The Family Planning Meeting: An 8 Step Guide

By Robert F. Bornstein, PhD and Mary A. Languirand, PhD

Sometimes aging in place decisions require the input of family members. This is always the case if you'll be sharing space with siblings, children, or grandchildren, but family input may also be needed for other reasons (if additional funds are required to purchase a retirement home, for example, or if complex health issues are involved).

Family planning meetings are opportunities for people to air their views, voice their concerns, and engage in some constructive group problem-solving. But these meetings represent potential sources of conflict as well, as disagreements arise regarding how monies will be spent, and responsibilities assigned.

There's no way to ensure that a family planning meeting will be completely conflict-free (most aren't), but there are things you can do to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Decide who needs to be present-and who doesn't

    The person who'll be the focus of discussion should definitely attend (unless health issues prevent this). If they can't be there in person, Internet programs like Skype will allow them to see and hear what's going on, and have input in real time. Beyond that, the rule of thumb is that everyone whose opinions are needed to reach a sound decision should be at the meeting, but beyond that it's best to limit participation. A smaller group reaches consensus more easily than a large group.
  • Have an agenda, and stick to it

    It helps if you bring to the meeting a list of agenda items, and review these at the start. If you can circulate the agenda to participants ahead of time (perhaps by email) everyone will have a chance to think about key issues before coming together. Sometimes people have ideas for agenda items that were inadvertently omitted, and these can be added ahead of time (but once the meeting begins, no new agenda items get added-save those for the next meeting).
  • Don't allow any one person to dominate

    This can be difficult-talkative people are often hard to control-but it helps if one person is in charge, and is responsible for calling on others in turn. If one person is dominating, or giving speeches rather than furthering the conversation, it may be necessary for the group as a whole to point this out.
  • Understand that emotions may sometimes run high

    The issues that come up in these meetings (like who'll pay for what) have important practical implications, but they sometimes have emotional resonance as well. Old family conflicts resurface in these situations, often in disguised form. (Sometimes it's easier to fight about who'll pay for what than about the fact that one or another sibling was perceived as Dad's favorite.)
  • Be prepared to call a time out if needed

    In most cases where emotions run high things stay under control, but if someone begins to behave inappropriately or tempers flare, call a brief time out-a short bathroom break, perhaps-and give everyone time to regain their composure.
  • Don't try to accomplish too much at one time

    It's tempting to want to resolve all the key issues in one meeting, but aging in place decisions are complex, and sometimes require more than one conversation to sort out all the details. Set a reasonable agenda, meet for an hour or two (not much longer than that), and then plan to reconvene for additional meetings.
  • Take good notes

    Memory is fragile at the best of times, and even more so when personal issues are discussed. Appoint one person to take minutes, then circulate the minutes within a few days of the meeting so everyone can confirm or correct the details before the group meets again. You can rotate taking minutes among members of the group so everyone does their fair share.
  • Be clear about follow-up responsibilities

    As the meeting winds down develop an action plan-a list of specific tasks that various group members will do to turn ideas into realities. Divide up these responsibilities (and note them in the minutes), then begin the next meeting by reviewing what everyone accomplished in the interim.

Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand are the authors of When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In Home Care, published by Newmarket Press. The second edition, revised and updated, was recently released. Here's the link: