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Edition 390 – Cats in the Cradle

It’s 50 years next year since Harry Chapin’s incredible piece of music about how life quickly passes us by was first released. Whilst most people will have heard the song at some time or other over the years, my guess is that few have stopped to listen to the lyrics. Fewer still, would have taken the time to ponder what those lyrics actually mean for them, their life and for the relationships they have with their own children.

In the work that I engage in with small and family business owners, I challenge them to think first about themselves and then about their family, when determining what the direction and trajectory of their business should be. For me, the business should support your family, which in turn should support you.

It’s my deep seated belief that we have our children in our lives until they’re 16. What I mean by that is that, if you have young children, the family life that you’re building now will only stay that way until your children are 16 years old. At that age, one of four things will occur:

  1. They’re spending more time studying for their HSC, so they’re less involved in day to day family life.
  2. They have a part time job.
  3. They’re engaged in weekend sport.
  4. They have brought into their lives, perhaps their first life partner, for this stage of their life.

The fact that they’re licensed to drive a car from 16 years of age is also that first, physical introduction to independence from the family home, rules and routines.

Recently, I drew up on the flip chart in a client business planning meeting the number “16”.  When I explained my above reasoning for putting that number up there, the two participants, with pre-teenage children, were, at first, intrigued. You could see the mental arithmetic cogs working away as they realised just how few years left they have with their children, at the stage of life they’re at now, in their lives.

The interesting effect of this is when we got down into some deeper planning, and after they’d invested time pre-meeting in my Family Business Focus Questionnaire, which I’ve developed based on my three plus decades of working with family businesses, their priorities were starkly clear. Spending time with children, ageing parents and with their spouses were the top points of discussion – not how much bigger they can grow the revenue, or how many additional widgets they can punch out each day.

As the father of two sons, aged 27 and almost 24, that time when they were in our lives, and our family dynamic was “just the four of us” is a distant, yet happy memory. In making that statement, it’s not about lamenting a past that is lost. It’s about understanding that lives progress through stages and, when we were at that stage of our lives, my wife and I were fortunate enough to be enjoying that time. We didn’t long for when the boys grew up. We didn’t wish for things to get easier, even when there were difficult times. We invested time in our family so that, today, we’re still fortunate to have a close relationship with each of our sons.

Over the years, we made choices in our lives, that prioritised family, not money. Financially, we may not be as wealthy as we could otherwise have been. However, the investments that we did prioritise in those years are returning riches that no dollar value can be assigned to. Isn’t that what life is all about?

This Week’s Tip

You can prioritise yourself and your family in the plan for your business. It’s just that most business owners have the order of priorities the wrong way around.