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Why hold a family meeting?
Family meetings make sure that everybody is aware of issues and concerns that need to be dealt with, that things are openly discussed and decisions made collectively.
You might use a meeting to:
- gather or share information
- break difficult news
- reach understanding on what is needed by your family member
- evaluate the resources, services and supports available
- discuss ways that different family members can contribute
- resolve conflict
- make decisions
- plan for the future
Organising a meeting
Decide who should attend
Think about who needs to be included - perhaps the person you are caring for; close family members and friends, health professionals and support workers who can explain current and future care needs.
Choose a time and place to suit most people
If things are likely to get heated, it might be best to choose a place that is neutral - perhaps a room at a community health centre, a friend’s house or another quiet venue.
Give people a reason for the meeting
Allow everybody to prepare for the discussion and any decisions that need to be made.
Decide what you want to achieve
Don’t aim too high. Remember that discussing complex issues and making decisions can be slow. You may need to plan for more than one meeting.
Running a meeting
Once you have brought everyone together, it's important to make the most of your meeting time:
- Give everybody an agenda outlining what will be discussed and what you are aiming to achieve. Leave room for other people to include things they want to discuss.
- Let everyone have their say. Many meetings nominate a chairperson who makes sure that everybody gets a fair amount of time or who brings the discussion back on topic if it gets sidetracked.
- Ask for explanations if something is not clear to you.
- Don't expect to make decisions on the spot. Sometimes people need time to think about what been proposed or to research and consider alternatives. You may need to hold a follow-up meeting.
- Summarise what was agreed, what will happen, who will do what and when. Decisions are more likely to be carried out if there is a follow up plan.
- If possible, take notes and circulate a written summary of what was said and what was agreed.
Dealing with conflict
Many families have a history of touchy issues. Family members have established ways of relating to each other and there are often unspoken rules about which emotions are okay to express and what can and can’t be said.
Different views, experiences and values can surface at difficult times and cause conflict. Think about ways of keeping the discussion on track and productive:
- Be aware of unresolved family issues that might influence the discussion. Old resentments about money might come up, for example, when you are discussing the cost of different care options.
- Acknowledge and deal with difficult emotions and fears. Many people are uncomfortable with illness and this can affect their ability to contribute.
- Respect and listen to each other’s point of view. Not everybody will see things as you do or have the same priorities.
- Set rules to make sure you communicate respectfully. For example: no personal attacks, no walking away, no yelling or blaming.
- Keep to the issues. You are not trying to fix your family but to make sure your family member gets the best possible care.
- Accept that different family members have different levels of time, skill, resources and energy to contribute. It may not be possible to create an even distribution of responsibilities but it might be possible to create one that works well for most people.
Family meetings can be emotional and draining, even when they achieve what you want. Think about lining up someone to talk to afterwards if you need to let off steam.
If your family cannot agree on important issues, a mediator may be able to help you to reach a working compromise.
A good mediator is objective – not favouring one viewpoint over another – and able to defuse conflict.
Ideally, your mediator should understand the different options available to you and be able to help your family members understand the consequences of choosing one option over another.
Some services or mediators have eligibility requirements and there may be costs involved. Contact a service directly to find out if they can help you.