Basic Estate Documents

Recently, a local lawyer advised a friend, “Sorting these documents, now, will save you a multiple of time, money and hassle – later.”

I would add… it is best to make end of life plans when stress is low.


With Andy’s death, I re-read my stuff last week. I was surprised how little needed to change.

Indeed, a good attorney saved my family time, money and hassle.

General Durable Power of Attorney – this lets someone I nominate act as “me” while I am alive – I do not need to be disabled.

The POA does not enable anyone of act on my behalf after I die. This limbo period (immediately after death) should be considered by you and your family.

The POA does not enable anyone to step into my work roles, say, as a fiduciary. This needs to be considered.

If you execute a POA then place the original in a fire safe where you can run it through a shredder (not joking) in case there’s an issue with the person you appointed – I’ve seen a lot of wacky stuff in my life, things change and this is a very powerful document.

Living Will – this covers how I’d like to be treated when I’m dying. Very useful for your family, who will be blasted if you’re in any sort of condition to need to dust off this document. Also useful for your medical representatives, who may be reluctant to deny you treatment.

Medical Durable Power of Attorney – just what it sounds like – who is authorized to make medical decisions on my behalf. Keep the contact details up to date and available to your family.

HIPAA Releases – who can receive my medical information. There could be people you’d like to have informed, but not act on your behalf.

Living Trust – a very useful form of trust – assets can come in/out and it can be used to title financial and real property assets – a local attorney can tell you more.

These documents are not expensive to put in place.


My current will was done ~13 years ago and has seen 4 changes.

The changes were minor, inexpensive and easy to arrange. Once again, doing it right the first time saved us time, money and hassle.

The original will predates my kids. You might get a kick out how it played out.

Before my wife was pregnant, I was leaving my life to charity. At the signing meeting, my lawyer, who drafted the docs, smiled and said, “I bet I see you in a couple years to change that part.”

Sure enough, my kids arrived, I got to know them and I made some revisions. Those revisions start to get a little complex so I’ll outline them in another post.

Most people don’t need complexity. All my assets, eventually, flow into my living trust, which already holds title to most of my assets. Standard clauses are used to protect my spouse and follow the tax code.

Whatever you decide to do – double check what’s required for a will to be valid where you live. There are places where a handwritten letter, witnessed by the sole beneficiary, doesn’t work. Colorado is one of them – link is to what’s required for a will to be valid in Colorado.


A good attorney, familiar with the laws in your state, is essential. She will have you decide, in advance, on the areas where disputes happen.

Ask your attorney about something called Joint Tenancy with rights of Survivorship. It can be a useful way to hold property titles for some situations. Link from the Colorado Bar Association.

Also find out about successor beneficiaries for your assets. Certain jurisdictions will let you nominate where your assets go, separate from a will.

Your attorney will likely have a checklist of items for you to consider => 529 accounts, retirement accounts, death benefits… take time to think it through.

The US has something called Stepped-Up Basis – it is worth learning about. Basically, certain assets (like real estate) have their taxable basis reset at the date of death.

I’ll illustrate with a quick example: Grandpa G bought a house in 1980 and his taxable basis is $50,000. He dies in 2020 and the house is worth $1,000,000. If he sells the house the day before he dies the gain is $950,000. If his estate sells after his death then then gain is $0.

Be aware there are wrinkles to do with trusts and certain types of assets don’t qualify.

With all this stuff => ask an expert.


If you trust someone enough to give them a General Durable Power of Attorney then consider making them a signing officer on an “operating account.”

More than a decade before we needed it, a grandparent did this in our family. This made it easy for a trusted family member to pay bills before we were in a situation to invoke the POA.

It also removes the expectation for the wealthiest member of your family to finance everything, which can create an unnecessary distraction when you should be supporting each other.




Kids => If your kids end up orphaned then you might want to split their “care” from their “finances.” The skills of a Guardian could be very different than those a Conservator. Are you familiar with these terms? Ask your lawyer to explain.

Andy used to joke that all we needed to do was leave him with enough to cover a beach hut in Central America. With a small nest egg, he’d ensure our kids were well loved and became pro surfers…

We miss him dearly.


Final words of advice…

1/. There are good people who are useless under duress

2/. There are people who cope with grief by misusing veto power

Think carefully about who you put in charge and what you let them control.

I have a medical doctor and a military officer in my structure => individuals I trust to be compassionate, and execute my wishes, under duress.


This a quick outline – take expert advice from someone familiar with your jurisdiction.

I’m not an expert. Over the years, I have hired experts and it has proven to be money well spent.

All That Remains

We finished our volcano science unit with a trip to a volcano! This was the first field expedition of Home School.

Someday my kids will move out. This is a summary of what I hope they take with them.

Here’s what’s most important to remember:

  • We’ve already won
  • It’s ok to say no
  • We can handle the truth
  • We can do difficult things

Lunch on top – my wife catered the kids and I made a huge error by self-catering!

There’s a great book out there called Winning The Loser’s Game – a “loser’s game” is one where you win by not beating yourself. The book has an investment angle but, in many ways, a successful family is created with a similar approach of avoiding error.

Errors such as… financial ruin, substance abuse, fractured relationships and emotional upheaval.

Many unforced errors occur, and repeat, because their causes are deeply programmed into our consciousness, and family culture.

To avoid errors, we need to think slower and whittle away at the habits that hold us back.

So how do we slow down our thinking?

We take away feelings of obligation, feelings which can lead to blame and lack of personal ownership => All family is optional

We don’t let pressure build up… Everyone can speak, about whatever they’d like to discuss, and we commit to a “no secrets” policy.

Secrets, taboos, not being able to speak => these habits make it easier for evil doers to do bad things.

Ask child abuse survivors to describe their family culture and you will find a consistent pattern, of repression and secrecy, that enabled their abusers.



I got the next tip from a four-generational family, where the patriarch was deeply successful (work, family, financial, community). The family has multi-generational quarterly meetings and has successfully managed two transitions between generations.

Close but not too close – via staying in your own space – via sorting your own food – with a respect for differences.


Take the above and invert them…

…a feeling of obligation, never being able to say what’s on my mind, staying in close quarters, eating different food…

then… add alcohol, relentless toddler noise, politics or any emotional trigger..

and… BOOM!

Not winning!


Carrying weight is a privilege. On the way down, I grabbed his pack and he busted out a quick hill repeat. Blood was tasted, apparently. He gave himself an introduction to “race cough.” The kid has a passion for hills!

What does winning look like?

We enjoy sharing experiences with each other, usually in nature.

It is about shared experience and, frankly, it need not be all that fun. My son and I find meaning enduring difficulties together.

Each generation, each household, each adult needs to affirm its own set of values and define winning on its own terms.

If there isn’t a consensus then we remember… it’s OK to say “no” and all family is optional.

Also… we don’t need to agree to be buddies and I’ll respect your right to not have an opinion.


Some multigenerational thoughts…

Seek to connect not correct. Do not put a spotlight on people, just ask an easy, “how are you doing.”

Down, and up, the generational chain remember our goal is shared experience, not optimization.

Joys, and disappointments, with founders/followers/descendants are best used to motivate positive personal change in myself.

The most powerful form of teaching is living an open life where people see us modeling the best we have to offer.

Pay attention to those who bring out your best.



What about money and finances?

The fundamental point is everyone pays their own way and we do not create incentives to consume more. By the way, COVID gives you a useful opportunity to make changes in your family spending choices.

Any capital that become multigenerational is managed in a custodial capacity.

What does that mean?

It means you take care of things you didn’t create so others can enjoy them.

When financial decisions need to be made, we remember we are less likely to make errors if we keep it…

  • Simple
  • Low cost to hold
  • Focused on long term capital gain
  • Tax effective
  • If it won’t make a difference then wait

I use the above as a checklist because it slows my decision making.

For me, the three most important factors to remember are: cost to hold, leverage/borrowings and wait if it doesn’t matter. Together they nudge me to avoid the most common errors of investing => fees, tinkering, borrowing leading to ruin, cost to hold resulting in cash crisis….


After I’ve taught the above, I will hand it off and focus on modeling grace through what remains of my life.

Take what’s useful and make it your own.

Adversity Reveals

This picture reminds me that leaning into the difficulties of fatherhood has one of the highest returns on investment, in my life.

Saturday’s entry in my Daily Stoic (link is to Amazon) was a reminder that adversity reveals, an excellent topic during these times.


I have a hunch, Colorado is in a lull in our virus process. I’m taking advantage of the lull to get outside.

This week, my kids are wrapping up an academic year’s worth of math.

Five weeks to learn, one week of review – on to the next year’s concepts.

Financial price was ~$500 per kid. The price in time was 4 classes a week (1-on-1, 30 minutes) and 4-6 homework sessions of 20-45 minutes each. The classes were led by a Middle School teacher. Her skill is how we made such rapid progress.

My role was making it happen and dealing with the occasional fallout when the kids struggled with the new concepts.

  • Financial investment – less than expected.
  • Time investment – less than expected.
  • Emotional Investment – more than expected.

It’s probably like that with a lot of things.

The true skill lies in pushing through the emotional hurdle of the status quo.


Bison Peak, Lost Creek Wilderness.

Our experience with Summer Math reminded me that harder is more meaningful. The kids have gotten a lot out of their struggles. In overcoming “math,” they know they have achieved something.

The challenges of these times have demanded more from all of us. Hopefully, you’ve seen the benefit of having to step up.

Difficult does not imply worse.


Right around 12,000 feet in the Rockies.

Governance matters.

Our local and state governments have done an excellent job at navigating through the early stages of this crisis. I disagree with a lot of what they’ve done! Part of what they’ve done well is manage all of the disagreeing voices.

The process of translating “the choices of government” to “an outcome in society” requires social trust and cohesion.

America has trust issues and many are making them worse. However, the lesson here isn’t for our country or your local jurisdiction. The lesson is for your family and your marriage.

There’s a balance between competence and cohesion. To lead, to govern, you need to be keeping both in mind and acting in a way that builds social cohesion.


Time and time again, I have been surprised by outcome.

We are 15 weeks into a process that will take far longer than I expect.

Adversity will continue to reveal.

Helping Friends and Family


Tuesday’s essay generated interesting questions.

These three questions touch on my work as a fiduciary.


#1 – What are the best types of incentives?

There are so many issues here.

Who is deciding, why are they deciding, what is the goal of assistance, does helping help, are you seeking to “parent” an “adult”, what does the situation require, where will this take us in 10/20/40 years, where is my energy best spent… and on and on.

A starting point for tackling these questions is this reading list. If you’re operating in a fiduciary capacity then the linked books are essential reading.

Before we get into thoughts about others, how are you doing? How’s your life? I ask myself this question over and over because of certain realities:

  • I am more likely to be successful helping myself
  • My ability to influence people outside myself is limited, prone to error and usually leads to resentment
  • The people most open to my help don’t need it
  • And the biggest thing I have found… what we think is “right” will most certainly change over time

How do you react when others try to help you? Many of us believe we already know what’s required of ourselves. Having an outsider give us more information rarely causes improvement.

Do you care enough to change? By this I mean, “Do I care enough about this individual to inconvenience myself?”

Am I willing to spend time with this person, consistent & frequent time, to help them achieve their goals?

…and it needs to be their goals. Not a goal of pleasing someone else. Not a goal scaffolded onto them by someone who thought it would be good for them.

If you “flow chart” the above then you’ll see there are high hurdles to overcome before you’ll be in a position to consider helping someone, beyond your daily example and the choices you make.

…and that’s a good thing because what most people truly need is you to listen and hear what they think about their life.

Listening, without knowing, and taking small actions will greatly improve your relationship and that’s more valuable than any external incentives you might apply.


#2 – What do you think about financial incentives inside family systems?

I believe in universal support: such as childcare, health insurance and value-for-money education.

Reduce stress inside the marriage (childcare), reduce the risk of ruin (health insurance) and improve human capital (education). Modest, achievable goals.

I do not believe in subsidizing personal consumption choices.

I do not believe in making it easier for a family member to enter the housing market. Learning how to wait, and buy modestly, is an essential life lesson.

A core value, that was taught to me by three prior generations, “everyone pays their own way.”

When considering financial support to an individual, run the numbers on providing the same benefit to everyone in the family system for 20+ years. Small choices have large impacts when repeated across decades and extended to successive generations.

Just like when you evaluate risk, you must assume you will repeat this choice many times. The discipline to assume you will repeat, for a long time, will help you think better.


#3 – What’s my role?

Share knowledge from prior generations, to listen, to love and to set the absolute best example I can within my own life.

The gift I give is my time and a key benefit I bring to the family system is having my own life in order. I am living the life I wish for you.

I am keeping my life together, so I don’t become an emotional or financial liability to my grown kids. I won’t be able to avoid every problem but sticking to the basics will eliminate many unforced errors.

I cultivate the humility to appreciate that I am clueless about what’s best for you. I’m willing to share what’s worked for me but, beware, my memory is clouded by hindsight bias and an inability to see where luck has greatly benefited me.

If you’re unsure then… just love ’em.

Be the brand.

Fear and Panic

Yesterday, my local CostCo sold out of Charmin in 15 minutes.

My cognitive capacity is so lit up I can’t remember my daily calendar.

Stress makes us stupid.

So…

#1 – execute my strategy, made before the current crisis

One of the nice things about following a rebalancing strategy is you are very likely to have sold (a little) at the peak. My pre-crisis rebalancing happened January 4th and I sold enough to cushion the psychological impact of recent declines.

I rebalanced on Monday and again today.

Limit down opens => phew!

#2 – lean into fear

Since 2014, my portfolio assets have been 60/40 in equities/bonds. For the last six years, I’ve expected bonds to get hammered by rising rates. It didn’t happen. Been wrong the entire time but it didn’t hurt me.

For my long-term capital, I’d rather use a 90/10 strategy (90% in equities). The trouble is getting there. I have zero confidence in my ability to pick the right time to shift. So I created a re-weighting strategy based on VTSAX/SP500.

A simple rule: as the market moves from 20% down to 50% down, I will rebalance equities upwards from 60% to 90% of portfolio holdings.

Today’s rebalance moved me to 63/37. The 63 is held 42/21 VTSAX/VTIAX.

Simple to execute => each time, I rebalance I check the %age off the peak, if we’ve set a new low then adjust the equity weighting upwards. Otherwise, steady as she goes.

This simple strategy is not easy to do => either I want to rush more money in (FOMO) or hold money back (plain old fear).

#3 – real estate

When your neighbors are stocking up on TP in preparation for the end times… it’s generally not a good time to be selling real estate.

What about buying? Real estate prices respond much more slowly to feelings/sentiment. At the last downturn, local real estate didn’t “get cheap” until 18-24 months after the crisis.

I suspect we’re going to see the residential market stop dead for a few months.

After that? I have no idea.

#4 – family

My family has been watching me stock the house for three weeks. They were amused but now we are ready.

I’ve been reassuring the kids they are going to be OK. There’s a lot of fear around.

At school, our youngest heard that “old people” were dying. She took me to one side and asked if I was going to be ok => Yes, Sweetie, I’m going to make it.

That said, a finance background is useful for understanding the impact of compounding. Our state saw a 33% increase in positive tests today. Keep that going through the end Spring Break and we will have 4,200 positives in 16 days (from 44 at Noon today).

Notwithstanding an absence of positive tests in Boulder County, I’m going to start home schooling on Monday. A significant burden on myself but a small price to slow the spread.

#5 – community

Will Colorado’s experience follow Italy, Hong Kong or Taiwan? I don’t know.

What we know for certain is there will be a large, sudden burden on the lower end of our communities. Consider giving a sizable donation to your local food bank.

We also know we will save lives by staying away from each other.

#6 – immunity

Something simple, but not easy, for readers of this blog => cut your training in half.

Take your program, cut it in half and watch what happens with the infection rate in your state.

If your state is on a log-scale infection rate then it will become apparent far more quickly than any fitness loss.

Your immunity will get a boost from this change and you’ll preserve all the health benefits from exercise.

#7 – cash, debt and leverage

If you have an emergency fund then this would be a good time to make sure it is liquid. I have three-months expenses sitting in my checking account.

Not willing to lean into the market downturn? Consider using surplus cash to pay down debt.

If the downturn persists then do you know what can ruin you? There are many types of leverage => I’ve written about this a lot.

 

 

 

 

How Wealth Endures

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Over time, human nature does far more to address income inequality than the policies of your favorite politician.

Families that succeed across generations have certain traits we can learn from. While you can’t control your birth situation, there is a lot you can do to influence family wealth.

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My great-grandfather was one of the wealthiest men in Canada and I have an early memory of seeing him on the cover of Fortune magazine. Down my branch of the family, the magazine cover endured longer than his finances, which found their way back to society within two generations.

On the other side of my family tree, my great-great-grandfather was wealthy, but not cover-of-Fortune wealthy. A small amount of his money will eventually pass through to my children. I get a kick out of this as he was born in the mid-1880s.

Living rich is different than living well and it takes generations for this difference to become apparent.

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A favorite quote, “there has never been a more expensive time to be rich.”

Dropping this gem will likely get you a smirk and an eye roll from most young people. However, it touches on a truth of our time and provides a warning to wealthy families.

Over the last 40 years, a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Lifting the bottom of the wealth curve has impacted the top of the curve.

While we were lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, “the rich” started to live differently. Morgan Housel’s article touches on these changes and reminded me of a valuable legacy from my great-grandfather (the one on the Fortune cover). A non-financial legacy that made it four-generations down my family tree.

Camping.

The fondest memories of my childhood happened at a YMCA summer camp. A camp largely unchanged from when my uncles attended 20 years before me.

40 years on, I ask myself:

Am I willing to constrain myself to get a better outcome for my children’s future selves?

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, you may develop “requirements” that increase your baseline cost of living. Your “requirements” are your business. However, know that your luxuries will become your children’s baseline.

These cultural baselines have unintended consequences in family systems. The kids who can keep up with their spending aspirations have a greater risk of neglecting their families in favor of money. The kids who can’t keep up are more likely to reject you, to protect their self-identities.

I’ve known five generations of my family and have witnessed this pattern across each generational transition => the increasing spending of the ascendant, and the pain as the descendant fall out of their childhood demographic.

I believe there is a better way.

I’m going to offer three areas for you to consider.

I’ve made mistakes in each area. Having kids later in life (highly recommended), the main people who have had their values skewed by my errors are my wife, and myself.

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The three areas are vacations, housing and education.

Your first filter is to ask: Are we living well, or are we living rich?

To keep yourself honest, search for your reaction when other people live a certain way.

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VACATIONS

Cultivate interests that hedge your need for cash flow.

Camping, driving distance from home, has a very different long term cash flow impact than Surfing in Kauai, via private jet.

I’ve spent a small fortune trying to make family trips work (catamaran charters, seaplanes, traveling staff, ship’s captain with deckhand).

Everyone had a blast but what did I achieve?

I increased the hedonistic baseline for my wife, my kids and myself. Not a big deal to make a mistake. However, if I create a habit then what happens when three kids, and five grandkids, scale my choices across their lifetimes?

Simple, one-on-one trips in nature is where I focus these days.

We will come back to the scaling effect.

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HOUSING

Housing is the most consequential capital purchase most of us will make and it’s a tricky one because of the changes happening in many of the places where we grew up.

My wife and I went to high school in cities (Boulder/Vancouver) where many of the graduates are unlikely to be able to afford to live in their childhood homes. The winners of global wealth creation have bid up local real estate values.

My notional share of my great-great-grandfather’s estate is about $100,000. Money that would have proven very useful if I had chosen teaching, rather than finance, for my first career.

If you ask my seven-year old what type of house she’d like to live in then she’ll describe something that looks a lot like my grandparent’s homes: 1,500 sq ft per person, swimming pool, grounds… you name it. She’d put us into a 7,500 sq ft mansion with seven bathrooms.

She’s not alone. As soon I as I had the cash, I bought myself a monstrous house. Buying at the top of the market, I was lucky to avoid financial disaster.

Am I willing to constrain myself to get a better outcome for my children’s future selves?

Yes I am.

Coming out of the last recession, we downsized and bought two rental properties in our school district. I’m positioning the family to do a similar thing coming out of the next recession.

The kids were disappointed to learn that the next house was going to be smaller but I’ve been watching what they do, rather than their aspirations. When my kids can pick, they want all of us jammed into a bunk room => they love a seething, noisy mess!

Beware of the preferences of others and pay attention to where you are happiest, rather than what you think you should like.

What you don’t see when you “get the house” is the life you don’t lead as a result of living there. The time you don’t spend together, the energy spent managing a large asset you don’t need.

Once again, these lost opportunities for connection scale across time for your grown children and grandchildren.

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EDUCATION

Graduate debt-free with skills enabling you to get paid

This implies a few things:

  • working in high school, and for a long time thereafter
  • public education, as long as possible
  • parents who are willing to let you fail, experience poverty and learn from your own mistakes

Unless your family is exceptionally wealthy, or you are an outstanding student, you are going to be much better taking the bulk of your family’s education dollars and investing them over a 20-25 year time horizon. The goal being to enable your family to (continue to) live in a great public school zip code.

For example, the Boulder Valley School District isn’t (yet) priced out of reach. BVSD just built a school in the eastern part of the county and we have strong political support for local investment in education.

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Are you seeing how all of this fits together?

  • Moderation of spending, regardless of being able to afford it
  • A modest allocation in personal real estate assets
  • Over time, yields long-term capital within the family system
  • A focus on helping the family stay local and avoid shackling themselves with education loans
  • When graduating debt-free, young adults repeat the cycle

This works so long as everyone pays their own way, for the way they wish to live.

Collectively, the family system avoids subsidies towards personal consumption.

Each branch, and generation, of the family defines their values, and lives with the consequences of their choices.

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Further Reading

Basic Week Parenting

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When I was training seriously, I’d start most seasons with 13-weeks where I would “stay put and roll the week.” Having a simple, basic week is a powerful tool for getting stuff done and avoids the cost of variation.

The cost of variation is the energy required to consider alternatives, to choose and to negotiate for “space” for ourselves.

When you are at the limit of your ability, patience or capacity to recover => eliminating unnecessary variation (and associated conflicts) can be a big help. I’ve brought a similar approach to my family.

I’ll use my son’s schedule as an example, here’s what he’s doing November to April:

  • Monday – school/soccer
  • Tuesday – school/water polo
  • Wednesday – choir/school/jiujitsu
  • Thursday – school/swim lesson
  • Friday – school/go to mountains
  • Saturday – ski group/movie night
  • Sunday – family ski/back home

Every-single-morning, he’s going to read for 20 minutes before doing anything. He is usually reading by 6:31am.

Despite everyone “knowing” the schedule, we write it out and place it on the kitchen counter. This lets everyone have a look and get comfortable with the plan.

There is variety between the days, but little variation between the weeks. For example, I don’t need to worry about what we are going to do on a rainy February weekend.

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The bulk of my “life” fits into the time before my kids wake up, when they are at school and my “days off.” In the winter, many weeks, my wife handles the kids from end of school Thursday to Friday evening.

Bedtimes, my own included, are set so we can wake up and keep the week rolling. When we start to get run down bedtimes move earlier and earlier.

I give myself zero flexibility with my own wake-up time => “no excuses wake-up” eliminates energy spent on choice.

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Some principles we use.

Sleep, school work and healthy eating is our highest priority. Create the habits and energy to outperform.

Kids don’t know what they want. Our minds are hardwired to complain about every single change and variation => just look inside! Absent a repeating schedule, you are certain to have endless negotiations. Exhausting, when you don’t have energy to spare.

My kids want: love, to demonstrate competence and acceptance => the schedule needs to provide everyone with a chance to meet their basic human needs.

Clear ownership of responsibilities. Who is doing what? The kids are hardwired to compete for your time. Lay out the mommy/daddy times, make it equitable. With our preschoolers, showing them their “mommy days” was very important to reduce conflict and let mom see she was doing enough.

Keep it rolling at grade level. I do not care about the relative performance of my kids. I am most interested in identifying holes. If you have a future Rhodes scholar in the house then it will become apparent in its own time. However, if you miss the fact that your little one doesn’t know how to read then it will severely damage self-confidence, their attitude toward education and their capacity to teach themselves.

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My constraints are extremely useful as they keep me from over-doing-it. I have a track record of burying myself with fatigue.

My goal is to do what needs to be done, strengthen my marriage and have peace of mind => to know I am executing to the best of my ability, most days. I know what I want.

Because I witness my internal dialogue, I am constantly reminded of my shortcomings!

Meeting a reasonable basic week gives me an anchor and avoids the temptation to increase my expectations of myself.

Simplicity and repetition.

 

Growing Up

11_Lexi.jpg

Our oldest turned 11 this month.

We are past the fog of the early years and moving away from a moment-to-moment focus.

The way things have played out:

  • 0-6 years old => learn to get along with others
  • 6-12 years old => learn how to learn
  • 12 years old onwards => learn how to live independently

With a desire to prepare the kids for Phase Three, I ask myself, “How do my kids see me act?”

I find myself lacking at this transitional point.


My kids’ teen years will not be well served by listening to me complain. Complaining is endemic in my demographic, usually about the shortcomings of others.

Most my complaining is internal.

Likewise, they won’t be served well by watching me manage a team of staff to cater to their every whim. You see, my strong marriage (today) is a function of a decade of outside assistance around our home. Creeping ever-upwards, this outside help had a side-effect of my kids getting used to being waited on (and me doing less at home).

Beware of the double-whammy => complaining about the staffing required to take care of things you’re unwilling to do.

So I need to change, but what should I change?

My situation or my attitude?


Start by considering what you know is true. In my case…

We have stable finances, a loving family and good health

I’m thinking that this indicates that I need to adjust my attitude rather than my situation.

That block quote is a worth considering in your own life.

Are your problems your problem?

My problems aren’t my problem. I have great problems. I’ve done a good job of improving them.

But it is more than my attitude that needs adjusting.

An improved attitude will correct the faulty thinking inside me but it will not prepare my kids to live in the world.


My kids have _really_ short memories => they are completely dominated by the recent past.

With this in mind, I’ve been playing a new game => introducing my family to TINA (there is no alternative).

The game is cutting outside assistance (nannies, sitters, au pairs and cleaners) and consolidating our schedules. It’s a test if outside help really helps.

We are three-quarters of the way through a reduction of ~4,000 hours of annual assistance. TINA forces us to “work it out” and gives us an incentive to train the kids.

Now, being pointman on cleaning our toilets has not improved my life.

However, and this is an essential insight, my_life_is_no_worse after I have removed the outside assistance.

This lack of negative impact makes me wonder, “Did the decade-long upward creep of spending actually made my life better?”

In the heat of the preschool years, it most certainly did.

However, my kids aren’t the only ones growing up.

Helping Kids

lexi_11I’ve been playing a game where I greet “challenging” kids by name and try to chat with them.

I am leaning against an urge to avoid them.

I aim for a kind word because it is tough to go into an environment, daily, where you’re not fitting in.

An environment where you could be forgiven for thinking that you are being told that “you” are unacceptable (rather than your behavior).

Some of these kids have no safe haven.


I was asked,

If he was your kid then what would you do?

I’ve been thinking about it => Kindness and Mastery.

I would teach kindness by improving the way I interact with everyone around me => his lack of kindness is likely taught at home.

I would find a way for the kid to demonstrate mastery to someone.


Consistent Role Models => I’m in my kids’ lives and I am modeling the behavior I expect from them.

I’m showing my daughters the sort of husband I would like for them. I’m showing my son how I’d like him to act in the world.

The role model doesn’t need to be you.

In certain domains, it is better if I act through peers & coaches.


Where’s The Win? => for yourself, and your kid

  • Where is the “win” in your life?
  • What are you projecting on to your family?
  • What can your kid excel at?
  • If he’s disengaged then are you fully engaged?
  • Might he be mirroring your relationship?

If I see a challenging kid do something well (sport, kindness, reading) then I go out of my way to give them props.

Around my house, I am quick to point out when my kids do something better than me and I acknowledge my mistakes.


Sports => If you find yourself with an aggressive kid then give them a socially acceptable physical outlet.

Moguls, cliffs, chutes, mountains, camping, water polo, medley swimming, jujitsu, BMX, skateboarding…

…activity is superior to modeling anti-social behavior on electronics.

The activities my kids most enjoy don’t have a scoreboard and we don’t go near judged sports.


For lollapalooza effects, combine the above => demonstrating mastery to a male role model will reduce anti-social behavior in boys.

Our children will get the attention they crave one way, or another.

Enhancing Family Harmony

byrn_kids_2019Here’s how I run my house.

It saves a lot of hassle and reduces resentments that build, then blow, when people feel obligated.

I repeat these mantras, out loud, in front of my wife and kids.

I get buy-in, across generations and between households.


#1 => All family is optional.

Opt-in or opt-out, I’m ok either way.

If you opt-in with a difficult person then best to limit the interaction to short visits where you go to them.


#2 => It’s OK to say no.

When someone blows their stack, it’s often a result of their inability to say “no.”

People that have trouble setting limits need to be constantly reassured that it is OK to set limits!

Likewise, if you happen to have a person in the family that uses social pressure to manipulate others then you may need to find a non-threatening way to remind everyone that it’s OK to say “no.”

For example, my kids like to try-it-on with new babysitters. On the first day, we have an “all parties” meeting and I explain they are likely to test boundaries and it’s OK to say “no.” I also give the sitter the option to call me up and I’ll say “no” for them.

Keep a look out for someone saying “no” to you and your mind starting a dialogue that they are wrong. Slap yourself down and remind yourself that it is OK to say “no!”


#3 => If you can’t stand someone then, chances are, someone can’t stand you.

Impossible, you say?

Maybe you’re perfect but I’m certainly not.

So it’s best if we mutually agree that we’re going to do our best to be polite to each other and get along as best we can.

If we can’t get along then there’s always mantras #1 and #2.


Bonus Tips

A => Don’t invite someone over, get rocked and tell them what you really think of them! How on Earth will that make things better for anyone?

B => Close but not too close => A mantra from the most successful multi-generational family I know. Three adult generations, who get along, do a lot together and always maintain their personal space.