With the holiday season upon us, we come face to face with some of the issues surrounding our extended family relationships.  While there is often much to celebrate about family relationships and behaviors, we can feel confused and conflicted when we must confront the reality of our own painful generational family patterns, especially when we steward a business together.  Issues  long embedded in our relationships with siblings, parents and other extended family members may interfere with the freedom to enjoy gatherings.  When our children’s or our lives are impacted by these lingering wounds, it tugs at our hearts and minds.

Five coaching tips for parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents:

  1. Silence serves the adult, never the child.  Instead of conveniently using the misguided notion that children are too young to hear answers to tough questions, open the door to critical lessons on relationships.  Secrecy leads to curiosity, misinterpretation and speculation. These plant the seeds of distrust and distance. Resist the urge to protect your own wounds.  Children and adults benefit from talking through their pain and parent-child relationships are strengthened as a result.
  2. Give opportunity for children to learn from your mistakes, not be shielded from them.  Be open and humble when revealing your role in conflict.  Don’t let blaming overshadow discussion and bias your children’s views.  Kids are  best served when parents present a balanced, factual and tailored account of the events leading up to family turmoil.  Delete unnecessary details that may agitate emotions and complicate understanding.  Explain how feelings stemming from these incidents and issues have created barriers between people who once lived as a loving family.
  3. Emphasize how love is not enough to solve difficult family problems.  Lingering issues between family members are a common source of family cutoffs.  Years of heated resentment fueled by the inequities of adulthood can leave relationships in ruins.  This provides a sorrowful backdrop for kids who learn the penalties for those who act out their childhood wounds and woes in adulthood.  Highlight the missing ingredients that could have led people to a better outcome;  self-control, reflection, apology, promise keeping, perspective taking, improved communications, third part counsel, etc.
  4. Remember that actions speak louder than words.  Although talking to children offers some relief from their angst, consider more direct involvement with the family members in question.  Sometimes relationship challenges eventually respond to yet another positive connection, gesture or apologetic behavior.  Tell your children about your efforts so they can see you haven’t given up.  Stress how holding grudges or the silent treatment only reinforces problems.  Continued attempts to repair relationship tears is not only worthwhile but also a way of renewing hope and positive memories.
  5. Sensitize children to the troubles in their lives that may lead them to repeat unhealthy family patterns of the older generation.  As events in your immediate family, such as family disputes, mirror themes from the past, gently point to possible long-term consequences.  Enforce the need for empathy, apologies and restitution, if necessary.  The best way to ensure that your children don’t repeat hurtful generational patterns is to point out times when their footsteps echo eerie reminders of your past.

Sally Derstine

Managing Partner, Senior Family Business Advisor

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