The Family Dynamics Problem

“What the heck is going on with families these days?”

I’ve heard something like that from most of my clients over the past year. The behavior exhibited by some families has become shocking and troublesome. 

Here are a few examples…

Example #1

One client relayed the story of how two families got into a brawl in a church parking lot while the cars were lining up to go to the cemetery for a graveside service. The fight started when two men, who were cousins, got into an argument over the order of their cars in the procession.

The argument escalated, and the two men exchanged blows. The next thing the Funeral Director knew, everybody started getting out of the cars fights erupted all over the church parking lot. Eventually, the police were called to break up the fights.

Example #2

This week, one of my clients received a scathing Google review from someone who attended a visitation and was upset because the line of mourners was too long. Her one-star review included this recommendation “The staff needs to learn how to move people through more quickly.”

The funeral home gets a one-star review because a lot of people cared enough about the deceased and the family to show and offer their support. It’s too bad she felt inconvenienced and was having a bad day. I’m guessing the grieving family who experienced a tragic loss wasn’t having a good day either.

Example #3

One of my clients received three one-star Google reviews within just two days. I called the funeral home owner to find out what happened. Here are the highlights.

A 40-year-old woman died in a car accident. Someone ran a red light and T-boned her car, killing her instantly.

When the family came to make arrangements, the deceased’s husband, his wife’s 65-year-old mother, and his wife’s two sisters walked in. Throughout the meeting, it was apparent that the mother thought she was the decision maker and that her late daughter’s husband would have to sit there and pay the bill.

The mother wanted an elaborate event with a very expensive casket, and the husband wanted a more modest event with a rental casket followed by a cremation. The funeral home owner tried to defuse the situation, but it quickly became a yelling match. 

The owner sided with the husband because he was legally the decision-maker. The mother was so mad that she refused to attend her daughter’s funeral. The mother and the deceased’s sisters were the ones that left the one-star reviews, and each of them criticized the funeral home owner.

What the heck is going on with families these days?!?!?!

Is this a post-covid psychosis? Is this the result of how the media did a great job of dividing Americans over the past few years? 

Did a generation of people who spent their formative years watching Jerry Springer and World Wide Wrestling gain control of society?

I wish I knew the answer to these questions. I suspect it won’t get better soon.

My clients tell me they have two major problems; navigating family dynamics and attracting/retaining good employees. Somehow I suspect these problems are related.

Years ago, I had a conversation with a youth pastor and asked him what it was like to work with teenagers. He said teenagers are always “emotionally raw”. He treaded lightly because the least little thing could set them off. 

Maybe that’s what happened to the adults in our society. They’ve all regressed and are acting like emotionally raw teenagers.  

So what can you do about this situation? Here are a few suggestions.

#1 – Protect your staff

During the pandemic, there was a mass exodus of healthcare workers in this country. One of the primary reasons was the abuse they received from families and how they didn’t feel supported by their employers.

The same thing will happen in the funeral industry if you don’t protect your staff from bullies.

#2 – Study family dynamics

It would be best to learn about family dynamics to understand what is happening with today’s families. That’s why my new arrangements course includes information on the four primary roles within each family and how they play out in the arrangement room. 

I also included information on the differences between each generation, especially regarding their preferred form of communication. For example, if I want to talk to one of my millennial children, I’m expected to text them first to see if they can talk. If I did the same thing to a silent generation adult, they’d think I was crazy.

#3 – Be clear with families about what you can and cannot control

For example, the funeral home owner I referenced above received three one-star reviews because the mother thought he was siding with the husband. He needed to clarify that the state dictates who is the decision maker, not him.

My new arrangement course includes something I call the Confirming Authority Script, and I recommend using that at the start of every arrangement meeting.

Family dynamics are a problem today, and adults are acting like emotionally raw teenagers. After raising four teenagers, I recommend buckling up and enjoying the ride. 

There will be exhausting days, but this time will pass.

Until next time


PS: Many of you jumped on the 50% discount for my new arrangements course last week. That discount is still available; just use the coupon code “Early” when you get to the checkout page. Here’s the link to the course. The 50% discount goes away next weekend.


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