A Project to Consider During this Unsettling Time

During this time in the “unknown” when we don’t know when things will settle, when we will return to normal or if we will, whether the COVID-19 will infect us and if so, to what degree, here is an idea to activate.  

The family story is an important story to keep, to treasure, and to pass down. Imagine your children learning more about your parents. Imagine your children’s children not only learning more about you, but also learning more about their great grandparents, the ones they may never meet.

The story is about the questions you ask. Often people will ask questions that solicit quick and easy answers like where someone lived, where they went to school, where they grew up and where they worked. These are all well and good, but they don’t, on their own, make for a compelling story, one that future generations can use to understand their heritage, to give them more confidence about their own history.

Asking questions that open your parents up to talking about the challenges they encountered and how they dealt with those challenges bring shape to an elder’s life. Asking questions about what is truly important to an elder will open the windows to the impact they have made.

Storytelling is important. If you want to learn more about capturing your family’s story, contact me at bhaj@focusandsustain.com, as I am now offering, although it is not yet on my website, a storyteller’s kit to capture that family story to share with your family for generations.

During this time in the “unknown” when we don’t know when things will settle, when we will return to normal or if we will, whether the COVID-19 will infect us and if so, to what degree, her is an idea to activate.  

The family story is an important story to keep, to treasure, and to pass down. Imagine your children learning more about your parents. Imagine your children’s children not only learning more about you, but also learning more about their great grandparents, the ones they may never meet.

The story is about the questions you ask. Often people will ask questions that solicit quick and easy answers like where someone lived, where they went to school, where they grew up and where they worked. These are all well and good, but they don’t, on their own, make for a compelling story, one that future generations can use to understand their heritage, to give them more confidence about their own history.

Asking questions that open your parents up to talking about the challenges they encountered and how they dealt with those challenges bring shape to an elder’s life. Asking questions about what is truly important to an elder will open the windows to the impact they have made.

May you and your family’s health stay well.

The family story is an important story to keep, to treasure, and to pass down. Imagine your children learning more about your parents. Imagine your children’s children not only learning more about you, but also learning more about their great grandparents, the ones they may never meet.

The story is about the questions you ask. Often people will ask questions that solicit quick and easy answers like where someone lived, where they went to school, where they grew up and where they worked. These are all well and good, but they don’t, on their own, make for a compelling story, one that future generations can use to understand their heritage, to give them more confidence about their own history.

Asking questions that open your parents up to talking about the challenges they encountered and how they dealt with those challenges bring shape to an elder’s life. Asking questions about what is truly important to an elder will open the windows to the impact they have made.

Storytelling is important. If you want to learn more about capturing your family’s story, contact me at bhaj@focusandsustain.com, as I am now offering, although it is not yet on my website, a storyteller’s kit to capture that family story to share with your family for generations.

May you and your family’s health stay well.

The Family Story Can Develop Strength, Confidence, and Empathy

We love good stories. We love to hear good ones from friends, enjoy watching riveting ones on the screen, we like to read them in books. Stories bring us into a world bigger than ourselves, rich with possibility and full of emotions that tug at our heart strings.

Then why don’t we have our own family stories? Oh, I know, those ones are boring, right?! Not right!

Family stories can be amazing guides for our lives when told with the power of intriguing events, heart wrenching emotions, and difficult challenges that were overcome. We think our own family stories are pedantic and bland and they are when looked at as endless details of this and that. But that’s not the family story to capture. Family stories that captivate and that serve as compasses are the ones that capture the strong family narrative of compelling “whys” and useful “hows.”

Sara Duke, a practicing psychologist who worked with learning disabilities, found that “The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.” Now there’s an insight! Her husband, Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University who was involved in a 1990s study exploring myths and rituals in families, examined this conclusion with his colleague, Robyn Fivush. They tested the hypothesis in their “Do You Know” test which measured Sara’s results against psychological tests Marshall and Robyn had their children take. They found that “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.” Wow!

A key word for me, in the quote, is “more”. I find the “more” to include, in family stories, that which compelled the past family members to make decisions they made, their motivations, their beliefs, and what it took to meet challenges they faced. I want their story to be rich with their values and motivating principles, rather than lifeless with the details of what they did, where they lived and who they were surrounded by. Adding the “more” creates a rich platform for present and future generations to develop their strength, confidence and empathy, all strong traits of worthy individuals.

Prepare Your Family as You Do Your Assets for Greater Estate Transfer Success

I recently gave a presentation, to a professional group, on the effects of family dynamics on estate plans.  When there is a family business, when wealth is being planned to transition from generation to the next, when there is an asset of great importance or significance, family dynamics often show up to undermine well laid out plans. Look at the problems arising from Tom Petty’s estate plan regarding the interpretation of words regarding the management of his music. Aretha Franklin, who purportedly died without a will, has a slew of handwriting experts testifying to the validity of found handwritten wills. But are problems like these the plan’s fault?

So much effort is put in preparing assets for their eventual transfer. And this should be. There are great strategies out there to incorporate. However, just as important and unfortunately, too often neglected is the preparation of the family on one hand, for one generation to let go of their control, and on the other hand, for the next generation to receive those assets. It’s like preparing the plane for the flight but not preparing the pilot on how to fly the plane and how to work with their co-pilot. Both need to be prepared for a successful outcome.

For many families, certain family dynamics make it difficult to talk about various topics. Families know there is no such thing as a diplomatic hand grenade, so they avoid bringing up potentially contentious subjects or deny they exist.   

Families often dissolve into chaos and personal attacks when there is no communal foundation from which they all base their opinions. Instead, when families take the time to develop their own unique purpose, basically their “why” families find that they have a reason to build and support a common mission, one that can be passed on along with the assets.  

mother handing key to daughter [PNG Merlin Archive]

Learn Where Life and Money Intersect for Money Mastery

I received a call from a gentleman who was referred to me. He was concerned about what his kids would do with his money, once they inherited it.

He told me he spent fifteen years building a company that he sold to another company for a generous profit. He said this new cash and stock infusion was significant to him. It represented an achievement he had worked hard to gain. He knew that the money was enough for he and his wife to live on and enough for his kids to benefit from but that’s not what he wanted the money to do. “I don’t want the money to provide so much security that life becomes a series of reality tv like experiences for my two teen age kids, caught up in the moment without any particular drive or interest. They’re already putting pressure on us about increasing their allowances and buying them new cars. It’s gotten tough on my wife and I to deal with this without feeling resentful.”

As our conversation continued, he revealed that money was never given to him as a child. He had to work for it. His wife also never had a lot growing up although she was given her parents’ car when she was 16 with the knowledge that she would have to turn it over to her brother when she was nineteen and he was sixteen. They couldn’t understand or appreciate their children’s covert and overt demands for money.

After a couple of meetings to understand their concerns and objectives, we decided to put together a 3-part financial program for the family. The first section was the “Financial Conversation.” This gave the kids an opportunity to express what money meant to them, their experience with money and what challenges they had with money. Their parents could only ask questions if they needed clarification on what was being discussed, not questions to judge or criticize. Then the parents had a chance to talk about what money meant to them, their experience with money and challenges they have faced with money.

Doing this in an environment where each participant felt like they could say what they wanted without fear of reprisal or judgment was crucial.  Each member came away from that meeting with a greater understanding of what money meant to themselves and to each other. This created a bond between them which we are now using in an exercise which involves an experience around money that the kids are doing as a team. They will report on their outcomes at the next meeting.

It is important for life and money to intersect so they can support each other rather than conflict with each other. It is critically important to do so in families where money matters so money and life can each be talked about with understanding and purpose rather than with judgment and directives.

Is Silence Always Golden?

Think back for a moment, back 2 generations and bring your grandparents to mind.  Can you name all 4 of them? If you can, I have another question for you: can you name their hobbies and interests …for all 4 of them? And if you can, I have one more question for you:  do you know what they stood for, or, said differently, what they believed in? Interesting? You are an exception if you know what even two of your grandparents believed in.

Now, join me as I take you one generation further back. How many of you can name your great grandparents…all 8 of them? In a room of 100 people, when I ask this question, I am amazed at how few can name all their great grandparents.

With the first set of questions, usually about 95% of the room can name their grandparents, about 65% can name their hobbies or interests, and less than 20% can name what all four pf their grandparents stood for.  Going back one generation further it is rare when more than 3% can name their great grandparents.  This is tragic because research has shown how beneficial it is for a child’s well-being to understand their family’s storied history.

In the 1990s, Dr. Duke, a psychologist at Emory University, along with a colleague, Dr. Robyn Fivush, tested a hypothesis. This initial thought was developed by a psychologist who found, while working with children that “The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”  Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush developed a measure to test this hypothesis.  From responses, they concluded that the more people knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, their higher their self-esteem and the successfully their believed their families functioned.”

Is silence always golden? No! How are you sharing your family story?

For more information, read here: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html

When Trust Wavers…

Family dynamics can be challenging at times. I am reminded of a situation where one family member, a sister, asked her brother why they had stopped talking to each other. Silence was her reply. After asking the same question a few times, and getting silence as the repeated response, she got up from the table and left. That was the last time she engaged in conversation with him for years.

Her family had a history of mistrust. Behind the scenes, there were not so subtle attempts by most family members to influence the remaining parent in directing how and to whom her assets should be dispersed.  Family gatherings were polite and casual as family members placated their elder mother in hopes it would rebalance her estate plan in their favor.  The sister witnessed this behavior and chose not to participate in it, thinking that having a well-mannered relationship with all would prevail in the end.

Years later, after their mother had passed and the will was read, this sister, who had forged an independent life for herself while still reaching out to her siblings, found she had been completely omitted from any estate distribution; no assets, no jewelry, no books, no mention, no nothing. It wasn’t the assets she felt she deserved, it was the omission of her in any way, that hurt her.  She felt like she really did not need to be there.  It was embarrassing to feel that she really wasn’t part of the family. The brother, who responded to her in silence years before was the executor or their mother’s will. As the sister later learned, there had been some underhanded tactics used to try to convince the mother of one sibling’s family’s “wonderful” intentions while undermining the intentions of the other siblings.

Family members, as trust wavered, found ways to undermine ones that had weaker positions in the family while elevating themselves. It destroyed the family harmony. After the mother’s passing, and will was read, lawsuits were filed, letters of betrayal were found, and the family was destroyed.

Is breaking trust and family discord really worth it? IT is a tough question to ask and very important to consider, when cordial harmony mask darker intentions. People will rebuild family units but consider how much stronger a family can become when trust and harmony are nurtured.

The Family Story is Powerful to Children

Several years ago, Emory University commissioned a study. The study was hosted by two prominent Emory psychologists, Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke, and a former graduate student, Jennifer Bohanek. They wanted to understand the impact of family stories to a family’s dynamics with their adolescent members.

“Family stories” the researchers wrote, “…help children understand who they are in the world.” These unique and important stories help children understand who they are and where they come from, in a different way, but akin to the DNA tests available for us to take today. Neither of these will tell us who we are going to become, but they do shed light into that which brought us here.

The power of the important story is its experiential transmission of connectivity. Before this study, researchers had an inkling that family stories contributed to a child’s well-being and identity but had not measured their ideas. Now there was evidence. The study found that the teenagers in the study expressed “…higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement, even when controlling for general level of family functioning.” Wow!

Although this is the first study of its kind to use a Do You Know Scale of measurement, it certainly is, for some, an eye opener, while for others, confirmation, on the power of important family stories.

What is your family’s story; not the where when or how, but the story of who and the why of the family? Your family story is a thread, a  link to identity and connection. Tell it to your family.

Give Your Family Its Wings

Are you building your wealth only to see it gone by the time your great, great grandchildren are growing up and asking about their roots? Most families do not keep ancestral footprints. You can change that by creating a living and engaging family history, footprint, and legacy.

According to research done by The Williams Group, who researched families of great wealth,  70% of families with  assets and stories, values and meaning, will find their money gone by the end of the 2nd generation. Shocking? For those 70%, probably yes.

The research continued to find that 90% of families are unable to have their wealth pass on beyond the third generation, in other words, beyond their grandchildren.  Why is this?

Families survive and thrive not by money transfers alone, the above statistic evidences that.  Families stay together because of a “why.” This “why” is the glue that voluntarily keeps them unified. This “why” includes the history of who you are, where you came from, what shaped you. It is your family’s living legacy.

Consider this: the etymology of Legacy according to the Online Etymology Dictionary stems from the 14th Century French: “legate-body of persons sent on a mission”, and from the middle Latin “ambassador or envoy.” Give your family its wings by creating its legacy. This will keep them connected for generations well beyond your initial contributions.

What This Mom Said When Asked Where Squirtle Was

Recently, I went out to a local park which housed a lake, that serves a spot  to heron, beavers, ducks, birds, and turtles. While I was there, the turtle count was 49 on just one log, nestled in the reeds. As I was looking at the turtles from my viewpoint on an extended pier, I head a child ask their parent: “Where is the Squirtle?”

I had to listen to Mom’s response. Her child was sincere in the question and worried that the Squirtle might not at the lake.

There was a slight hesitation as Mom carefully considered her response. She finally replied: “Here, Squirtles are found in their separate characters. Over there is the turtle. See its hard shell. Let’s watch what it does and consider why it does why it does, before we look for the Squirrel, the other part of the Squirtle.”

The child accepted the response and the challenge imbedded in it. Instead of joining the others who knew what was occurring on their phone and tablet screens as they crept through the park, this child began exploring and interacting with the world around her.

It was an incredible contrast in style.

2018.07.08.Kirkland.Juanita Bay Park.Gamers004 final

Smart Money Tips for Kids from 3 to 22

Without a foundation of financial competence, people run the eventual risk of squandering, spending, or squabbling over money. Because of this it is essential to impart financial competence directly and early.

Having an early and repeated exposure to real money, gives children a direct experience with money. Collect coins and sort them into various sizes so your children are introduced to money.  Have them count the total of different coins and bills as an arithmetic and financial exercise. The writer downer here is to introduce them to money itself. Kids relate to the direct experience with it.

Observe your children with money and let them experience it. Be informal yet frequent about your dialogue with them about it. Kids from 5-7 age love games. Games that involve bartering are great activities for them. In this age group introduce them to different ways money is used.  Remember the piggy bank? This is a great time to introduce the piggy bank to your children.

8-11-year old children are at a great age to experience setting limits and making choices. Delayed gratification is an important trait to develop. You may have heard of the Stanford experiments to determine the effect of immediate versus delayed gratification. Delayed gratification correlated with higher SAT scores. It also correlated with self- control.  In this age group, delayed gratification can be expressed in self-determined goals/objectives and even incentives from you.

Preteens love to make buying decisions. They can handle the concept of limits. Have them set limits for themselves. They can understand ramification and consequences to exceeding budgets. Have them make budgets, not as tedious chores, but as a fun activity with gratifying outcomes.

Teens feel the pressure of their peers. This need of belonging can tug at their financial behaviors. “But, you don’t understand, I need this…now!” is a common plea. Reinforce their sense of responsibility by having your teens communicate the “why” of their, a “why” with consequences. This is also a wonderful time to Introduce them to the concept of earning, trading talents and skills for money that does not come from a family member.

Spreading their wings and testing their independent lives, young adults are often thrown into a world of a financial tightrope on which they may feel unprepared to take on. They have so many needs and wants tugging at them. How do they decide when to spend, when to save, how to invest and donate?  This is a time for young adults, if they haven’t already, to identify what money means to them and set up a system they can follow to save, invest, donate, earn, and spend.