Father of the Bride: Five Ouchy Lessons on Transition


Steve Martin plays George Banks, a goofy dad, in the 1991 comedy remake of Father of the Bride. I've watched that film a million times with my three daughters. It is one of their all-time favorites.

The girls would howl with delight, roll their eyes and point in my direction (?!) every time the father did something slightly insane in response to his daughter's pending marriage. There was plenty to laugh about. Until recently.

Last month, I was the Father of the Bride. No, I wasn't chased by a Doberman Pincer or arrested in a supermarket, but I got to experience the right of passage first hand. It was a wonderful, moving experience but it certainly ushers in a whole new stage of life! I could be a grandpa before I know it...and, no, I don't think I am quite ready for that.

In retrospect, it occurred to me that there are some significant and poignant parallels between walking your daughter down the aisle, and going through other significant life or work transitions.

Whether you're entering the second half of life, getting married, sending your kids off to school, being promoted, changing roles, merging with another work group, changing companies, or retiring, here are some things to consider about making successful transitions. They might even come in handy if you have sons or daughters.

I learned it all from George Banks. And Franck.


1. Trust

If you've done your job right as a parent or leader you have modeled values that run deep. You need to trust the modeling has left a positive impression on those you care about and they have embraced behaviors based in values and principles. You're not in control of what others do... especially not your adult kids. Allowing them to be adult, make their own choices and live with the consequences is an act of trust. Similarly, when you let people in the workplace do their job without interference, you demonstrate your faith in them. That doesn't mean you abandon your kids or employees. You are present and available to guide, help and counsel when requested and required.


2. Make Space

Narcissistic or domineering parents or bosses seldom create the kind of environment where people develop around them. They build dependency, passive-aggressive resistance, and other fear-based coping behaviors. Then they wonder why other people don't measure up, are dependent, or fail to make their own mark in the world. People need space to grow. That includes our kids. As the Irish say, "You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was." Sometimes for our own growth we need to let the sun shine on others.


3. Don't Meddle

One way to create instant animosity is to meddle in our adult children's lives. No one with any sense wants Mom or Dad as a shadow. The same holds true at work. How many times has a President been sabotaged by the C.E.O. that hired them? Or, behind the scenes, had decisions and directions overturned by the former boss? Too many. How many parents have criticized or intervened in their grandchildren's upbringing? Again, too many. We need to demonstrate our confidence by resisting the urge to meddle in the business of others.


4. Don't Fix or Rescue

Why do we think it's helpful to tell people how to do things? Unsolicited advice creates emotional distance both in the family and at work. Most people, including our adult children, don't want or need our advice unless they are overly dependent or have asked for it directly. Telling them what and how to do things is disrespectful and infantilizing. So is swooping in and saving the day. The need to fix or rescue likely has more to do with our own ego than the well being of others.


5. Let Go

Detachment is an act of eldership and wisdom. As a parent, letting go means seeing and treating your adult child as independent and autonomous. We must trust that they can make their own way in the world without our protection or interference. It means leaving the helicopter parked in the garage and allowing our adult children to live the life they choose, with whom they choose. Similarly in life and work transitions, we must see ourselves as sufficient to meet the unknown with grace and skill. Letting go of old forms, old ways of being, and past roles frees us up to begin new phasings in our lives and work. When we meet the future with fear instead of confidence, we sabotage our own ability to continue learning and growing.


Posted on July 1, 2013 .