Why Have Family Meetings?
By Sharron Fishman, MA, LPC,
Originally published in The CFIDS
Chronicle, Spring 1992
CFIDS has altered our lives in many
ways, including how our family systems function. We have had to become reliant
and even dependent on the help of others. We and our close family members and
friends are all undergoing emotional as well as functional upheavals.
For example, when I first had to stop
working, I became extremely isolated and depended on my husband for a great deal
of emotional support. Meanwhile, he put tremendous energy into building his
business. His extended time of working was primarily a financial necessity, now
that I was no longer working, but it also was his way of escaping at times. We
have had to communicate very well and often in order to adjust to these
mega-changes in our lifestyles and interactions.
Both of our sons were grown, but they also
had to adjust to this different me, and I to how they related to me as they
adjusted. We touched in with each other enough to keep our role definitions
clarified. I felt supported and supportive of them. Our meetings were not always
formal, but our attempts to communicate needed an initiator. That was still my
role. You might need to establish an initiator.
What To Do
You might consider how formal you want to make the
process, but I do encourage you to set up times to meet with those who comprise
your family. Also write up some guidelines you can all agree to in order to
facilitate good communication practices and follow those guidelines. Consider
how meetings will be scheduled, who will chair the meeting (or whether you need
a chair), how often they will occur, what rules you want about making the time
safe and respectful for everyone involved. Some absolute rules should be as
- Everyone gets a turn to talk without
- Use "I" statements when discussing
feelings instead of blaming type statements, i.e., "I feel sad when you seem
so distant," instead of "You never talk to me anymore."
- When people share feelings, accept and
validate them. Feelings are not right or wrong.
- Avoid sarcastic remarks or put downs.
- Clarify what you heard from each other.
"So you feel bad about Dad not being able to play ball or coach anymore."
- Make realistic plans for how to handle
situations. "I can't attend all games, but on good days I'll try to be there,
and you can bet I'll listen to you tell me all about
Each person has different living and family
situations; some of us are single; some are married; some are single with
children; some find our major relationships with members of our extended
families and/or close friends. Use what is pertinent to your situation from this
information. The principles apply to whatever your particular relationship is.
For example, if you are married with children, it is recommended to first meet
as a couple, then another time to meet with your children. If you are a single
parent, you might find that you just want to meet with the older child/children
first. If you are living alone, but have close relationships, you might find
that a weekly check-in time makes things work more smoothly.
Reasons To Meet & Plan On A Regular
Roles need to be redefined
in terms of expectations of each other. A meeting provides a forum with clear
guidelines which will allow each person to share perceptions, wants, and gain
understanding from the other.
- A family meeting affords each member a
safe time and place to discuss feelings, whether they're about themselves or
you. Open channels of communication are a factor of a healthy family and
contribute to the health of each member.
- Each week check-in on how things are
going. A scheduled meeting provides a place to process problems without the
emotion of the moment, when things not going well might get in the way.
- Management of the illness often
necessitates careful planning in terms of schedules. A weekly meeting
eliminates the surprise element when it comes time for another member to drive
you to the doctor, take a turn with childcare, or assist in other ways. This
works in reverse as well. If you wish to do something for someone in the
family, you can schedule accordingly.
- Often illness, pain and flareups can
absorb the chronically ill person, causing him/her to lose touch. A family
meeting is the perfect way to catch up on the doings of the other
Dilemmas faced by families dealing with CFIDS need
special problem solving, whether it's finances, moving to a more adequate or
affordable home, caretaking issues, or processing of feelings. A set weekly time
might need to be moved or rescheduled, but by staying with the planned meeting
time, such dilemmas can be dealt with before they become over-whelming. You will
find other reasons why it helps to have these times. A basis for good health is
to maintain an environment as free of stress as possible. Wellness can be
maintained within an illness if there is a safe way to express thoughts and
feelings and practice all the ways to manage your situation. The family meeting
is one such tool.