How well does your family get along?
BY Bob and Judith Wright
Do you ask yourself how well your family gets along?
Do you say you feel “close,” but you’re actually keeping each other at arm’s length? Do you want to be closer?
A few honest answers to the following questions can help you assess your family dynamics.
Questions to Explore with Your Adult Children
- What are you most afraid to tell me?
- How do you feel about our family relationships as they relate to our money?
- What don’t you like about how I interact with the grandkids?
- How much involvement would you like from me?
- Do you feel I show favoritism? What do you need from me to change that?
- What kinds of advice would you like from me? What kinds of advice are you tired of hearing?
- How would you like our relationship to be, ideally?
These questions aren’t for the faint of heart! Commit to listening to what your kids say. Don’t defend, but request clarification sincerely. If you’re committed to strengthening your relationship, getting these hidden omissions or dishonesties out in the open can clear the air and start a strong new foundation to build on.
Years of dynamics and relationships aren’t going to repair and rebuild themselves overnight. But by working together you will see more progress than you would hiding issues or leaving them unspoken.
As parents and grandparents, it’s important we leave a legacy of strong, honest relationships for our children. A relationship built on honesty can help meet our deepest yearnings. An honest and open dynamic is more fulfilling and more “real” than one where we’re only told the things we like or want to hear. You’ll see your relationship grow in wonderful, truthful ways.
Few of us understand our family dynamics. We all have blind spots.
Two Common Causes of Dishonest Family Dynamics: Favoritism & Wealth
Few of us truly understand our family dynamics. We all have blind spots. Even if you’re not worried about dishonesty in your family this process of discovery will likely result in facing and exploring some hard truths.
Yet, what’s the worst-case scenario? If your family tiptoes around and holds back feelings or information, how is that serving your relationship?
Dishonesty in relationships, particularly familial relationships, is rampant. Two central themes to the dishonest dynamic? Favoritism and wealth.
Favoritism: The Prodigal Son or Daughter
One of the common, unspoken (and quite damaging) elements of grandparent and adult child relations is favoritism. If you have more than one child or grandchild, chances are high there may be unspoken resentments—so you’re trying to keep one of them happy or vice versa.
As good parents, we try to love each of our children equally. However, the fact is that each of our children is different and our feelings for each of them differ—and they don’t miss that. Remember, they have favorites, too. As they grow and develop, we likely will (consciously or unconsciously) bond with one child or grandchild over others. Just as we’re drawn to certain friends or colleagues, we may simply “get along” with one of our children or grandchildren more than others. It happens naturally, even if we feel strange admitting it.
Dishonesty in relationships, particularly familial relationships, is rampant.
Unfortunately, this unintentional favoritism can have lasting, damaging effects on our relationships with our other kids and grandkids. As children grow up and grandchildren come into the picture, the original dynamics can still hang around and transfer to our relationships with our grandkids. We may use favoritism and infantilize one or all of our kids, even as adults. We’re so used to guiding them, directing them and offering unsolicited advice we create a situation where our adult children never gain independence. We can use this dependence to exert control, elicit attention and emotion from our kids and to get our own yearnings met, but at what cost?
Using our questions as prompts, you can bring these issues to the light. It may not change the dynamic, but everyone will relax because the family secrets have seen the light of day and you can adjust accordingly.
When Wealth Causes Resentment
Wealth in the family can cause ties to purse strings we don’t want to recognize. We’re told it’s not polite to talk about money but it can hang over us heavily. Let’s face it: when you have money, everyone knows it. Whether you’ve worked hard for your wealth or you’ve simply scraped together a small inheritance for your adult children, everyone in the room is aware.
The truth is, you deserve the things you’ve worked for! You should enjoy the fruits of your labors and use money to make lives better for people around you. It’s a wonderful gift to be financially sound.
When money is involved, family dynamics change. If your adult children benefit from your generosity, it can be wonderful for them, BUT it can also destroy healthy family relationships. Children can become competitive with each other, resentments can form, and dysfunction abounds.
We’ve seen entire families destroyed at the death of a matriarch or patriarch. We’ve seen siblings completely ruin their relationships over antique vases or savings bonds.
But what are they really fighting over? What’s the underlying yearning? The answer is often: How much did Mom or Dad love me? How much did I matter to them?
Sit down with your adult children and grandchildren. Let your guard down and prepare yourself to be open to what you hear. Obey the rules of engagement. Facilitate the discussion with the goal of improving your relationships, strengthening ties and letting go of resentments.
Prepare yourself to be open and growth-minded about the answers you might hear.
How Much Control Does Your Money Give You?
We’re not talking about control over your lifestyle, rather about how much control you allow money to exert on your family relationships. Are you wielding your control with awareness and care, or are you using your money like puppet strings to manufacture dynamics to satisfy your own unmet yearnings as a parent?
This question sounds harsh, but it’s a dangerous situation. Relationships are destroyed due to these dishonest dynamics.
It requires a truthful lens for self-examination. Explore if you’ve ever given money to your adult children with the expectation of an emotional return. Do you try to buy loyalty, love or affection? Do you remind your children what they’ll inherit from you someday or hold threats of withholding inheritance over their heads?
If you do, chances are you’re wielding your control to meet your yearnings. Guess what? It doesn’t work. Yearnings met dishonestly will never truly be fulfilled. Deep inside we’ll always wonder, do they really respect me? Do they really love me? Or is it just about the money?
Money exerts a powerful force for most of us. You may even want to see a family coach or therapist to mediate these hard feelings. Long before money was a value to the kids (think age four or five), jealousy and favoritism were a sore topic. Add the power of money to this and it all escalates, festering into serious family ruptures if you don’t get it all out and work to understand each other.
For more on how you can strengthen your relationships with your children and grandchildren, as well as develop your own personal power, please visit us at www.wrightfoundation.org. We offer coaching, classes and retreats where you can explore your relationships, grow and get more out of life.
About the Authors
Dr. Judith Wright and Dr. Bob Wright, are a husband/wife duo and Chicago-based relationship counselors. They are award-winning authors and trainers and have appeared on numerous TV and radio programs including ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, the Today Show, the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Marie Claire, Better Homes and Gardens, and Vanity Fair. They are the co-authors of “The Heart of the Fight: A Couples Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean & How They Can Bring You Closer.