Family Dynamics

Family Business Survival Guide: How to Maintain Healthy Relationships In a Family Business

I grew up in a now 3rd generation family business and married into one on its way to generation 5. While most don’t make it past the 2nd generation, no other organization in the world is more prominent than family businesses—and they are on the rise. According to the US Bureau of the Census, about 90% of businesses are family owned or controlled, and they account for 78% of all new jobs. Coupled with this steady resurgence, businesses in today’s times are built on relationships more than ever. This seems to explain why the complicated dynamics of family business have been showing up on my therapy couch more than ever, and an increasingly hot topic nationwide.

What are some tips for those involved in a family business, directly or indirectly? How can families maintain their family bond amidst the often tricky dynamics of running a business? How can family members best deal with emotions that can arise when members feel a threat to their power and place in the family, or their self esteem? There’s an entire field dedicated to guiding families and their family firms. For the scope of this blog, here are 4 proactive ideas to consider gleaned from my experience in organizational development, family counseling, and more personally, from across the kitchen table.

1. CREATE CLEAR BOUNDARIES AND ROLES

Family businesses are best viewed by the systems in which they operate. While families make up their own system—as do marriages, businesses, and bodies of governance—family businesses are typically comprised of multiple and overlapping systems. So the first step in keeping the relationships healthy within the family, and the family business, is to establish clear boundaries between work and family. This requires more deliberate effort than most realize. It’s not typically an organic separation.

We each tend to have a functional and emotional role in the family, whether based on birth order, personality, or the communication/emotional system that governs the family. Family members working in the business also have a task and emotional role, but not necessarily the same as in the family. Family roles must not be confused with work roles.  If they are, then festering sibling issues can land smack onto the boardroom table, day in and day out.

For the founder or current leader of the business, it’s essential to select partners and employ family in positions based on objective criteria, not on birth order or the roles they play in the family. Furthermore, you’re never going to attract top people if the top jobs always go to a family member. Look what happened to Falstaff Brewery, a once thriving family business who always gave the top job to a family member. When it comes to business decisions, they must remain separate from the family.

This difficult but essential distinction, and many other sensitive issues that naturally arise, can make balancing multiple roles quite a challenge for the senior members— who are typically not only boss, but Mom, Dad, Aunt or Uncle. I love the story of a business owner who kept 2 hats in her office, one with BOSS written on it, the other with MOM. Depending on the topic of conversation, she would pick the appropriate hat to visually indicate the type of conversation about to ensue, sometimes switching hats in mid stream.

A final aspect of keeping work and family separate is the concept of encouraging the next generation to follow their passion. Incoming members must really find themselves and achieve success outside of the family business environment. It’s important to have a sense of grit for one’s achievement and to make sure the family business is a fit.  There are trade offs that must be considered and one’s own true path in life must be honored. I’ve seen many join the family business out of obligation or approval seeking, which only grew into bitterness and depression.  The unconditional love within the family, and trust in each person’s ability to choose their path, must be well established to allow each member to make a true choice.

2. COMMUNICATE OPENLY AND HANDLE CONFLICT WITH DIPLOMACY

To create clear boundaries and roles, and to create a healthy emotional environment, families that have good communication skills fare best. Many times, long-standing poor family communication, or lack thereof, naturally bleeds into the business as well. Unfortunately, healthy communication inside families is not necessarily the norm, both in quantity and quality. That is, too many families don’t schedule family meetings, engage in active listening, attack the problem not the person, handle conflict with diplomacy, spend one on one time together, and/or seek counseling.  

This tendency for weak communication in a family makes the urgency even greater for family business owners to create a culture that prioritizes building better and more frequent communication. Typically, it’s recommended for family values to form the foundation of the family business culture. If not already in place, healthy communication, and handling conflict with diplomacy, is one family value that should most definitely be added in. See more on communication in my previous blogs Tricky Conversations with Sensitive People and Transforming Anger into Growth in Our Relationships

3. SEEK OUTSIDE COUNCIL

Fostering healthy communication, aka managing painful and perpetual conflict, prompts many successful family business owners to seek outside family council. When I say successful, I don’t just mean just fiscally. True prosperity means having it all: thriving business; positive, creative work environment; safe and respectful family and non family relationships; an element of soul in the business valuing giving and unity, versus taking and every man for himself.

One of the biggest mistakes made in family businesses is trying to navigate all facets internally. When moving away from the one tier mom and pop shop and into the next generation(s), outside advisors and consultants can add great value with issues related to finance and strategy, roles, communication, emotional dynamics, entry requirements, recruiting the next generation, compensation, succession planning, divorce, and more. It can be hard to let others in, but objectively wise— and can ease up the jealousy and tendency for members to take things personally.

4. BUILD EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE SKILLS

Family businesses have another system that has great influence on all of the others, and that is they are an emotional system. Emotions are not the problem. In fact, emotions can offer a vital and positive contribution to logic when making decisions best for the long term. But only when a person is self aware. The key is to develop a relationship with our emotions that allows them to be the messengers of our inner truth, rather than in charge of our emotional reactions.

Aggressive, reactive individuals have not developed the pause muscle or learned how to turn inward to sit with and understand what they’re really feeling and why. Rather the tendency is to react outwardly to try and fix a painful emotion instantly. We all have emotionally reactive tendencies and these can certainly become triggered in family business dynamics.  All the more reason why investing in greater emotional intelligence, (i.e., greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-regulation; empathy with others, listening skills, and emotional diplomacy) should become a top priority, for families and for family business success. True prosperity, especially for a healthy family business, requires working from the inside out.


Reference

Hilbert-Davis, Jane and Dyer, W.Gibb, Jr.  (2003), Consulting to Family Business. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.



The Tidying Up Craze: Create More Joy, Empathy and Better Connections

I always know where I am in my life, within my self, by looking at these three areas in my home: my closet, my desk, and my refrigerator.  If I am neglecting my self in some way, or feeling overwhelmed, I’ve learned it’s time to start emptying and organizing. Bit by bit, I begin sorting and cleansing my way into a sense of control and confidence, outside and in.

According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, our home is a manifestation of our soul — a place to park our soul at the end of the day. We want to use our home as a reminder of how our consciousness should be. It’s up to us to create the energy in the home and to make it a reflection of us. Creating balance and order around us helps us do the same in our consciousness. Author and home organizer, Regina Leeds, puts it more bluntly, "Your crap and your clutter is what's going on inside of you." Don’t we all know and feel that

This month, nearly every major publication and network is talking about author, Marie Kondo and her Tidying Up series on Netflix.  Who doesn’t agree that tidiness makes us feel better?  And yet many do not grasp the extent, and the far reaching impact positive impact of decluttering? So what are the benefits of creating order in our home?  And what is the best approach to declutter with joy and balance (and that we can sustain)?

The Psychological, Spiritual and Relationship Benefits of Tidying Up

We know it from experience, but research confirms that those who move from clutter to tidiness experience not only a decrease in stress but an increase in their ability to process information and to focus on their goals. Order also helps us feel more creative, hopeful and more confident we can achieve our potential. 

Order can awaken it’s own brand of simple joy. We find a serenity that comes with less stuff. The key is balance. While it can be a happy and beautiful experience to buy a new dress or gadget, or to treasure a sentimental item, there’s a flip side to “too much” and not being sensitive to how each item affects us. Without balance, and developing what Marie Kondo describes as an empathic sense of what sparks joy, we can stuff ourselves into emptiness and guilt.

Even if it doesn’t reach the proportion of a full blown hoarding crisis, too much stuff can easily become an addiction, a distraction, an escape from connecting with our bodies, our loved ones, our pain, our self and the truth within our soul.  We are energy seekers by nature, and in a consumer society, it’s easy to turn to the illusionary solution of accumulating more stuff when it’s something much deeper that brings lasting joy. Decluttering opens up the space to connect from within—or as my daughter, Andrea Glik, LMSW, likes to say, “come home to yourself.” 

In our relationships, chaos in our environment can easily get in the way. In large part because it’s harder to connect with ourselves much less another. Ask anyone with young children about this one.  I remember that time in our life, back in the day, and listen to the struggles of many young couples who can’t seem to catch up. Not only from the hectic and relentless running around of those little joy machines, but just from the mess and disorder itself. It can be difficult to find that open space to connect. The key is finding a way to make the tidying up process light and fun, and not just on the shoulders of one person. It’s about creating an attitude of empathy, gratitude, and mutual care towards your home, your items, and especially the people with whom you live and love. So now let’s talk about the how …

Best Practices for Tidying Up

According to Marie Kondo’s Konmari method, she recommends the following rules:

RULE 1: Commit yourself to tidying up.

RULE 2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

RULE 3: Finish discarding first.

RULE 4: Tidy by category, not by location (e.g.,clothing, books, papers, kitchen/bath, sentimental)

RULE 5: Follow the right order.

RULE 6: Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

Here are 7 Tips to not only help make the tidying up more joyful but also SUSTAINABLE:

1. ACCEPT YOUR OWN RHYTHM

Make perfectionism the first thing you discard. Each person is unique and that’s in the beautiful design of our universe.  While some decide to make the clearing and tidying process an intense and concentrated project, I find that each person needs to find the rhythm that works for them.

As most of us do, I wear many hats and I continue to make choices that demand from me, stretch me and require constant change.  This makes my days and sometimes evenings quite full. That being said, I can’t say that full time organizer fits in my hat closet. So what works for me is to grab snippets of time wherever I can.  One fridge-drawer here, one under-the-sink-cabinet there. Maybe it’s the sock drawer before work and the underwear drawer after. Usually mornings work better for me because clearing out and tidying up often requires more decision-making energy than we realize. Sometimes there’s a time for going all in and devoting full days, but I don’t recommend the all or nothing mindset. 

2. MAINTAIN BALANCE

While a neat house reflects a person who takes good care of themselves, too neat can show obsession or lack of presence or warmth. I suggest reflecting within, using the extremes of “mess” and “over-neat,” as a gauge for where you are.

3. CREATE A SPACE THAT REFLECTS YOU

Our home should be a reflection of us, not who we think we should be or what others think. When decorating, organizing and tidying, ask yourself, “IS THIS ME?”

4. AWAKEN MINDFULNESS AND COMPASSION 

The Kanmari method is most well known for the invitation to ask oneself, “Does this item awaken sparks of joy?” Answering that question requires listening within and being present in the moment without any judgement about what you might hear. Try inviting self-compassion and self-acceptance, right where you are now. Also consider carefully you’re personality and attention style. Some are organically orderly in their way of processing information and life. Others are more expansive in their attention span, and this can affect your relationship with the space around you. So please be gentle with yourself if consistency and keeping order is naturally a struggle. 

5. WORK ON LETTING GO—OF ITEMS AND EMOTIONS

When cleaning out our things, its a powerful opportunity to listen to our feelings, especially when we find ourselves having difficulty letting go of items. Pause, take a few deep breaths and pay attention within to the emotions the item brings up or what you’re feeling at the very idea of discarding it. The idea isn’t to feel forced to give precious things away. We must honor our truth when it’s useful, authentic, joyful or meaningful for us to keep an item in our home, in our life.

That being said, oftentimes we hold onto things for less than joy-sustaining reasons. For example, you might feel guilt for not having used an item enough, or fear of not having what you need at a later time. Maybe your ego voice is bombarding you with should’s or I need this to feel good enough. Remind yourself, You are always enough. Sometimes we don’t let go of an item because we don’t realize the drain on our consciousness that keeping it really causes, especially if it’s from a person we need to move on from or some other aspect of our past.

You might need to add soothing and cleansing rituals to support your tidying journey, especially to make it a way of life. Examples include: opening a window, lighting a candle, burning sage, spraying essential oils. If you’re really struggling to let go, a counselor or close friend might offer the support and strength you need. Whatever it takes to help you LET GO— whether of the items that do not spark joy or the emotions that keep you stuck. Remember, on the other side of letting go awaits your new and more joyful, loving, and authentic life. 

6. SAY THANK YOU 

Every living thing or object contains sparks of the Light of Creation itself. Many spiritual pathsteach this beautiful idea. When clearing items away, I love the idea of openly thanking the item for however it served you before you say goodbye.  This can assist with the letting go and moving forward into your present life, with newly refreshed goals and dreams. 

7. TIDY WITH RESPECT AND UNITY IN MIND

One of the gifts Marie Kondo brings to tidying up is the unconditional respect and acceptance she injects into the process— towards the tossed away items themselves, towards oneself and towards the others in the home.

In the Down-sizers episode, Marie shares, “It’s very important when you’re tidying to respect each other. Having a family of my own, and being a mother and I think the things in our house and all the family members in a home kind of function the same way. We each play a role and we only have a limited amount of space and we all need each other.”

Protect Your Relationship From Holiday Stress: The 4C Approach To Closeness

“We almost break up every year after Christmas,” my client announced. “We go to multiple Christmas’s, and at the end, we’ll declare (if we’re not breaking up) ‘next year we’re leaving town.’” The holidays can be a loving, joyous time for couples, and yet, they can run our stress high and patience thin, trigger old family issues, highlight our different needs and approaches, and quite honestly awaken the “what about me” consciousness. All this can add up to a massive wedge in our most important relationship. 

Sometimes our greatest angst comes from the gap between our expectations— the “should be’s”— and our reality right in front of us. Difficulties and unmet expectations are not only normal, but an inherent and valuable part of our “growing upward” in life.  We become better, stronger from the challenges we face, especially when we own them! We create deep fulfillment when we dive into the darkness and bring out the Light. And anyone in a deep and lasting relationship should know the hard earned and quite miraculous process that it takes for two separate souls to un-peel their ego layers to become one.

Preparation is key for couples to navigate their relationship during the holidays, and this starts with a commitment to going into the holiday as partners. Many outside forces can invade your togetherness but the more you prepare, the more protected your bond will be. I like to suggest openly identifying the potential sources of strain or conflict that the holidays might pose.  COUPLE EXERCISE #1: Take a look at this list below and scope out any hot buttons. Then use THE 4C APPROACH to strengthen your partnership. 

List of Potential Stressors

  • Increased work load, feeling overwhelmed and not clear about how to divide and share the added tasks 

  • Socializing differences (I don’t want the party to end vs I can’t wait to go home)

  • Loyalty to your family and pulled about dividing time among each side, and step families

  • Differences in culture, religion, or spirituality

  • Emotional pain and lack often stirred up from childhood making us more vulnerable and reactive

  • Certain people we are anxious to be around, like In laws or parents or siblings

  • Financial strain and different values on how much do we spend on gifts/food  

  • Alcohol and the need to talk about consumption 

  • Additional compounding life challenges like illness, loss, financial bills or work uncertainty

The 4C Approach to Closeness During the Holidays

1. CONSCIOUSNESS: Take Control of Your Holiday, Don’t Let the Holiday Control You

I learned from the great Kabbalist, Rav Berg, that “consciousness is everything.” Meaning, the seeds we plant with our thoughts and intentions directly influence what will grow and manifest. The first limiting thought to challenge is, “I don’t have control over my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.”  Catch this one quickly and replace with, “I create my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.” Let’s take the client I spoke about earlier, who has made great strides in claiming her power. She now approaches the holidays as a spiritual growth game. Her intention has moved from how can I change my family or get them to love me to how can I see the good, be more compassionate and learn to listen. Further, how can I wake up and first thing, appreciate my partner.  I love this story of taking control of your holiday, your relationship…your life. 

2. COMPASSION: Accept Yourself, Your Partner, Your Reality With Love

Acceptance and compassion go hand in hand, and paradoxically, they provide the best platform for making personal changes and inspiring others to change. To embrace and be with your self, your beloved, and your unique reality together— with acceptance and trust that for good reason, you need to be here in this moment—this opens your heart, and you can just feel the lightness pour in. If you’re feeling heavy or emotionally reactive, a pause is a must. Sometimes that means stepping away from your partner, taking a shower, going for a walk, looking at the sky, sharing in some way—these can all shut down the limiting force of the ego and make room for the bigger picture. Set your intention to awaken compassion within, beg if you have to, and do for yourself that which brightens your soul. I’m a huge fan of self compassion.  As Louise Haye says so well,  “Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself.”

3. COLLABORATION: Go Into the Holiday as Partners  

When we choose to invest in a committed relationship, our lives become interdependent. Our togetherness becomes an entity. If one partner’s gain puts a hole in the galley, then the whole relation”SHIP” goes down. This puts us in a vulnerable position, because we must create a oneness when we often have divergent needs or desires.  But this is the beauty in the dance of love and intimacy—navigating our own individuality alongside our growing capacity to care more for the other’s happiness than for our own.  Taking it one step at a time, we can use the holidays to begin negotiating and taking turns when our own dreams and desires don’t line up.  This collaboration can center around conversations (be careful they’re not “controler-sations”) on the following kinds of topics: 

  • Effectively sharing and negotiating the additional workload common during the holidays

  • Respectfully considering the traditions and values from each partner when creating your own

  • Balancing the religious and spiritual meaning and practices associated with the holiday

  • Showing care and support when our partner’s are stressed or emotionally vulnerable. “This means being supportive, even if you think his or her perspective is unreasonable,” (Dr. John Gottman) 

  • Being sensitive to personality differences when it comes to attending parties and gatherings 

4. COMMUNICATION: Calmly Make Sure Both Are Heard

One of my favorite communication exercises to do with couples in my practice is the Dream Catcher by Dr. John Gottman.  It’s a turn taking, structured exercise that with great practice and self control can become more integrated into how we relate to our partners.  Rather than pushing our point, calling the other out in some way, the focus is on creating a safe haven of authenticity where each partner feels seen and heard.  The listener spends around 10-15 minutes asking questions like:

  • What do you feel about this issue? 

  • Is there a story behind this for you? 

  • Does this relate to your childhood or background in some way? 

  • What do you need with this issue? 

  • Tell me why this is so important to you? 

  • What do you wish for?

  • What would be your ideal dream here?

  • Is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored? having this dream honored?

  • Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you?

COUPLE EXERCISE #2: Pick one of the hot buttons that stood out from the list of stressors above and take turns being the speaker and the listener. The problem might not be solved, and that’s okay.  The purpose is to care enough to catch one another’s real dream and desire. Many need a counselor to help prepare them for this level of listening. You’ll know you are ready for this exercise as a couple if after your heart is filled with love and you feel closer.

Below is the FOx2am show on this topic; and here are 2 links with communication resources. Communication and fighting fair tips, and more about the Dream Catcher.

Power of Animal Bonds and How to Grieve Their Loss

Power of Animal Bonds and How to Grieve Their Loss

When humans bond with animals, wonderful things can happen, particularly for those whose pets who become true “companion animals.” Two camps of humans seem to exist: those who get it and those who don’t. Why do animal bonds make such a strong impact, what can we learn from them, and how can we best take care of ourselves at their passing.

Sibling Rivalry or Sibling Bullying?  When Does it Cross the Line and What Can Be Done?

Sibling Rivalry or Sibling Bullying?  When Does it Cross the Line and What Can Be Done?

So much attention, rightfully so, has been paid to bullying in the schools. Yet family researchers have recently found that bullying inside the home can actually cause as much or even more damage to children’s mental well being—even into adulthood. 

The Competitive Couple: How to Avoid this Toxic Dynamic

 The Competitive Couple: How to Avoid this Toxic Dynamic

Whether it’s about who does more or who makes more, or maybe it’s who works the hardest or who is in better shape. The bottom line is that while couples yearn to come together as one, the human ego has a pesky way of allowing competition to invade the safe haven needed for love to deepen and grow. Here are some common competitive scenarios I hear about:

Family Estrangement: Why Children Cut Off Their Parents and Tips for Healing

 Family Estrangement: Why Children Cut Off Their Parents and Tips for Healing

Some splits between parent and child come from something sudden or dramatic, but most broken ties develop gradually and stem from misunderstandings and less extreme, albeit hurtful, interactions. Let’s talk about what hope there might be if you are estranged from your parent or child. Here's what I recommend…

Should Kids Come First? Keeping Your Marriage Strong While Raising a Family

Should Kids Come First? Keeping Your Marriage Strong While Raising a Family

When a new couple reaches out for help, almost without exception, it quickly comes to light that the problems in the marriage, in large part, stem from this repeated proclamation, “Well, the kids have always come first.” Now here they sit on the counseling couch, and to some degree in a marriage run empty with one or both feeling neglected, unloved.

Holiday Cheer vs. Holiday Fear: How to Go Above the Overwhelm

Holiday Cheer vs. Holiday Fear: How to Go Above the Overwhelm

We are all faced with a myriad of challenging life circumstances, enough to make anyone feel anxious, insecure or overwhelmed. The truth is, we are not here to simply live a life of stillness and stagnation. To taste real satisfaction and freedom, we are here to overcome, grow and transform. So how do we deal best with times of great stress and stay connected to joy and peace along the way?

Movie Love vs. Real Love

Movie Love vs. Real Love

Even though we know romantic comedies are great for lightness, fun and open-hearted laughter—and are not meant to depict real life—we are still influenced by what we see, unconsciously deeming movie love as normal love. So enjoy and laugh away but be mindful of the messages about love coming through.

Phone Addiction and Its Perilous Effect On Relationships: Simple Changes Can Make A Big Difference

Phone Addiction and Its Perilous Effect On Relationships: Simple Changes Can Make A Big Difference

According to recent studies, a large majority of partners deemed smartphones and other technology devices as the cause of greater relationship conflict and dissatisfaction, and for many, this included lower life satisfaction as well. While our smartphones offer tremendous obvious benefits, including staying in better touch, they have also introduced unprecedented barriers to human connection, within ourself and between each other. Awareness is the first and essential step to creating motivation for change. Then I'll share 4 Simple Changes to keep ourselves in better balance. 

A Stronger Connection with Dad: Why it Matters and Tips to Make it Happen

A Stronger Connection with Dad: Why it Matters and Tips to Make it Happen

Strengthening our connection with our fathers--directly or indirectly, physically or metaphysically--opens important channels of success and happiness in our lives. From all sides of the family dynamic, read on for some suggestions to consider to help fathers and their children create a stronger connection.  

Making the Most of Your Mother-Daughter Adult Relationship

Making the Most of Your Mother-Daughter Adult Relationship

Of all our family ties, the mother-daughter one tends to remain important through adulthood. With life expectancy ever increasing, we mothers and daughters will only continue to spend more of our lives together as adult women. What a great opportunity to invest in making this bond an even greater source of strength and growth.  

How Happy Couples Deal with In-Laws: Tips for the Holidays... and All Year Long

How Happy Couples Deal with In-Laws: Tips for the Holidays... and All Year Long

Inherently tricky to navigate for many, in-law strife shows up most especially between mothers- and daughters-in-law. And pouring into the mix the degree of conflict and division from our unprecedented election year 2016, the views and dynamics among all family members- especially in-laws, makes for quite a vulnerable time. Here are some tips to help make the holidays and this relationship go more smoothly this year, and from now on.

Election Stress Disorder: Tips for Mental Balance and Relationship Harmony

Election Stress Disorder: Tips for Mental Balance and Relationship Harmony

While this election season has stirred up an especially bitter brew of indignity and conflict, one common bond crossing the political and gender aisle is the election stress. The American Psychological Association just released a new survey indicating that more than half of American adults are either very or somewhat stressed by the 2016 election.

Raising Teenagers: Staying Connected

Raising Teenagers: Staying Connected

Teens need a healthy attachment more than ever during this trial and error phase of life. The more we stay close and connected to our teens (not to be confused with hovering or controlling), the better we can support them emotionally. Through our attachment, we equip them with a compass as they find their own truth and strength, and decision making power. 

Empowering Our Kids for Back to School... and Beyond

Empowering Our Kids for Back to School... and Beyond

With school about to start, what can we do as parents to help SUPPORT and EMPOWER our children with tools they will need to make the best of their young lives. 

Proactive Parenting

Proactive Parenting

We all love to weigh in when in comes to critiquing others' parenting moves and styles, but ask most moms and dads in the thick of raising young people today, and even the brightest, most confident among us will admit (at least privately) that it's the hardest job on the planet. Parenting is not a black and white business, and is certainly not for sissies.

Hope for Healing the Wound of an Absent Father or Divorce

Why has Kelly Clarkson’s song, Piece by Piece, and her emotional appearance on American Idol, resonated with so many?  To start with, people love real people! Take a song delving into the void of a daddyless daughter who witnessed multiple divorces—and couple that with Kelly breaking down while singing—and you have the hearts of a whole nation open wide. 

Click above to watch the fox2 video 

Click above to watch the fox2 video 

In both or her songs, Piece By Piece and Because Of You, Kelly touches upon a profound challenge many faces: growing up with an absent father and in a home of divorce.  According to the US Department of Census, 43% of US children live without their father physically present. And this does not include the emotionally absent father, which has been shown to have an identical impact.  In addition, 50% of American children will witness the breakup of a parent’s marriage. Close to half of those will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.

While the statistics reflect a significantly greater prevalence of absent fathers, it’s important to note that 8% of households have children being raised with a physically absent mother (emotional absence being harder to measure). The purpose of this article is not to point the finger at men (or divorced parents). Actually, the message here is not to judge anyone. That never helps. Nonetheless, the truth is, when either of our parents are absent, or when they divorce, this leaves a profound lack. The extensive and disturbing statistics reveal unfortunate consequences due to this lack.  That being said, I am not here to depress but rather inspire hope—because what we do with our lack makes all the difference for our future happiness and relationship success. 

Here are some recommendations to take care of the wounds from parental absence and/or divorce:

Step 1: BELIEVE IN YOUR POWER TO HEAL
Only when we grasp the incredible capacity we have for growing and transforming, healing and forgiving, can we truly make the most of our lives. We create our reality, regardless of what happens to us on the outside.  It’s a radical level of power and responsibility over one’s life, but it works. No matter the trauma we experience, we possess an unshakeable wholeness within. 

Step 2: SEEK HELP
We can’t go it alone. Not if we really want to reach our true potential. Assistance from a healing professional is not a sign of weakness.  Quite the opposite, letting someone in for the sake of empowering our highest self speaks volumes about our desire, our willingness to take responsibility for our lives and for our courage to be vulnerable.

Step 3: BECOME SELF AWARE
When we understand the emotional impact, and behavioral tendencies, from having an absent parent or living in a divorced home, we can start to choose proactively how to respond to the pain we experience and respond with greater self-love, control, and wisdom.  Otherwise, we live reactively, shooting in the dark by behaving unconsciously, not really knowing what hole we are trying to fill. 

For example, most children of an absent parent and/or divorce struggle with two common issues:  Fear of abandonment, and feeling unworthy of love. These deep wounds tend to bleed into relationships in four harmful ways: 

  •     People Pleasing - settling for less out of fear of rejection
  •     Needy for love - a desperate latching on to any attention to cover a fear of being alone
  •     Fixing our partner - maybe we could get the love we need if we can fix his/her problems
  •     Emotionally unavailable - never letting people in, hard to commit, afraid to be vulnerable

By identifying our own behavioral traits, this is a beginning of transforming them.  We cannot change what we cannot see.  We also minimize the risk of repeating the cycle.

Step 4: DON’T LOOK EXTERNALLY TO FILL THE VOID
We need to have a good relationship with ourselves to be whole. As hard and counterintuitive as it may be, we must restrict the urge to have a romantic partner fill our lack. It’s a paradox. The more we work on being good with us, the greater are our chances of attracting what we are really looking for.  We are people who need people.  But it’s about timing and priority. We must put our relationship with our true self first.  Only then are we truly prepared to attract a soulmate, someone with whom we experience genuine love and belonging—that lasts!   

Step 5: CHOOSE WISELY
Be selective with who you date, let in and especially marry.  Realize your worth and guard your inner Light. Stay away from those who show signs of caring only for the self alone, not a family player. Be cautious about taking morsels of attention to assuage your fear of being alone.  Break the chain and select someone who appears to be capable and have balance, who is open to growing and becoming a better person. You are worth it. 

Step 6: FORGIVE, LET GO AND TRUST
Blame is a heavy first stone on our backs, upon which those larger stones of anger, fear guilt, and shame build. Blaming our parents, and especially blaming ourselves, keeps us stuck and limits our capacity to enjoy the blessings we are meant to receive.  We often cannot see the big picture in life, it can be hard to make sense of our losses and hardships. But those who trust the process of life, and learn to embrace the challenges as opportunities to grow stronger, wiser and more capable of love, tend to rise higher than those who can’t let go and continue to blame. It’s not easy to forgive and be compassionate with ourselves. Yet when we focus on the blessings that we have gained through the pain, and the Light revealed from the darkness, we stop wishing for things to be different and appreciate who we are and all that we are given.  

What Will Be Our Legacy: A Note to Parents
Remember the feeling when the twin towers came down? Or have you ever heard some scary news, or come close to losing, or actually lost, someone to an illness. Perhaps you have feared you would lose a marriage or time with your children?  These times can hit us with a wave of love and perspective, how clearly we see what really matters. Times of crisis can also feel like we've been hit with a frying pan - a wake up call if you will.  Our human nature can easily keep us stuck in physicality, in the worries and day to day life. Many adults fail to realize how in the bigger picture, it's the people and our relationships that matter the most. When it comes to being a parent, especially for fathers, many simply fail to grasp how important their role is and the profound difference they make in their children's lives. On so many levels.

I often hear wisdom from those late in their years wishing they would have been more present with their children when they were younger.  Everyone is doing their best; we all have wounds to heal and obstacles from complex and often painful family dynamics. Most absent fathers (or mothers) were raised in a home with an absent father themselves, or been in some kind of dysfunctional or broken home. But it's never too late to break the cycle. When we awaken the desire, we are wired to grow and do better - especially with help. So rather than waiting for a crisis to teach us what really matters, or when it's late in the game, let’s ask ourselves: “How present am I with my children?” “Am I who I really want to be for my kids.” “Am I taking care of myself, and growing, so I can be the best parent I can be?” “What kind of legacy do I want to leave?”