Like a slow-motion train wreck, with nary a whimper or a scream, the extended family and all the benefits it provides are disappearing one ‘byte’ at a time.
The typical American family has changed over the last couple of generations from predominantly ‘extended families’ to majority ‘nuclear families’. As a consequence, the manner by which the generations of the family interact has been irrevocably altered.
Despite the fact that we have technology that allows us to talk at any time, in a sense, we are communicating even less.
Until recently, the extended family provided each member a meaningful purpose and a role to play. The elders, when they became too old to be providers, naturally assumed the role of teachers to the young. They shared their life lessons, their wisdom and values. The young gained valuable knowledge to inform and guide them in life. More importantly, children learned what it meant to be part of the family and what their family stands for. The elders benefitted by validating their life and realizing their purpose.
The Family Narrative is more than just a statement:
Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush, creators of the “Do You Know Scale”, reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, and they exhibited higher levels of self-esteem and believed their family functioned more successfully. The net result is that children felt a strong ‘intergenerational self’ and know they belong to something bigger than themselves.
This perception is critical to shifting the heir’s perspective from ‘me’ to ‘we’.
In the extended family environment the family narrative was learned piecemeal, over years of conversation around the dinner table and at family gatherings.
One of the problems with the oral tradition is that the stories told, and subsequently re-told, changes over time and telling’s. One part of the story would be embellished and others were forgotten entirely.
In today’s world, the opportunities for face-to-face intergenerational engagement have diminished. The quality and frequency of those interactions likewise have become truncated.
The stories that matter, those that contribute to building the family narrative, do not come across in a text, tweet or brief phone call.
The lack of regular meaningful interaction makes those few face-to-face interactions awkward.
Ironically, the technology that has allowed our interactions to become infrequent, shallow and transient can be the very thing that saves them.
Rather than bemoan the lost innocence of those bygone days, we need to make the most of the cards we have been dealt.
Instead of finding new and better arguments why people should engage in the legacy-building process, our focus has been on the ‘human nature’ based impediments.
Among the impediments, we found that people considering the task of building a legacy portfolio become overwhelmed and frustrated with trying to figure how or where to start. Beyond these, many think that this work needs to be a written document and many feel are not up to the task.
Lastly and most importantly, procrastination rules the day. Life gets in the way.
In the development of LegacyStories.Org we spent the last decade researching and field- testing successful protocols and technology to overcome these impediments. But procrastination is still the biggest hurdle. This is the place where professional advisors can be of great benefit.
Estate Planners and Wealth Managers hold a special relationship with their clients. When a client trusts them with the totality of their family wealth and, by default, they trust their advice to work on their legacy implicitly more.
And that is what can help the client overcome procrastination and begin the most rewarding work of their life, building their Family Narrative.
About the author
You have hit a few of the nails on their heads, Mr. Stack. There are many impediments to closer family interactions and perhaps procrastination is forever the larger one. However, given the mobility we have in modern society, having wide paved highways to bring us together faster is somewhat countered by our ability to communicate via telephone, e-mail and computer chat rooms. Travel by air may be faster, but is decidedly more expensive and restricting when schedules are factored in.
They are options to change the status quo, but those options always involve one or more other parties. We can encourage changing the status quo, but all parties have to participate for real change to occur. The closer any family was, the better the chances for family unity. It should be said that the nature of extended families also has a cultural aspect. Some cultures have very vibrant relationships within families; and others do not. In recent years the size and interactivity of my own multi-cultural have increased. In our case it took more than two to tango. The issue is: members of our extended family have always accepted, respected, and practiced concepts that embrace due deliberation for family values, including those of an extended family nature. In the final analysis, geographical distance is a damper on more effective communication, whether or not the distances are near or far. Indeed, we have solutions in the form of instant communications but some parties can readily choose to tune out, and that is all it takes.