The Annual Family Letter, Try It You Might Like It

Most people travel to family celebrations for their annual holiday events. They bring with them new gifts, new stories, and familiar smiles. The celebration is fun yet temporary, a moment together. Eventually memories of the conversations and the rush of seeing each other are taken over by life’s daily demands and schedules. The events fade into an archived folder called “the past”, stored somewhere in the brain. And the intentions you had last year to have more meaningful and more together time with everyone as a group, fade into tomorrow’s pile of things to do…next time.

But some families do things a little differently and this is where I want to focus our attention this week. Some families produce and convey an annual family letter. This letter celebrates the accomplishments of the family as a group. It reminds the members what they accomplished together to further the mission of the family, the mission they all find their place in and support because they have carved their place in it and are recognized for doing so.

The family annual letter acknowledges plans that were undertaken and not accomplished not to blame but just to note in review the year. It is co-written by all family members who share their successes and initiatives that perpetuated and progressed the family mission. It often includes the family’s values, its mission statement and tells how the initiatives for the year sought to further the mission of the family. The family annual letter is a format to close the year in acknowledging successes and challenges.

The letter also carries a preview of goals for the year ahead. It frames the upcoming year so family members stay connected, enthusiastic and on point with their roles and responsibilities to the family as well as their individual goals. It is a terrific way to keep the family connected. It is a phenomenal tool to keep a record of the past while driving momentum into the future.

My family has created an annual letter for over twenty years. What about you-what have you done or what will you start this year to keep your family connected?

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5 Key Steps to Supporting your Mission Statement

When creating your personal mission statement there are 5 steps you want to follow to make it unique, lasting, significant, worth sharing and meaningful.

The first is to think about what you want to be known for. Perhaps you want to be known for your ability to build something, to lead something, to create something or to model something. Step one is to become clear on what it is you want to be known for.

Step Two is to define it more specifically so it takes on a life. Describe what it looks like, how it impacts your life and those lives you touch, who else is in the picture with you, how it makes you feel. Describe all you can about it so you can feel it in front of you as an actuality.

Step Three is to put a date to it. When do you want your mission to actualize and be something tangible and real. Once you put your date on it, ask yourself if this is a realistic timeframe or merely a random one?

Step Four will confirm your date on step Three. Check to see how it supports and forwards your values. Put action steps that need to be taken to make the mission happen in way that enhance your values.  Then determine if these action steps are doable in the time given or are they dependent on variables which could shift the time frame. Define mileposts so you can measure how you are doing. Create your action steps.

Step Five is to acknowledge your achievements. Once you have done your first action step, acknowledge yourself for moving towards living and expressing your mission. Then create the following step or two that need to be taken that will take you to your first milepost. As you near your first milepost, determine how you will celebrate reaching a milepost. This will help to enforce what you are doing and give you an opportunity to measure your progress to realizing your mission.

Leave a comment. I would love to hear how you use your mission statement if you have one, or when you will craft yours, if you haven’t already.

Changing Communication Styles Impacts Intergenerational Bonds

AARP and Microsoft conducted a joint research a few years ago. This research’s objective was to see how technology is impacting our modes of communication. I would like to share some of their findings with you as you consider your communication with different generations.

Asked how they wanted to stay connected with their families, 63% of those 13-25 said via text. 40% of 39-58 years of age and 19% of those 59-75 years of age also wanted texting to be their main mode of communication. Email, on the other hand was mainly preferred by older people: 60% of those 59-75 years of age and 56% of those 39-58 years of age used email as the main communication method. Between 18-25 years of age 46% preferred email as the main communication mean while only 36% preferred it out of those 13-17 years of age.

Regarding social media, there were both expected and unexpected results. A more expected finding about social media was that 30% of younger people find social networking sites exciting versus only 7% of older respondents. An unexpected result was that 18% of younger respondents versus 11% of older respondents said they are intimidated by social networking sites.

Although 98% of responders reported feeling at ease going online, a majority of responders (56%) were concerned about staying safe and secure online with 60% of young adults and 50% of teenagers being extremely or very concerned about safety and security online.

Perhaps surprisingly, younger respondents are more private about their online communication than older people. 47% of the young respondents say they place restrictions on how much they show their parents while 32% of parents place restrictions on what their teenage children can access. Teens are also more likely to restrict what their grandparents can see (47%) than their grandparents restricting what their grandchildren can see (38%). Younger responders are more concerned (30%) than older ones (4%) by what their family members might post on their sites. The biggest reason parent responders had for keeping a separation between family and social networking was their concern on the comments left on their “wall” by younger generations and the personal nature of their content.

A final interesting statistic was the gap in perception between a teen’s behavior in dealing with comfortable online content and their parents’ perception of how their teens deal with this type of content. 49% of parents said their teens know to come to when they see something only line that makes them uncomfortable while 29% of teens report know how to go to their parents when uncomfortable content is seen.

It is important to understand that communication is viewed uniquely by each generation. To keep the lines of communication open, finding ways to bridge gaps between different communication styles is key to staying connected.

What obstacles do you find in inter-generational communication? What bridges have you built to close the gap of inter-generational communication? I’d love to read your comment.

To read more in this report please access the following urls:

http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/Connecting-Generations.pdf

http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Connecting%20Generations_0.pdf

Grandparents and Grandchildren Share a Unique Bond

There is something unique and special about the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild. There is that innate connection coupled with a generational skip that can bring a sense of freedom and trust not present between a parent and a child.

Let’s look at a few ways in which grandparents can add richness and long memories to the relationship with their grandchildren.

Grandparents can add a sense of fairytale to the family. Being so much older than the grandkids, from the children’s point of view it almost appears as they lived in a different world. Their view and experiences are a novelty to the grandkids. “You had two hours of homework to do every night? When did you get to play with your Xbox? You didn’t have one? What was it like to play outside all day?”

Grandparents have a great knowledge of the history of the family. They know who the elders are. They can even talk about people in photos that the grandchildren will never know. They add a sense of continuity and can add to the value of the family heritage and legacy.

Grandparents often can impart advice and wisdom to a grandchild more easily than a parent because they are a little more removed from the pressure of attention and parenting. They can help in mending emotional fences and adding perspective when teasing hurts a grandchild. They listen differently than parents do, often less judgmental and more understanding.

Grandparents have traits that grandchildren often inherit, ones that skip generations. I for one inherited from my Grandma a great love of music which neither of my parents had. Although she and I expressed our musical passion differently, we shared a love for singing and an appreciation for composition that no one else in our family embraced.

What has the relationship with you grandparents brought to your life? How do you promote the relationship between your own children and their grandparents? I would love to hear from your experience.

Shocking Headlines Take a Back Seat to One Uexpectingly Powerful Trait

In a time where headlines point unflinchingly to the shocking, there is a quiet voice emerging in research that confirms what has been known but rarely spoken of through the ages. It is the power of humility.

What is humility? Humility is a state of respect where you allow others to shine as well or better than you do. It is where you give praise where it is due, where you can trust others because there is nothing to hide or protect.

I recently came across a study that was published in the Organizational Dynamics Journal that found humility to be a critical strength for leaders. It gives a leader the ability to reflect with empathy. In other words, a humble leader can look at situations and see how their actions affect others and allow for the other’s perspective as well when determining outcomes. This is huge and this is not easy.

As an example of the power of humility I want to introduce you to Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, the largest Japanese consumer electronics company and known as the ’god of management.’

Panasonic opened its doors in 1918 and with hope, exuberance, fear and excitement. Matsushita asked his employees to adopt and apply the value of humility as they conducted their business with and on behalf of Panasonic. With the spirit of humility, he did what most companies don’t do. He shared the company’s “secrets” with all his employees. He wanted Panasonic, even as it grew to thousands of employees, to be focused on being an inclusive team and he knew that the best way to form this type of team was through humility rather than through coercion or elitist ideology. He traded the air of superiority he easily could have perpetuated through the company with humility because he wanted his employees to feel part of his success rather than laborers of it. As a result he was revered by his employees, by the Japanese government who awarded him with many great honors and by other business owners who hired him to help them become more humble business people.

Humility, as in the case of Mr. Matsushita, included having a moderate self- regard, with a strong vision and voice so that his struggling company could become a giant both in the tech world and in the world of business management.

How do you foster humility in yourself? Do you notice a difference in your communications and connections with others when you use humility? Write a comment, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

The Most Important Element You Must Have If You Want to Keep Your Wealth

What is the nature of your family’s wealth? You may quickly respond that it is made up of your real estate, your investments or your business. And indeed, your wealth may be made up of these. But if you are looking only at the value of your investments, business or tangible assets, then you are not looking at the entire picture. That is a critical point to understand. Your family’s wealth is more than the sum of your investment portfolio.

The origin of the word wealth stems from the Old English word for well-being. In order to build and sustain the meaning of wealth, you have to also define what the well-being of your wealth looks like for yourself and for your family members. There must be agreement as to what the purpose of the wealth is for. There must be an understanding of its purpose if you want to sustain your wealth for generations. Without doing so you run the great risk of individual agendas squabbling over their portions, invading and squandering the wealth you grew…for them.

The meaning of wealth, must have an understood and commonly respected purpose to help give assurance that the wealth you so diligently grew will be sustained over time.

Wealth is not protected through documents and plans. Wealth is protected by people, people who understand they are stewards of a purpose, in this case, the purpose of their wealth.

It is a matter of having a purpose for the money that the family understands, develops, and tends to…diligently.  The clear and concise meaning of your wealth has to be endorsed by the entire family. This concise meaning is the ‘why’ of your wealth.  This why enables a family to shift from having a fragmented and individualized attachment to the wealth to one that encompasses a bigger picture, one that tends to and insists on its well-being.

Take a moment and reflect upon this question: What is the purpose of your family’s wealth?  Once you have heard your own response, ask other family members the same question. You will undoubtedly get different answers. This is because the family is still operating as individuals. The binding connection has not yet been ascertained and developed. You must decide to determine, together, what the meaning of the family money is so you can continue growing it together.

Tell me your thoughts on what wealth means to you and then what wealth means to your family. I would love to hear from you because wealth may be established individually but it is kept by tending to its well-being as a group who steward its purpose.

A Family’s Hidden Anxieties Can Harbor a Ticking Time Bomb

Murray Bowen was a trained psychiatrist in the 1950s and 1960s. He introduced breakthrough concepts in regards to common anxiety patterns found in families. Little did he know, at the time, that he would have a chance to “test” these concepts with his own parents and siblings.

In 1966, while he was teaching at Georgetown University, in Washington D.C., this world renowned family therapist flew back to his childhood home in Tennessee. A family crisis was escalating in the family business, of which he was a shareholder. The third-oldest sibling, Murrays’ brother, nicknamed June, who was running the business, was seeking control of this business. Dad supported him, Mom did not. The extended family was taking sides.

When Murray arrived he found the family at great odds. Here he was, a practicing psychiatrist, making great discoveries about family dynamics, now in the midst of his own family issues. Family members were talking about each other behind each other’s backs. He found himself feeling profoundly frustrated and depressed that no one would deal with their issues directly. After he left and could reflect on what he had experienced, he decided the time had come, he would use his own family as an experiment to test his developing concepts.

His strategy involved writing separate letters to his brother June, his younger sister, and their mother revealing the gossip spread behind their backs. Murray wanted to provoke conversation and bring issues out in the open to resolve long standing family tension. To his brother he wrote about the concerns, he, Murray had heard from other family members over the years about June’s inability to lead. June was irate. To his sister, Murray wrote that he had asked their brother June to watch over her, because other family members thought she was the emotionally charged sister. She was incensed.  And to their mother, he told what was in the other two letters he sent, that he was trying to infuriate his brother and how he, Murray, could push more buttons if necessary. He told his mother not to mention this letter to anyone.

In early 1967, he returned home to see how it would play out when he lit the fuse to “fan the family flames.” A family dinner took place the second night Murray was home. June and his wife, Murray, June’s sister, and their parents were present.  It didn’t take long for the confrontation to begin as references to the letters were made by June and the letter he received as well as their sister and the letter she received. June threatened Murray with a lawsuit and accused their mother of playing favorites with Murray. Their sister that said she was tired of being treated like a sick child. Murray confirmed that he and their Mom had been conspiring for years about who, other than June, would lead the family business.

As you can imagine, it was epic. Mom was outraged, denied everything and promised she would never tell Murray anything again.  The planned dinner ended up in a drama of personal attacks. Emotions that had not been expressed in years, if ever, were released.

The next day Murray went to June’s house and his brother, for the first time in years, felt at peace. Feelings were out in the open.  Their sister and parents felt the same.  At last, the issues were out. Everybody felt that it wasn’t necessary any longer to hide behind their words.   From this incident, the family’s relationships improved. This was a life changing experience for the entire family. 

Eventually this experiment led to Murray’s breakthrough theory for diffusing family anxieties where patterns have been built and supported. Bowen found that ”the degree of anxiety in any one family will be determined by the current levels of external stress and the sensitivities to particular themes that have been transmitted down the generations. If family members do not have the capacity to think through their responses to relationship dilemmas, but rather react anxiously to perceived emotional demands, a state of chronic anxiety or reactivity may be set in place.”

Many families struggle with effective communication around sensitive topics. How does your family deal with sensitive issues? Do they wait for the ticking time bomb to go off? Do they pass it on to another generation to deal with? Do they remain silent on the subject? Is there a process to talk about subjects with respect and without tension? Leave me a comment. I would love to hear about your experience in this subject.

 

Your Legacy and Your Heritage Work Together… To Keep You Connected…for Generations to Come

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary the word “Legacy” is defined as:  “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” Looking at the origin of the word, the Online Etymology Dictionary says that Legacy stems from the 14th Century French: “legate-body of persons sent on a mission or charge”, and from the middle Latin “ambassador or envoy.” Putting these two elements together, I define a legacy family as: “A long standing family with a calling or charge.”

 

Returning to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, we find Heritage is defined as: “something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the origin of the word Heritage is “that which may be inherited.” Inherit is derived from the word “heir” which the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines as, “one who receives or is entitled to receive some endowment or quality from a parent or predecessor.” From these pieces, I define heritage as this: “Something received from the past which is distinctly inherited from the family.” This could be anything from DNA to traits to characterizations, to physical looks to interests.

 

Combining the words legacy and heritage brings me to this definition for a long lasting family: A family that transmits something from one generation to another as a quality or specific charge, that has a beginning, is ongoing and is lasting.” It has beginning where it defines its values and articulates its purpose. It is ongoing through each member’s individual commitment to its values, and a furthering of its purpose. It is long lasting as it stays relevant and flexible through changing times and customs.

 

A continuing connected family is one in which:

  • The successes and trials of its past (the heritage) are not forgotten
  • Its future (the legacy) is built with confidence and the present (the bridge between the two) is unified in strengthening the purpose of the family.

 

 

Tell me your thoughts about your family’s legacy and history.

  • Is it one that is supported by the entire family?
  • Do individual family members have separate ideas on what constitutes the family legacy?
  • Do you have a cohesive way to build your legacy while celebrating your heritage to strengthen a long lasting connection?

Let me know, I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

When You Lose Trust You May never Regain it But When You Withdraw it you can Rebuild it

I received an email from a teenage member of a family asking me to define trust. She said that she no longer trusted her brother, the one person she had shared a deep secret with. He had revealed it to her parents and she was in trouble.  She was the one sneaking out of the house at night and hanging out with her friends when their parents were gone. She was the one who had tried pot and cigarettes. She told her older brother because she wanted him to see how cool she was. But he told their parents about her escapades when he was being accused of coming in through the back window and leaving it open.  The one person she had counted on betrayed her. How could she ever trust anyone again?

When she asked me what she should do, I thought it timely that she was asking me about trust. Trust is the word and concept I have chosen to study this year, really gain an understanding of what it is, what it is not, how it is breached and how it can be restored.

The first question I asked myself about trust was: “How do people talk about trust?”  I immediately thought of people using the phrase “I lost trust” in or “I will never trust” so and so. I pondered about that. I started thinking about the act of losing something. When I lose something it is more of a passive action. I don’t actively lose something. I lose something because I am casual about it or take my attention away from it and poof, it’s gone.  Is that how trust works? I don’t think so, at least not completely.

I started thinking: trust is more active. When someone betrays my trust, I can feel a sense of loss. But loss is a passive feeling, something about which I have little control. Did I have to feel so out of control about something so important as trust?  Am I merely a passive participant in its gain and loss?  I decided to observe my behavior with trust. Indeed, I did behave like someone who had been victimized and had to feel this way. I stopped myself and asked: do I have to feel like this? I was shocked at my answer which was: “No, I did not.” It was at that moment I became an active participant with trust.

I no longer lose trust, I withdraw it. What a difference that makes. First, it brings trust into my control. Second, it gives me the opportunity to look at what I am withdrawing. Third it gives me the opportunity to examine what it is I knowingly or unknowingly gave to the other person that produced trust by me that they could then dishonor.

This breakthrough has allowed me to return to the other person and tell them what I gave them. I am surprised that sometimes they are unaware of the expectation or standard I put on them. In other words, the trust was all in my head and not in theirs. It had not been agreed to.

I remember, as a kid, bring an ice cream cone home to my brother because, for one reason or another, he couldn’t join us. I also remember, due to my tennis match taking longer than expected, I couldn’t go with him to get an ice cream cone. I fully expected, no, I trusted that he would bring one back to me. He didn’t. I lost trust in him. I became the victim. In actuality he never knew he was supposed to bring me a cone.

Trust is too big an element to leave to quiet assumptions and personal standards. Trust really is something to be talked about and agree to rather than assumed.

Trust is very personal in that it caters to those most precious values we live by. One family I worked with were upset by one member’s decision to talk to the media about family matters. The media was pleased as they had information to give to its readers. The family was upset because, for them, this individual had violated unspoken tenets, unspoken trust.  The individual decided that their own individual objectives were more valid than unspoken binds. He wanted to break those binds. He did so very publicly.

Trust is a great family conversation. Merely to begin the question of “What is trust to you?” can deepen connections in families.  It is important to hear what trust encapsulates from all family members.  It is important to talk about what tenets could be violated that would break trust. Doing so deepens bonds.

Trust is a bridge to deep connection between people and within a community. It must be nurtured and fostered together, rather than isolated.

Let me know how you define and foster trust in your life? I’d love to hear from you. As I study more and learn more about trust, I’ll share more with you.

We Found Meaning behind the Noise

The moment had come. It was Christmas Day.

Individual families shared their morning together with their traditional breakfast of pancakes, muffins or eggs. They opened their Santa stockings and family gifts with glee, humor and wonder.  Now it was time to get their coats, scarves and gloves on, hop in the car, and ride to the bigger family dinner and gift exchange celebration.

One by one the cars drove in to the appointed house and parked…almost. Because the great debates and casual yet striking comments were already in play.  “Are we all meeting at 1 or 2? If it’s 1p, we’ll be late.” “Oops I forgot some of the appetizers. I think they are in a paper bag on the kitchen table.” ”How about if you park in front? No, I want to park on the side. That way I can decide which door to walk in.” “This is my first Christmas alone. It feels weird but I’m glad I’m here.”

As each car unloaded their secret Santa gifts, their gag gifts, the animal toys and extra children’s amusements, with olives, almonds, pates and cheeses, Martinellis or Mimosas, the Christmas festivities were underway.

After warm greetings and brief, casual conversations, we picked the order of choosing or stealing the annual gag gifts wrapped in all kinds of wrapping, from crumbled up paper bags to elaborate paper and bows, and fake receipts hanging out of boxes, all made to deceive…or not. From chocolate to rain snow globes, from International Crane Foundation socks to a penguin toothpick holder, the gag gifts were chosen and stolen to laughter and fun.

We then segued to special photos or books from the year we wanted to share. It was satisfying to watch a shy one decide to talk about one…then two pictures they took. They felt so proud and part of the circle in what they shared. It brought us closer as we caught a deeper glimpse into lives, some of which we had fleeting moments with this past year.

With a closer bond growing between us, we went to the table to being the dinner with a serving of tangy and light Watercress soup to whet the appetite for the bigger meal to come. We each shared in a challenge we faced or accomplishment we attained, what we learned and how we could support each other going forward in meaningful and connected ways. We felt great gratitude in having three generations around the table together sharing and wanting to vivaciously support each other.

After the main meal of pesto infused salmon on a bed of angel hair pasta, and circled in peas and broccolini, we returned to the living room and opened out Santa’s gifts, our gifts to one another.

With dessert, we followed up with ways we would support those who wanted people to lean on, encourage those who wanted to feel more love and belief in them, and commitments to visit those who felt that their physical distance was an issue.

We were grateful to find the love, gratitude and meaning we share with each other behind the noise of the casual conversations we know only too well how to have…endlessly.

How did you find meaning with your chosen family this holiday season? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear.

May 2015 bring you meaningful and lasting connections with your family.