When they’re very young, your children look to you for everything.
And they mean everything to you.
When they’ve grown a bit, they look to you for reassurance and entertainment.
It entertains you to reassure them. And it reassures you when they think you’re entertaining.
Then when they can walk and up until their early teens, your children look to you for decisive leadership.
You go round in circles about how best to be a good leader in their lives.
Then they look to you for money and your applause.
First you pay them while they stay and applaud them while they do. Then you pay them when they leave. And applaud them when they set out on their own.
Eventually, they just look to you for your applause.
By now, your money has run out. So all you can do is applause!
Then finally, at your funeral, they give you their applause. Or if you’re really lucky, their applause comes one day sooner.
Regardless of how you define success (creating widespread financial security, creating close family relationships, adapting old traditions to modern times etc), some extended families appear to have above-average success with their members. Some have average (with some exceptions both ways) and some have consistently below-average success. A secret to above-average success is arguably; consistent messaging, clear messages and smart messages.
How do you get consistency?
- As the grandparents/parents/Godparents/caregivers/mentors/uncles and aunts, discuss and agree what you’d like to see (the group norm). From the discussion, good ideas will emerge from all the participants that everyone can benefit from.
- As a senior group, reinforce the same messages to the receiving person if and when they consult you.
- Your style and life examples can vary widely, but the substance of the messages needs to stand strong.
- To get a strong extended family, make sure you have a set of consistent messages for the family group members.
- If you promise reward or punishment for compliance/non compliance, follow through, so people will take you seriously in future.
- Using or giving in to emotional blackmail will probably mean people take you less seriously in the future.
- Sometimes consistency is about persistence and not accepting second best.
- Also, if the next generation’s apparent norms seem a step backward, that just means there’s more urgent work for the older generations to do and that new approaches are needed, not that we should all accept less as a society.
How do you get clear messages?
- Don’t send mixed messages (one message will cancel out the other one undermining the credibility of the senders – a bit like the noise from hearing two radio stations at once).
- Support the ‘what’ message with the ‘why’ and ‘how’.
- Make sure the receiving person is actually listening.
- Getting their attention amongst the ocean of other messages bombarding them in their daily life may be a big challenge in itself.
- Link cause and effect where you can.
- Separate symptoms of problems from their cause, so people don’t confuse the two things.
- Emotion has its place (demonstrating love and conviction), but don’t let emotion (what you feel) get in the way of the message (what you say), although what you say should in theory reinforce what you feel.
- When the receiver plays back a distorted version of your message to you (which can happen for various reasons), take the time to clarify the real message instead. However many times it takes.
- Concentrate on the substance of the message.
- Pick your words carefully.
- Identify the most important messages you need to send. Concentrate on those – get the big things right.
- Watch out for messages that backfire, or have huge loopholes in them.
- If your messages aren’t smart, all you’re doing is storing up trouble for the future and proving to the sender that you have no more insight or knowledge than they do.
- Although no one is born being a great grandparent/parent/uncle or aunt, borrow good ideas on how to improve from all good sources. This can include; observing nature, listening to other parents’ experiences, drawing from your cultural roots, taking behavioural insights from other situations and adapting them to your own situation.
- Technology might change daily, but human emotion doesn’t evolve and social relationships remain a fundamental human need.
- Today’s generation might choose to spend large amounts of time playing computer games, but the opportunity cost is high. Those games don’t equip them for real life in any significant way (coping with love, loss, parenthood, tricky human relationships, foreign travel, buying a house, a demanding career etc), highlighting the need for smart messages from the key people in their life instead.
- Smart messages might include reminding people that the ready availability of new technology doesn’t replace their need to control their own life, seek wisdom out, take personal responsibility, use their initiative and work on becoming a better person every day of their life.
I recently read a January 2011 housing survey prepared for Barratt Homes by ComRes, an independent polling firm. The survey results showed that for prospective UK house buyers under the age of forty, more than a third thought it unfair that those over forty had accumulated so much wealth from owning their house, because of rising house prices.
In the survey, more than 60% of those aged under forty agreed or strongly agreed that when thinking about buying a new home, they could not afford to buy one as big as the one their parents lived in when they were the same age.
Just resentment is always wise to note and wiser still to act on. For a variety of reasons, wealth distribution is uneven. Regardless of age group. Economic cycles hit some cohorts of mortgage applicants and university graduates harder than others and none of us individually controls the timing of those cycles. Nevertheless, those over forty owe it to younger generations to help them forward. Just as our parent’s generation helped us progress. After all, it is the younger generations that will carry forward our culture and civilisation.
So what can we do to help? Charity begins at home, as the saying goes. Providing shelter, advice and other assistance to our kids is a good start. They can still develop their independence and identity without necessarily leaving home early. Helping them keep a close blood connection for longer when their other group identities such as employer, personal relationships and non work interests keep changing is no bad thing either.
Our generation talking less about ‘the good old days’ might dampen their fires of resentment. After all, there is much that is positive to embrace in current culture, medical advances and technological change.
Leading by example in celebrating our local community is another idea. Should we really expect the ‘Big Society’ in whatever eventual form it takes, to be led by those under forty?
Charity fundraising by the generation over forty is great. Perhaps however, some of it needs to benefit our local communities. These are the ones our kids will now live in for longer, thanks to the unaffordability of new housing.
To help solve the problems of global warming, pollution, famine, disease, civil war, racial and religious conflict, cyber crime, terrorism, conflicting media values, corruption and loss of faith in many of today’s institutions, new generations will need all the over forties’ wisdom, expertise and advice they can get and then some. There really isn’t an us and them. We’re in the lifeboat together.