How You “Family”

Newsletter No. 15 – April 19th, 2024
Written by a human. 

This week I was in Mississippi working with a family that wants to define their path forward, both as a family and as operators of their business.

Their family business started in the 1940s and has followed the arc of success emblematic of most of my clients: first generation had an idea, second generation put their heads down and built for decades, and now the third generation is accelerating that growth and professionalizing the operations.

In the course of our work together, we spent a lot of time talking about one of their core values, family. While the definition of family was clear, their individual expectations of what it means to be family were quite nuanced, and those nuances mattered.

For one family member, being family meant getting together weekly for breakfasts, lunches, or dinners. It included in-person connection as well as virtual connection. For that individual, this connectivity included everyone in the family, from oldest to youngest and across the branches. This is how they “familied”.

For others, their expectations were quite different. For them, it meant a weekly phone call, holidays together every other year, and the focus of their attention focused on their immediate family, not necessarily the extended family.

Neither set of expectations is inherently right or wrong, they are simply different. However, without understanding the expectations of others, it’s easy to understand why disappointment and frustration arises by those who are supposed to know and understand us best.

“How you family” – i.e. the set of expectations you attach to what it means to be family – is a huge source of tension, and yet it is rarely talked about in a constructive way.

Because expectations are going to differ from family member to family member, achieving perfect alignment will rarely happen. However, I would encourage you to talk with your family (immediate and extended) about how you family. Be clear about what matters to you and what you need as a family member. Then, listen and try to understand where your fellow family members are coming from so you can better meet their needs and expectations.

Every single person is a member of a family; that is a given. However, how you family, is as unique as your own DNA. Do yourself a favor, take time by yourself to define how you family and then be a good family member and ask the rest of your family how they family, it just might be the path to building a generation of harmony.

– Josh Gentine

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