent. Openly discuss who usually handles each aspect of a parent’s life and make suggestions on who should ‘step up’ in their time of need. Ensure that each family member is happy and 100% able to commit to this role with the time and other responsibilities they may already have.

2. Bring in a third-party if needed

If your family relationship is a particularly sensitive or volatile one, it may be worthwhile bringing in a neutral, third-party to help oversee the family meeting. Someone such as a close family friend, a clergyman, a social worker, a counsellor or even a family doctor can help bring in an objective stance and give some real perspective to the meeting.

3. Plan out the meeting agenda

This may sound a bit formal for a family meeting, but it helps to ensure all important topics are covered in one session, without having to meet back and forth across several months. This is especially helpful if family members have to travel from far for this meeting. The primary caregiver of your parent or the eldest sibling should draw up an agenda of topics to discuss, including:

  • Emotional sharing: how does each family member feel about a parent’s illness, diagnosis and thoughts about their inevitable death?
  • Up-to-date medical reports from a parent’s doctor and medical procedures recommended by them.
  • The needs and wants of your ageing or ill parent and what they need most.
  • Living arrangements of the parent and how they will be made, i.e. will they move in with a family member, an assisted living facility or remain in their own home perhaps with a live in carer?
  • Financial costs: how much will an assisted living facility or live in carer cost, who will cover what cost, any other financial resources available.
  • Who will continue to be the primary caregiver and what kind of support do they need i.e. shopping, cleaning, laundry, transportation, financial, respite.
  • Amount of time required from each family member to be spent with an ageing or ill parent.
  • Other sources of help and support available, i.e. friends, respite care, nursing home, church etc.

4. Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk

This is extremely important in allowing each family member to voice their emotions and opinions in order to avoid feelings of resentment or anger at a later stage. All feelings are appropriate and have the right to be expressed.

5. Recap on all decisions made

At the end of the meeting, do a quick run over on all the big, important decisions that were made so that everyone has a clear understanding of what their role is going forward. For some families, putting it all down in writing can be a helpful reminder for future reference.

One of the most important factors to keep in mind with family meetings is that a full resolution of all topics is not always possible. A mixture of family dynamics, commitments, responsibilities and personalities makes this difficult, that’s why compromise and flexibility are key. Significant change happens slowly, remember to keep this in mind! 

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