By Eric Wilson
Successful people generally have enormous demands on their time. In addition to their family obligations, they may run a business, sit on corporate or philanthropic boards, volunteer in their communities, attend church functions, take care of elderly parents and tend to the myriad of challenges of managing their personal wealth. What is more, due to the intense pressure on parents to “succeed” both inside and outside the home, chances are their children’s schedules are just as hectic. Nowadays the “perfect” child is perceived to be strong, nice-looking, a stellar student, an all-star athlete, involved in church and in the community—and probably should play a little piano or violin for good measure. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.
“Most parents don’t want to give their kids
too much too soon. It just happens…”
For families with means, it can be very tempting to surround children with extra help, signing them up for private coaching and prep classes, as well as enlisting a tutor at the first sign of a less than an “A” average. However, in the struggle to find the right balance, it is worth remembering that failure in pursuit of success has a noble pedigree. Many people look back on their failures as the milestones that taught them some of life’s most valuable lessons. To quote Thayer Willis from her Spring 2015 “Navigator” newsletter, “Most parents don’t want to give their kids too much too soon. It just happens. When you have access to wealth and resources, it is the most natural thing in the world to share them with your child.”
As parents with means, it is more important than ever to impart the fundamental lessons of life to our children: accountability, reliability, economic self-sufficiency and, perhaps most important of all, letting our children know that it is alright to fail – that the pursuit of the goal is itself worthwhile, even when the goal is not achieved. In my two decades as an advisor, it is the rare individual that I have met who achieved greatness without failing—not just once, but multiple times. Taught the virtue of perseverance early on, these individuals have navigated their way through marriages that were on the brink of divorce, family businesses that were on the brink of bankruptcy or collapse, and jobs that were overly stressful, but proved to be the stepping stone to higher rungs on the economic ladder. What sustains us in life’s most challenging situations are the basic truths we have been taught. Teaching our children not to give up in the face of failure is a vital lesson and one of the most precious gifts we can give them.
If you would consider yourself a success, and you and your spouse have abundance, take a look in the mirror and ask these questions. How did you do it? Perhaps you escaped the limitations of a small town to gain access to larger opportunities. Perhaps through sacrificing fun things in your adolescent years, you were able to get into a particular school whose classmates or alums proved helpful to your career. How were you able to keep focused on your career goals when others around you were falling by the economic wayside? What core beliefs are now instilled in you as a result of your struggles? And are you now robbing from your children the lifetime of benefits that you now enjoy from the convictions you hold dear in order to make their lives a little more comfortable in the present? What is your vision for your children? Once you can see how you would like them to be shaped, it will change your perception of the process you are undertaking in the meantime. However, as every parent can attest, “in the meantime,” can be a difficult place to be.
One of the responses we receive most often when conducting family meetings for our clients is that it is simply “too late.” Their children are grown and in high school or college, or have gone their separate ways, and their habits “are what they are,” as one patriarch put it. Be encouraged. Life has a way of teaching the hardest lessons over and over to those who need to learn them the most. We have helped families to “begin again” with the financial training of their adult children by way of instructing their grandchildren, thus salvaging a generation. Also, numerous authors and counselors have published wonderful books and articles on navigating the roads of wealth over the last ten years. The resources are there if you will but use and implement them.
A friend and client put it like this: “we are struggling for the souls of our children. Not in an evangelical way, per se, but in a more basic way. If I can’t trust my son’s ability to make good decisions, how can I trust him with my wealth?” It is a good question and one we should all be asking ourselves. After all, if success means that we gain the whole world from a financial standpoint, yet lose our families, how successful are we?
In future columns, we will further explore this road of wealth by looking at it from different perspectives. In the next issue, we will discuss how your children actually have an advantage over you as you acclimate to wealth (particularly if you are a first generation success). Until then, enjoy the beginning of football season and use it as a way to re-connect.
Eric S. Wilson is a Senior Vice President, Family Wealth Director, and Founder of the Wilson Wealth Management Group at Morgan Stanley and for the past 20 years he has served the varied needs of individuals and families whose wealth has the potential to change the essential nature of their descendants’ lives. Mr. Wilson can be reached with questions by email at email@example.com, by phone at 877.442.5445, or via his website at www.morganstanleyfa.com/wilsonwealthmanagementgroup.