Successful families play the long game

I never wanted to write a book. I never intended to start a blog. But then something happened that changed my “never” into a passion for encouraging families to be successful at playing the long game. My mom died.

She and I talked every Thursday afternoon for years running. That Thursday I called her and she didn’t answer. I tried again a couple of hours later. Then I sent her a text, “Hey, Mom. Missed our call. What are you up to?” No response . . . and that was not like my mom. She looked forward to our talks as much as I did.

I texted my brother and sisters. “Did Mom have plans to travel this week that she forgot to tell me about?” According to them, she didn’t.

So, my brother Dan asked our sister who lived closest to Mom to run up and check on her. “Let her know we’re worried about her,” he added. Fifteen minutes later, Lisa sent a text that simply said, “She died.”

Passing the baton

Wow. My world changed in that moment. I wasn’t ready to lose my mom. There were so many conversations we hadn’t finished. I had questions I hadn’t asked yet. There were stories she hadn’t gotten around to telling me. All these losses weighed on me and I felt bereft in the moment.

But, I realized that my mom had lived her life well. She had built into her children a vision for a future that would outlive her her own life. She had cultivated our skills and interests over the years. We had a her example to follow in living a life that mattered. Even though she is gone, she did not really leave me bereft. She had played the long game with us and I knew how to move forward in with my own family. The baton had been passed.

The loss in my mom caused me to take a much closer look at the relationships I had with my own children and grandchildren. Time is short and it moves quickly. No one knows when their time will run out. Successful families need to play the long game, because there really is no other game.

The hundred year family is the long game

I want to introduce you to the concept of a “Hundred Year Family.” It isn’t a new concept, but it is an idea that captures the imagination. Envision what your family could look like several generations out. How many people might be in your family? What work will they be doing? Where will they live? Will they be thriving? Will they remember who you are? My goal is to encourage families to think about the long game!

Thinking about your family 100 years out will help you shift your focus from just the activities of the here and now to those activities that might have a greater impact on the future. It also will give you motivation and energy to do the things now that you think will be beneficial later. Thinking about the next 100 years will encourage you to think about playing the long game with your grandkids.

I just finished rereading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. It is a story about a poor farmer and his wife that started out with a small piece of land in China. Through hard work and a bit of good fortune, the farmer grew to be a wealthy landowner. His sons had all the advantages of education and leisure time that the farmer did not have. They were able to hold on to the family wealth, and even to create something new with the income that came from the land. But as the story progresses, the sons don’t enjoy hard work, the grandchildren never get beyond being spoiled rich kids, and the land gets sold to pay for extravagances. The story ends with the descendants of the original farmer living unhappy and unfulfilled lives.

Why do you want to play the long game?

The reason you want to play the long game is because you want your family to survive and thrive beyond your lifetime. So many times, we see families torn apart the challenges of life: money problems, health (and mental health) issues, broken relationships, and addictions. Even many of the tamer obstacles to life in the 21st century add stress: technology, work demands, the numerous options and opportunities that make it difficult to focus. Our excesses can be a burden as well: too much stuff, too much food, too many responsibilities. Not enough margin.

Three Generation Family On Country Walk Together

Taking some time to think about your family from a 100 year perspective does three things. First, it shifts into sharp focus the things that truly matter. Some of the things we concern ourselves about now will not matter in a hundred years. Secondly, it create a reason to deal with family problems now, rather than sweeping them under the rug. These type of problems only become bigger when they are neglected. Healthy people are more likely to build a family that will survive and thrive. And finally, resources are spent more wisely if you are planning that they last for several generations.

My desire for you is that you will have the kind relationships with your grandkids that will outlive you. What will your grandkids remember about you in 2077? (I got married in 1977 and I wanted to have tangible date in mind. The year 2077 represents a hundred years from the day I established my own family.)

Example of a 100 year time frame

My grandson, Wolfgang, figured out that he would be 63 in 2077. What memories about our relationship would be worth him sharing with his own children and grandkids in 56 years? That is my mission: to build a relationship with Wolfgang that will endure through the end of my life and well into his, because successful families play the long game. I want that to be your mission, too. Build a family that will last.

To last a 100 years, the plan needs to last longer than the life of any one person. The plan requires a rolling hundred years to succeed. First, determine the time frame you want to use for your 100 year family. I picked our anniversary as the starting point. I use my children’s anniversaries as the starting point for their 100 year challenge. When my grandchildren get married, I will encourage them to use the date the get married as a starting point for their own 100 year family.

How do you handle obstacles and play the long game?

The major obstacle you will face is the dilution of the vision through the generations. One solution is to use your family stories, traditions and rituals to help your grandkids see the richness of the family as far back as you can go. Your goal is to inspire them to carry on the values that have already been handed to them.

Your family already has a stories that can inspire your grandkids. There will be flawed heroes. Some of your stories will be sad. There will be things about your narrative that make you cry. But there will also be the moments where people shine. The successes. The moments that define your family as survivors. Share these stories. Share the traditions and rituals that are a part of your own heritage. Make sure your grandkids know where they came from.

The second obstacle you will face is the tyranny of the urgent. You will need a process for setting priorities and making decisions. You will continually need to prioritize those things that will develop character and grit over those things that will merely entertain you and your family. There are many helpful decision tools available. I was trained to use the nursing process, and that is the tool I use most often. But there are many others. Choose one that will work for you.

Sample Decision making tools
  • Simple Pro/Con List
  • Decision Tree or Matrix
  • Pareto Principle (20% of your effort results in 80% of your benefit)
  • Marginal Analysis (weighing the benefit against the cost)
  • SWOT Diagrams (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Nursing Process ADPIE (Assessment-Diagnosis-Planning-Implementation-Evaluation)

I challenge you to play the long game. It will require you to plan. First, you will want to dream about what you desire your family to look like over time. You will need to determine where you are at this moment. You will need to make plans and execute them. And you will need to regularly evaluate the results of your plans and make any necessary changes to improve your progress. The long game is not easy. But it is the only way to focus your energy if you want a family that will endure.

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