By Linda Davis Taylor
Much has been said about the effects of the pandemic on family life. As shutdowns and social distancing led to homeschooling and remote work, we’ve all worried about the impact on our family’s well-being. While some have relished the opportunity for more quality time together, even those fortunate enough to maintain their health, jobs, and relative stability have been thinking, “How is this time of ongoing isolation and alienation harming our family?” Even as we begin to look ahead with hope to a return to more normal times, what can we do now to bolster our family’s resilience?
We all have the sense that resilience is a desirable attribute, but what exactly is resilience? Broadly speaking, resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or stress. We cannot control all of the external circumstances and events that come our way. But we can take proactive steps within our families – such as forging open communication and dialogue – preparing to respond and adapt to challenges. Unfortunately, uncertainty is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, but how we manage well with that reality is within our control when we openly share our vulnerabilities and grow together as a family.
SHARE THE STORIES
Understandably, it is easier to discuss family successes rather than setbacks. But research suggests that it is the whole family story that we need to embrace. Emory University psychology professors Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush have studied families for decades, including after the national trauma of 9/11. These researchers found that “those who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”
Dr. Duke asserts that it’s the “oscillating family narrative” that contributes the most to the family’s resilience. This observation means that it’s important to share both the good times and the painful ones that are a part of any family’s history. Dr. Duke offers an example of such a family story, “Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had our ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar in the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn .down Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.”
In times like these, I often wonder how some topics can still be considered taboo. Many families are having frank discussions about current events and how these affect different facets of their lives. Every family has its own narrative, including some chapters that might be difficult to talk about, formed by the individual and collective stories of multiple generations, past and present. Perhaps the pandemic’s shared stresses provide us with an opportunity to reassure our families by telling them more about our histories, happy times, and sad ones. In knowing about other times when family members faced adversity and somehow the family endured, we can deal with our own fear and anxieties with greater confidence. Even if it’s during a Zoom meeting, it helps to connect with family members, near and far.
TALK ABOUT MONEY, TOO
Money should also be part of the family’s dialogue. With the disruption everyone has experienced, it’s time to rethink the family’s financial preparedness and ask, “Do we have any hidden financial vulnerabilities? Even if we have not faced significant economic stress now, what could go wrong in the future?” As a family, use your financial EQ (emotional intelligence) to uncover any anxieties family members might be feeling and discuss how family members can support each other.
How can you tackle the money topic during your next family conference call? Have an unfiltered conversation about where you may have financial blind spots. Beforehand, designate each family member as an expert for a specific topic that may affect the family. This discussion may be when family members can share how the pandemic caused unexpected changes in someone’s employment or education, raised challenges for the family business, or increased anxiety about retirement planning due to stock market swings. Have each “expert” present their findings, and as a family, discuss whether these affect any family members and how the family’s financial plans can address them.
Not only will such conversations allow you to explore vulnerabilities, but they will also build each member’s skills and confidence in tackling financial challenges together. In my book, The Business of Family, I write about the difficulties families have in thinking about potential threats and failures — it’s more natural and exciting to envision a positive future. But, just as major corporations have experienced, unexpected crises can occur that dramatically alter finances and futures. Just as businesses invest in risk management strategies, a family must have an emergency plan ready to deploy that not only addresses the immediate concern but recognizes potential future challenges.
FIND OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN TOGETHER
A truly resilient family is one that manages its situation with a consistent awareness of both potential risks and rewards of the changing environment around them. Each family member should do a scan of their individual circumstances periodically and ask themselves — what is different in my life, and how should I adjust my plan? These conversations should not only be left to the parents, but they should include ideas from everyone in the family. From there, seek an outside perspective. Share favorite books, articles, and podcasts with each other. Many of us have been with the same professional advisors for years because we trust them and are comfortable with them. When was the last time you had your advisors meet with the whole family? Have a candid discussion that engages both knowledge and emotion — the family’s “IQ and EQ” — and pay attention to any flags raised. This conversation is not an exercise focused only on your challenges. It will help bridge your gaps and foster a shift in your mindset, allowing you to spot opportunities where your family resilience can be fortified and securing you against future shocks.
Building family resilience requires that we always think about the next step, the next door we open, and the next road we choose. Succession planning has always been critical for many family businesses, but it will not safeguard against the constantly changing environment in which we find ourselves without deeper insight. Harness the know-how and skills of each member of your family. Doing so will help ensure that your business, wealth, and relationships grow more resilient. ●
Linda Davis Taylor is a 1977 initiate of the Emory University Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa. She is the author of The Business of Family and the host of the Money Stories with LDT podcast. Taylor is the former CEO and chairman of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors. More information about Taylor may be found at her website: www.lindadavistaylor.com.
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