Monday, November 15, 2010

Family Business

We have recently introduced a new idea to our older kids: Family Business. It's one of those tricksy sorts of ideas to get across, because if misinterpeted in either direction, things could get interesting.

Family Business is a lot like the Circle of Trust from Meet the Parents, a movie we haven't shown to the kids for the obvious reason that we don't really want Ryan to know about the existence of lie detectors. While I think this decision is sound, it does leave out a convenient way to explain Family Business to the kids.

Family Business is, as you might surmise, stuff we only want people in our family to know about. This applies to general things and specific details. It is rather obvious to the likes of me, but more than a little difficult to 'splain to the kids.

  • "Why can't anyone else know about Family Business?"
  • "Don't we like those people?"
  • "Don't we trust them?" 
  • "I'm sure they want to know all about our Family Business!"
  • "How do we know what's Family Business and what isn't?"

All of these etiquette/manners sort of ideas have always been difficult to explain, both the reasons why (or why not) and the the mechanics/execution of them. Maybe that's just our particular issue.

An example or two. We are going to get some Family Business Stuff for our family. (I can't tell you what it is--it's Family Business. If I told you, I'd have to kill you with a lie detector.) We decided to do this a couple of months ago, and told the kids about our plans. Rookie Mistake.

Ryan told EVERYONE he could all about it. What he shared was alarming to some of the people who were the unwilling recipients of the information. My etiquette alarm bells rang. So, we discussed the idea of Family Business at a recent Family Conference.

We tried to explain that some things that we do and decide, just the five of us, are things that only we need to know about or care about. Some of those things might not interest others, or might raise questions (we are the weird people in the neighborhood, don't forget), or what have you. In fact, how others might receive this knowledge is not really the point; it's Family Business, so we should keep it within our family.

Ryan and Morgan met this idea with skepticism and confusion. Ryan immediately demanded an accounting of just who was allowed to know about our Family Business. Brendan pointed to everyone in the room and said that was it. He seemed genuinely surprised, though Kelly assures me this is a normal reaction for someone who has (probably) an extroverted personality. Apparently, those E types can't possibly imagine why everyone in the whole world doesn't want to know every detail of their own personal business at all times. E or not, this certainly describes Ryan.

Since Ryan had already shared our news with several hundred friends and strangers (yes), we made sure to let him know that this wasn't a disaster, and we weren't upset with him or anything. But we made an agreement not to share any more information about that particular bit of Family Business in the future. He did ask what he should say if his friends (who, of course, know all about our Family Business) brought the subject back up again. We told him that it was okay to say, "Oh, our family has decided that's Family Business, so I am not going to discuss that any more."

It gets tricksier though. Even though Morgan and Ryan now know about Family Business, it's becoming clear that they will need lots of help in properly identifying what is and isn't Family Business, and how to handle situations or questions when their knowledge of certain Family Business might be compromised.

Yesterday, Brendan took R & M on an errand to acquire some of this Family Business, but the neighborhood kids were all running around outside and one of them paused to ask Ryan: "Where are you going with your Dad?" A perfectly reasonable question, but Ryan was confused for a second. Fortunately, the kid moved on without waiting for an answer (it's not just my kids, that's reassuring!), and I had a second to chat with Ryan about it.

Me: "What could you say to him that would respect our Family Business idea, and yet still be truthful?"

Because I think it's important not to give the idea or permission to outright lie in such situations.

Ryan had no idea, so I suggested: "You could say: 'I'm going to run some errands with my Dad.' and that would be truthful and yet not give information about our Family Business." So he agreed to try that next time.

But I can see we'll be 'splaining the intricacies of this for a while.

For the record, there are only two things we've designated Official Family Business--the Family Business thing to which I've been referring so far, and certain specific financial details such as the amount of our mortgage payment. As I wrote last week, we shared lots of details about our re-financing with the kids, including the amounts of our old mortgage payment, the new mortgage payment, the old and new interest rates, etc. Not that anyone (especially their friends) particularly cares about the specific numbers, but we thought it probably best to let them know that specific financial information is probably Family Business.

I honestly can't quite decide if this is a big deal or not, but I know that my Introverted self prefers to keep certain details of my life private (hard to believe, since I have a public blog, but it's true--you don't know everything about me!). And Brendan is an introvert, too. And there is a big part of me that thinks talking about money with random people is kinda tacky (by the way, I realized recently that tacky is Yankee for trashy). I'm re-examining that particular premise, but honestly I don't want to share all kinds of financial details with my neighbors, and I don't want to know theirs either.

I also have to wonder if they are really too young to fully understand this idea, and that had we had a child without an enormous need to share all of our personal business with random ladies at the grocery store, we might not have brought this up for a few years yet. Just sayin'.

Any thoughts or suggestions on this topic? Leave 'em in the comments!


Shea Levy said...

Hi Jenn!

I have to say, I can totally sympathize with Ryan. While I can identify which things society considers to be private, I still don't really understand why it's so important to not talk about these kinds of things. The best I've figured out is "most people don't want/need to know about this", which is enough to make me not go around seeking to push my private information in people's faces, but honestly if nearly anyone asked me what kind of porn I liked or some such question I'd have no problem giving the answer. The only exceptions are when the information involves another person who hasn't given permission for me to spread it, when the information could potentially lead to unwarranted legal action against me and I don't trust the person, or when the person I'm talking to is someone I've explicitly taken steps to remove from my life.

So I can totally understand why this is such a difficult issue for your kids, especially your seemingly Eish Ryan. I might recommend taking the "well, other people don't actually want to hear this and it might make them uncomfortable" tack, but that might backfire when someone gives them reason to think that he DOES want to know.

If you can figure out a good reason for the kids, let me know! Maybe it can help me too :) In the meantime, I'll be here super-curious about what exactly your Family Business in this particular instance is.

Tori said...

Shea, I've never met you, but I could have written your comment! I'm very much an E and there's not a whole lot about myself that I wouldn't share with most people who would ask. Like Shea, I'm more likely not to share information because I figure people don't want or need to know about it than because I don't want people to know about it. As a result, I have a very TMI relationship with a number of my very close friends, and it doesn't bother me in the least. (I should call and ask if it bothers THEM!)

Unfortunately, I can't really give you any good advice on how to curb the blabbermouth in your kids, as when I was a child the very second I got some information from my parents that I was supposed to keep to myself, I was desperate to share it. What my parents did with me was express disappointment in me for sharing information I shouldn't have (like my dad's salary in the school cafeteria) and tell me that if they couldn't trust me, they wouldn't be able to share information with me in the future. It worked, but it's probably not something I'll do with my own daughter if she takes after me, because it really infused me with a sense of fear and guilt that weren't great for my developing psyche.

And I will close by echoing Shea in my burning curiosity about your Family Business. My official guess is that you are outfitting the house with new toilets?

Hanah said...

This is hard for me, even as an introverted adult. Much of the difficulty is that, to figure out (1) what is Family Business, and (2) how to deal with questions that you don't want to answer, you have to be able to anticipate the reactions of others.

Example 1: Suppose I'm buying a summer home in Tuscany. Is this Family Business? Maybe. I don't want to flaunt how much money I have. Nor do I want to make my friends jealous. On the other hand, what am I going to tell my friends when I disappear for the whole summer? What if I want to bring some of my friends with me on vacation?

Example 2: Suppose I've just inherited $500,000 from a rich uncle and use it to put my kids through college debt-free. Is this Family Business? Probably. Why is it different from the Tuscany scenario?

Example 3: Suppose I have to have an emergency appendectomy. Family Business? Depends on your own level of sharingness and your friends' squeamishness, but probably not. Most people would tell friends and acquaintances where relevant.

Example 4: Suppose I decide to have a vasectomy. Family Business? More likely. But what makes this different from the appendectomy example? Is it because it's about reproductive choices? But people talk about how many kids they want all the time. Is it because it's elective surgery? I'm not shy about telling people that I may need to have surgery to get a bunion corrected. Is it because it's about sex? Maybe, but people (especially women) discuss what form of birth control they use with various level of sharingness.

I still can't figure it out.

Hanah said...

Also, with talkative kids, be thankful that you live in a free country.

Vanessa said...

Hi there. Thanks for writing such a great blog. I am a frequent visitor and hope to use some of your wisdom in the future.

I don't have any kids just yet but I found the idea of "family business" extremely intriguing. Growing up, my family was never particularly secretive and I feel comfortable sharing family details with close and trusted friends (mostly, people who I think would actually care enough to listen).

Thinking about it deeper, I think it comes down to who is in that inner circle of trust and recently I found that I don't mind sharing but I don't like people asking or prying.

I look forward to reading about how the issue of family business works out.

John said...

Kids are very social these days, that's why. Perhaps you could tell them the possible dangers of saying family stuff to everyone? They might learn the importance of privacy that way. Actually, my kid is just as talkative. Last month, my kid's teacher told me that my son's been asking her about credit cards and debts! Apparently, he heard me talk about our family business' credit card financing and receivable financing. That's why I was told to be more aware if my kid's around when I talk about business. Maybe you could do that too.