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Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern Ph.D.

Creating Your Family Business Plan

Create a plan to get you to your family goals.

If you don't have a vision of where you're going and a plan on how to get there, you're likely to get swept away by the winds of life. You'll flop this way and that, not ever really knowing if you're off course and going in the wrong direction. Suddenly you may realize that you don't have money for that special family trip and everyone is disappointed. You may have spent your money on frivolous things without calculating the savings necessary to meet your family's vacation desires. Or one day you notice that your teenager doesn't talk to you any more, and you don't know how it happened. You may blame her and think she's a bad kid-sullen and sneaky. But perhaps you neglected to set in place a plan for staying close and connected to her when she was younger.

Successful organizations have mission statements that remind them of their attitudes, goals and objectives and keep them on track. Effective departments and teams decide first where they want to go before they start the journey. Why not create a business plan for your family that will keep you and your kids united and going in the same direction?

If you don't consciously think about it, you're likely to re-create the patterns of your family of origin. Here are three reasons to create a family business plan that fits specifically for you and your children.

1. It creates a sense of team within your family and bonds you to one another. Your kids know that you're all in this together and that you have a common vision and a unified purpose. Kids love to feel like they belong to something stable and significant, and when they can look up to their family as something really special, it gives them a sense of pride. Listening to them and including them in family discussions and decisions promotes a feeling of individual respect and equality. It makes them feel important and increases their self-esteem.

2. It gets you to your goals. Whether you're planning vacations, family projects or purchases, a business plan guides you in your decisions. When you are committed to your vision, you can more effectively choose where to live, what job to take and how to organize your work and family schedule because you're constantly thinking about what is best for everyone in your family. Let's say you've been offered a job that requires a great deal of travel. If your goal is to spend more time with your children, you might decline the offer. But if your goal is to make more money so you can move to a bigger house that will accommodate your family better, you might decide to accept it. If your decisions don't lead toward your five- or ten-year plan, you can re-evaluate them before you spend unnecessary time, energy or money.

3. It creates a family culture. This is a time for you to talk about what's important to you and allow your children to tell you what's important to them too. Together you identify the principles you want to live by as a family and create boundaries beyond which family members don't go. It's essential to discuss and share ideas with everyone in the family in order to get buy-in from each person. Otherwise family members won't believe the family plan represents them and they won't commit to live by the values and standards you set. For example, if you've decided that, in your family, you'll treat each other with dignity and respect, it will help you to deal with hurtful teasing or sibling conflicts. When one child is mean to another, you can call upon your family decision to be nice to each other and enforce what you all decided together.

Creating your family business plan requires commitment and regular times set aside for exploring and talking in an open, non-threatening environment. Even small children love to participate in these conversations. Here are some things to remember:
• Give everyone an equal opportunity to speak and be heard.
• Take time at the dinner table for family discussions or organize special family meetings when everyone is available to talk.
• Be patient and make it fun so that everyone participates with enthusiasm.
• Conduct brainstorming sessions where everyone is encouraged to throw in their thoughts about how they envision your family to be and what they want for the future. Remind your kids that there are no bad ideas because even the most implausible thought might stimulate another more plausible one.
• Ideas build on each other, so write each one down.
• If one child doesn't feel comfortable sharing at a family meeting, talk with him separately because it's important that his opinions are included.
• Feedback is a good thing when it is given respectfully, so even Mom and Dad's ideas are open for input.

Whatever you decide as a family must first be modeled by the parents. Then it trickles down to your kids. If you decide as a family that you want to show respect and kindness to each other, then you, as parents, will want to model that to each other and to your children. Only then can you expect them to treat each other respectfully.

Each family will have a different plan-a different vision, a different dream. It doesn't have to be complicated and all inclusive. You can start with something small. One family I know makes it a family motto to be kind. Another goes around the table once a week giving each person the opportunity to say what they're grateful for. In our family my two daughters and I were guided by the goal of staying connected so that we would always have positive relationships. Because this was our unswerving commitment, I tried to always treat them with respect, to handle their feelings with sensitivity and to discipline them thoughtfully. My overarching principle was to protect our relationship, no matter what problem arose. The result was that we have always been close. Even now, as they are adults, we share intimately and treasure our bond of friendship, caring and support

As you create your family business plan, it's a time to consider the things you value most. You may want to include some of the following:
• How do you want to support and help each other?
• What do you want the tone of your communication to be: open, accepting and tolerant or judgmental, critical and down-putting?
• What do you want to teach your children about honesty, hard work and integrity?
• How will your family deal with problems, challenges and adversity?
• What do you do to celebrate, have fun and spend time together?
• How do you want to plan for the future?
• How do you promote self-esteem and encourage each other to reach for their dreams?
• What do you believe about God, your community and your environment?

Give your family the greatest chance to succeed by making a plan to accomplish what is important to all of you. When you know where you want to go, you're much more likely to reach your destination.

For more tips on effective parenting, please check out my book, "Parenting Is A Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for LIfe."

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