The following column from Phoebe Venable, CapWealth President & COO, appeared in The Tennessean on June 30, 2017.
At the end of this past school year, my middle-school-age son didn’t turn in a paper. My son, who is smart, hard-working (normally) and a good student, took a 0, on purpose.
As if grades didn’t matter. As if all the work he’s put into school didn’t matter. I was shocked — so much so that I had a sudden vision of him growing up to become a lazy and entitled brat of privilege. My shock became fury.
Two kinds of opportunities
Our children live our lives until they build their own lives. We work hard to provide the best education possible, a nice home, vacations and all the material things that our children enjoy. But our children need to understand that all these things we give them are opportunities.
That one day, all the opportunities provided by mom and dad — to be nurtured, to gain knowledge, to make good choices, to learn from mistakes, to experience the good life — will be gone.
The opportunities will then be their own to find, to create and capitalize upon. We’ve done all we could do to get them to the plate. Now they’re taking their own swing at the American dream.
When we heard about my son’s paper, he received a lecture on responsibility, respect and not taking anything for granted. Very directly, we told him how he’s enjoying the results of our swing at the American dream. Whether or not he fully understood, I’m not sure. But I am confident that he’ll never deliberately bomb a school assignment again. And hopefully he got the message that opportunities are everywhere around him.
Though I may have overreacted when I learned about the paper, my worry is one that many families share. Having worked hard all your life to attain wealth, be it the upper-middle-class or filthy-rich variety (ours is the former, not the latter), how do you ensure your kids aren’t infected with rich-kid-itis?
How do you teach kids, who’ve only known comfort and plenty, to become independent, productive adults with a work ethic?
Raising independent, productive children
- First, you must model the behavior you want from your kids. Don’t be blasé about the things you’ve earned. You worked hard to get them and your children need to know that. You value the things you have not because they’re inherently nice, pleasurable, comfortable and expensive, but because of the discipline and labor that was required to attain them. Simpler, less pricey things have value, too, for the same reason.
- Value what you’ve earned, but value people more. Always think of others and have respect for them, no matter their origins, their vocation, their social strata or their tax bracket. You demonstrate this to your children very simply: in how you treat people. Another is through charitable giving and philanthropy. You don’t have to be rich to give to a food bank or volunteer some time.
- Make them work. Not only should your children have duties at home, but they should have part-time and/or summer jobs when they’re teens. Nothing instills the value of hard work better than a low-glamour, low-wage job.
- Finally, your children need to know they’ll be relying solely upon themselves to build a career, find purpose, and get through life’s highs and lows. Sure, you can help them, but don’t make them helpless by giving them too much financial support.
- I recommend sharing the parable of the man of faith who was sure that God would save him from a flood. First a car, then a boat, and finally a helicopter came, but he declined help from them all. He perished and when he got to heaven, he asked the Lord why he didn’t save him. God replied: “I tried. I sent a car, a boat and helicopter.” Explain to your child that each of those was an opportunity. Help is great, but you must also learn to help yourself.
Phoebe Venable, chartered financial analyst, is president and COO of CapWealth, LLC. Her column on women, families and building wealth appears every other Saturday in The Tennessean.