Observations (not given as medical opinions)
Many of the root causes of current family business conflicts can be sheeted back to the parenting styles and practices – behaviours and emotional contexts – of the family’s home life, from many years ago.
Whether or not there’s any validity to the analysis, in dispute resolution practice it’s often helpful to be able to “ground the cause of conflict” in something, rather than in someone, in order to commence the process of repairing the damaged relationships that are now spilling over to damage the family business.
We observe four main Parenting Styles. One or more can be found in almost every family home, coming from one or more parent. The combined effects of these parental behaviours, over time, shapes the tone and culture of the family, and are likely to have a major impact on each child’s social, emotional and intellectual development and hence, on their individual personalities.
Four Parenting Styles:
1. Dictatorial: parents demand obedience and dish out punishments, without basing their actions on any clear or consistent system of discipline. Children may become subservient, manipulative, or rebellious, and can grow up with serious self-esteem and trust issues. Relationships are based on fear.
2. Authoritative: parents establish clear systems of expected behaviours, based on declared rules, matched consequences, and consistently applied discipline. Children are obedient and capable, and may become resilient. They can also end up with poor social skills and low self-esteem. Relationships are generally quite positive, but individuals may be overly-dependent on direction, protection and strength from “above.”
3. Permissive (indulgent): parents are excessively accepting of whatever their children want to do. There are few rules, rare consequences, and limited discipline in the household. Growing up without boundaries, children are often selfish, not good at self-regulating, and may be unsatisfied and unhappy. They usually have little respect for authority. Relationships are ephemeral: they work, or they don’t … at any given point in time.
4. Uninvolved (neglectful): parents provide limited guidance, attention, engagement, nurture or discipline to their children and have limited control over their development. Children are confused by the lack of definition, reason, and boundaries in their world. Maturity may be seriously delayed, or it never arrives. Relationships are weak, transactional, or non-existent.
We also see parenting styles profoundly impacted by two sets of opposing qualitative characteristics which seem to establish the emotional ethos of the home:
1. Responsive/Unresponsive: one or both parents are either actively engaged in delivering one of the above Parenting Styles to their children (positive choice), or not, in which case they’re largely absent from home and family life when it matters.
Responsive parents help to create cohesion in the family, because at least they’re involved and appear to be concerned and trying; Unresponsive parents display a form of neglect that tends to weaken, and may ultimately dissolve, the normal emotional ties that should hold the family together.
2. Demanding/Undemanding: one or both parents either impose themselves, and their wills, on their children or they don’t. Demanding parents create strong dynamics in the family that can toughen, or demoralise, their children. Entrepreneurs often toughen, or crush their own children, especially if their life partner defers to them or is MIA (missing in action) as their children grow up.
Undemanding parents leave children to work things out for themselves. Some learn to develop great self-sufficiency and good problem-solving skills. Others feel neglected, or abandoned. They struggle to develop and achieve their potential and may never find their “right” place in the world.
When a family’s conflict appears to be rooted in troubled relationships with deep historical roots, take the time to unravel the family’s story (its narrative), by listening to everybody’s story, from their perspectives. Don’t try to resolve any of the obvious presenting issues before doing this, as they’re more likely to be symptoms, than causes, of the conflict. Hasty resolution efforts are more likely to end up jammed in rabbit holes, than to strike leprechaun gold.
Burrowing through the layers of the family’s history, back to early childhood years, is like peeling an onion – you will get to the centre, but only after shedding tears.
The process is hugely cathartic for most individuals, and for the family, as a whole. Using adult perspectives on childhood issues, everyone has an opportunity to explain and normalise their past choices, with reference to the real or imagined needs and circumstances of the time.
Provided everybody is: (a) willing to acknowledge and validate the effects of their decisions and behaviours on other family members and (b) to accept responsibility for (alleged) errors made, damage caused, or hurt felt, there’s a real chance that forgiveness will flow, and reparations / reconciliation be achieved.
Of course, some people find this very hard to do, and it may require some serious private coaching to help them through. It’s worth the effort. Years of pain, and a highly uncertain future for the family and its business, can be resolved with some genuine empathy and remarkably few, well-chosen words.