Relationships in Transition

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A couple of my friends have had adult children who moved back in with them. In one instance, a son returned from a long term overseas assignment to restart his professional career. For another, a son lost his job, and estranged from his wife, moved home.  I learned from both these friends the importance of openness and compassion in the midst of change.

These transitions, for both child and parent, are difficult. The found space that parents retrieved after their children began their adult life is taken over by their children whom they love. The question that nags in these situations is, "What should our relationship be now?"

Transitions in life and work are not simply processes of change and economic reordering of life and work. The social and organizational contexts that encompass them are intensely relational. They strain the well-worn path that relationships built over time develop.

When life altering change comes, and we find ourselves in transition, we need to focus on the social as much as the practical questions of job search and finding a new place to live.

Long-standing relationships develop a predictability that becomes expectation for continuity. Disturb that pattern, and relationships become frayed.

Something as simple as a job change that requires a move can become highly disruptive. It isn't just the one employed who moves, but the whole family who is uprooted to a new place to establish roots in a new place.  If the family unit is fragile, the transition can be more difficult than it should be.

When we enter a transition space moving toward that point where change is made and a new course is set, reflection, communication and a refocusing of values is needed.

Reflection is a form of self-criticism that enables us to see the logic of change in the midst of the transition.

Communication allows us to see a broader picture as we discover how those who are also impacted feel. We listen and learn from them how best to manage the transition.

Refocusing of values serves to ground us in what is matters most to us, which serves to focus our purpose as a vehicle for those values to live.

All of this is best done in open and honest conversation regularly scheduled.

If you are a parent whose adult child has moved home, talk with one another about how this is personally impacting each of you. Discuss what is important in the function of the home, and reach an agreement on the basics of living under the same roof again.  While the adult child is still a child to the parent, and the parent to the child, they are also adults who should share responsibility for living together again.

If you are in transition, and find yourself, living at home again, especially after years away, recognize that you are not reentering the home of your youth. You have entered a social environment that has changed. No longer is this place oriented around the nurture and protection of children. Your parents, while they still love you, have moved through their own transitions into new stages of their life as adults. There is a place for adult children in the lives of their parents. But it must be discovered, and not merely assumed it is an extension of what their childhood was like.

Change is hard. It doesn't have to be as hard as we make it.  All is required is for us is openness for the relationship to be what it needs to be today, not as it was in the past, or wish it had always been. Going through the transition points in our lives are hard enough without our relationships becoming an obstacle to positive change.

A Support Plan for Relationships in Transition

My proposal is not a widget that fits every situation, but can beneficial in many situations.

Simply apply the Five Actions of Gratitude to how you live together in the midst of change.

This is a tool you can use to negotiate how you live under the same roof again. A simple translation could be something like this.

Say Thanks - At least once a day, with sincerity and specificity.

Give Back - Take responsibility for caring for both the private and shared spaces.

Make Welcome - Be hospitable to one another. Be open to the gifts that you have to offer and receive. Think of this as a new relationship.

Honor Others - Even at the most difficult moments, treat one another with dignity and respect. Be honest, caring and trustworthy. Be apologetic and forgiving. Be kind to one another.

Create Goodness - Establish new paths of interaction and sharing. This is particularly true in the transition is to be lengthy.

Practice these things, and the transition will go more smoothly, and new dimensions of your relationship will emerge.

Real Life Leadership: The Old Guard and the Young Lions must learn to work together

My latest Real Life Leadership column - The Old Guard and the Young Lions must learn to work together - is now online.

Generational differences is a huge issue in traditional organizations. The primary differences is the attitude that each has toward the organization as an institution.

Older generations have grown up with the institution being the embodiment of the values of the organization's mission. They believe in and therefore seek to protect the institution.

The generation that is just now emerging into leadership positions in organizations have grown up seeing the appeal of "institutionalism" as an albatross hanging around the neck of the organization. They are a much more mission first, institution second generation.

The challenge for the older generation - and by older, I am referring more to an older mindset than simply older people - is change. The institution first focus sees the historic form of its mission as that which cannot change. So, what was right for granddad is right for now.  As a result, the mission becomes iconic. But iconic, I mean, it is a symbol of something else.  It is a link to an earlier time. It has no immediate relevance apart from its being a reference point to the past.

The challenge for the younger generation is to build institutions worth believing in. As they embrace constant change, creating an organizational structure that lasts longer than their interest is their challenge.

The problem for both generations is that they don't understand well enough the role of organization. The structure of a business exists to provide the resources needed to fulfill their mission. If the mission fades in importance, the institution becomes self-perpetuating. This is what I see as the institution as personal brand problem. When the institution becomes the extension of the leaders personality, then any threat to the institution becomes problematic. When the mission is fluid enough to take many different organizational forms, then creating something that lasts to then next generation is problematic.

The generational issue is really about the age of the people in them. Rather it is about certain patterns of behavior and attitude that emerge that characterizes them. Those behaviors and attitudes are the issues, not the people themselves.

Here is a hard copy version of the published column.