In this follow up to the Family Caregiving Team Meeting, we're going to discuss negotiating with family and potential problems you should take into account before your family meeting.
Negotiation or Argument?
Just like negotiating a corporate deal, deciding where to hold your family meeting can be just as potentially controversial as the meeting itself. Whether you hold it in an office, a restaurant, or someone's home, it's important to remember that you want a setting that the majority of the participants will find comfortable, convenient, and has as few distractions as possible.
A successful family caregiver meeting gives everyone a chance to be heard. All feelings are appropriate and need to be expressed and acknowledged. People will be more willing to talk about the situation if they feel safe. For example, the brother, who is never present, may reveal that he is unable to stand seeing their loved one sick; the sister, who is doing all the work, may not realize how she pushes family members away when they offer to help. Other family members may be having problems that they have not yet shared with the family. Each person needs to balance his/her own fears, concern, love, and desire to help with available time, strengths, weaknesses, and hopes.
Until the issues concerning an ill loved one are explored, it is important to not try to solve the problems. Recording these problems in a list as they are shared, however, will be useful during the problem-solving portion of the meeting.
Use "I" Before "You"
It is important for each family member to learn to use “I” messages, as well to say “I need...” rather than “You should...” Even when disagreeing, try to find middle ground where you can come to an agreement. The goal of the meeting is to work as a team in caring for the person who is ill.
Wrapping It Up
At the conclusion of the meeting, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the issues and considerations discussed. When the solutions to issues have been established, make sure that each person understands what he/she has agreed to do.
The most important thing for family caregivers to remember is that the meeting is not a one-time event. Family caregiver meetings need to take place regularly. Schedule them at a given time, perhaps even at the same time each month. They, at the very least, need to take place when the caregiving situation or other situations in families lives change. Having regular meetings puts less pressure on the family caregiver team to get everything resolved in just one meeting, and allows more time for processing of information and decision-making. This is especially helpful for the more introverted family members who need a longer time to think about what was said and how they need to respond.
Every family has several separate and intertwined histories. A history of how each member relates to the others, a history of the roles each member has played and currently plays within the family, a history of how each person feels about the person who is needing help, and a history of how each member deals with illness and adversity. Each family also has rules about what can and cannot be said, and even what emotions are okay and not okay to express. These factors can be problematic to family caregiver meetings. As you may recall from our last blog post, these may be reasons why you should consider contacting a third party facilitator, like a social worker.
Family members play roles based on position in the family, relationship to the person who is ill, special talents, etc. The person who is the main family caregiver may be different from the one who handles the money, or who may be the decision maker. One person might play several or even all of the roles. Also, often someone is the “blamer,” and someone else the “blamed.” One person may try to make peace, and another may try to sabotage the process. There will be secrets, old family rivalries, guilt, unequal burdens, differing investments, values, and interests. Some will worry about past promises and about someone else not pulling his/her own weight. Everyone will need attention, power, love, control, and appreciation. It can help to acknowledge It can help to acknowledge that there may not be a fair distribution of work.
Narrowing the focus for each meeting can help alleviate some of the pitfalls. Still, you will have to deal with some of the difficult issues when they get in the way of caring for your loved one. You can't resolve long-standing family issues with one meeting. Don't focus on trying to “fix” the family, but rather on keeping everyone on the same team, as much as possible.