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Building a Bridge Between You and Your Kids: Three Strategies for Success

Posted on: October 1st, 2017

Building a Bridge Between You and Your Kids: Three Strategies for Success

The biggest reason most of us love being entrepreneurs is that we can use our business success to support our families and live great lives with the people we care about most, all on our own terms.

Consider this: Nearly all entrepreneurs who told us they want to become seriously wealthy are driven by the desire to take care of their loved ones (see Exhibit 6).

But here’s a question: How is that going for you?

Believe it or not, more than 85 percent of entrepreneurs admit they don’t spend enough quality time with family—especially their kids—according to research by Jim Sheils, the co-founder of Family Board Meetings, LLC, a consulting and education company that helps entrepreneurs reground their family lives. 

This is a major problem—one that can result in terrible consequences. A lack of quality time leads to a lack of connection in families. Over time, that lack of connection between our kids and us can create three big problems:

  1. Bitterness. As kids grow into teenagers, bitterness starts to crop up on both sides. The entrepreneur says to him or herself, “You ungrateful brat—I’ve worked so hard for you and I just want you to talk to me.” Meanwhile, the child is thinking, “I didn’t ask for all this stuff—I wanted you. But you chose work, and now you expect me to be open with you?” Not surprisingly, parent and child start lashing out at each other.

Of course, both players have valid points. But Sheils tends to come down on the side of the kid in these instances. “Your intentions were good—work hard and provide things that you maybe didn’t have growing up. But that can so easily come at the expense of quality time, and there’s just no substitute for that type of connection.”

  • Numbness. Worse than outright bitterness is numbness. The family is emotionless, noncommunicative and distant with each other—but no one is willing to say or do anything about it.

You may have gotten a taste of this problem already. Ever feel like you have only two jobs as a parent: parole office and shift manager? You make sure the homework gets done and you discipline, and that about sums up your parental role. There’s nothing fun about parenting anymore. Meanwhile, the child answers every question with one-word replies like “yeah,” “no” or “whatever.” This creates a very lonely household and an inability for any family member to appreciate the good things they have.

  • Addiction. You may have seen articles showing that affluent families can be highly susceptible to addiction problems, and Sheils confirms that’s true. Left unchecked, bitterness and numbness in entrepreneurial families can lead to drug and alcohol addiction. “It’s the worst-case scenario no one wants to talk about. If money had all the answers, there wouldn’t be so many privileged kids with addiction problems,” he says.

Three key principles to remember when trying to create connections with your kids

The good news: If you’ve lost some of that deep connection with your kids, you can take actionable steps right now that will help you regain it and get back on track. If you already have strong bonds with your kids, these same steps will help ensure they stay that way.

Start by recognizing a few organizing principles of parent-child connection:

  • There’s no substitute for quality time. The parent-child connection is formed only when quality time is spent together. That doesn’t mean sitting next to each other on the couch while your kid texts and you watch TV. It requires focused activities that both people are fully engaged in and where distractions (like the smartphone) are intentionally put aside.
  • Consistency is crucial. As entrepreneurs, we tend to have “quick start” personalities—we get the ball rolling and are always ready to start something new. That’s great for innovation, but it’s not so hot for maintaining consistency and deep connections to ideas—and, of course, people. That makes it extraordinarily important to remember to implement rhythms and schedules around the most important goals we have with our families so we keep executing on our good intentions.
  • John Wayne is dead. As both parents and “tough” business owners, it’s easy to present ourselves to our kids as indestructibly strong at all times. That sounds good on the surface, but it’s probably not good for our kids. If you refuse to ever admit that you make mistakes, that you get scared or that you feel worried, you present a phony picture of yourself to your kids—one that they can never possibly emulate or live up to. As a result, they don’t relate to you or feel comfortable coming to you when they inevitably are nervous, uncertain or sad—and that, in turn, sows the seeds of resentment, mistrust and numbness instead of connection.

Important: Accepting that you shouldn’t try to be the “strong, silent type” at every moment doesn’t mean you have to do a 180-degree turn and start crying at romantic comedies. The point is to be emotionally honest with your children so they see you as a human being who is relatable and who shares common feelings with them.

Taking actions that build deep connections with our kids

Step 1. Have one-on-one time. Being one-on-one is a key aspect of quality time. Across the board, family experts find that communication and connection occur best when two people are alone together. It allows both people to see their relationship—the good and bad—close up, almost like it’s under a microscope.

Just as important, one-on-one time shows the child that you see him or her as an individual with unique qualities. That does wonders to increase connection. In addition, one-on-one time promotes the trust and intimacy that are sometimes needed for the child to open up to you. Think about it: If you ask probing questions to one kid in front of his or her siblings, do you think you’ll get a straight answer?

This may all seem obvious, but the fact is that most families don’t actually practice one-on-one time. Knowing what to do doesn’t mean much if you don’t do it.

Pro Tip: Ask yourself three questions as you connect with your kids. Are you present? Are you patient? Are you playful?

Step 2. No electronics—disconnect to reconnect. Too much screen time leaves us feeling empty—the opposite of connected. And, of course, focusing on electronics leaves the people being ignored feeling empty. When doing your one-on-one time, clear the decks of smartphones, tablets and other electronic distractions that take you out of the moment and away from the person in front of you. The rule is simple: no texts, no calls, no emails, no Facebook, no YouTube—no nothing.

Trap: Some parents think they’re bonding if they watch videos or read articles online with their kids. That’s not the case—screen-sucking together is no better than doing it alone. It’s the opposite of quality time.

Pro tip: To ensure electronics are out of the picture during quality time, make a big show or ritual of turning off and stowing your various devices. One of Sheils’ clients actually puts his electronics in a big gun safe that is timed to open only after a set period.

Step 3. Do inspiring activities coupled with focused reflection. Putting a child in the right environment is key to helping them open up—the same goes for adults, too. The best way to learn is through experiences that are fun and meaningful to the person.

Here’s what that means for you: Let your son or daughter choose the activity. They get to set the agenda for the day. That gives them both an invested interest in what you do together and a sense of ownership over the experience. That, in turn, builds trust. (This is a particularly effective approach if you have a teenager with whom you aren’t terribly close and who typically doesn’t want to spend free time with you.)

The second part of this step is to engage in focused reflection after the activity is over. It’s simply time you set aside to have an open-ended conversation with your kid. Start by asking this one question:

“What was your favorite part of the day, and why?”

You’ll probably be surprised by how much he or she opens up to you. As that happens, do one thing: Be a good listener! When you do talk, don’t try to fix any issues they talk about. Instead, let them know that you understand how they feel. Tell the truth. Remember the concept that John Wayne is dead, and be seen as a person, not a superhero.

Advice: Keep the reflection time short—especially at first, when you’re testing the waters. Saying too much could hurt your efforts if you start coming off as “too parental” to the kid. You probably don’t need to go on for more than five or ten minutes to begin.

Getting the help you need

You can certainly take these action steps yourself and see good results. However, you may want to enlist the help of a pro like Jim Sheils to help facilitate the process of building deeper, more meaningful connections with your children through what he calls family “board meetings”—immersive parent-child experiences in exciting locations that promote communication and understanding.


This report was prepared by, and is reprinted with permission from, VFO Inner Circle.  AES Nation, LLC is the creator and publisher of VFO Inner Circle reports.

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