The dilemma: We have a raging disagreement in our family and I need some clear thinking. The basic question is, if we can well afford it, why can’t we give our son a big chunk of his inheritance now?
My husband has succeeded in making us a fortune, through work and investments. My son and I agree that since we have so much, he may as well live really well now rather than wait until he inherits it. He and his wife are always struggling to keep up. My husband, his father, is adamant that the money is not his to ask for or have now; and that he needs to make his own way. He believes our gifts can supplement their lifestyle with things that we want to do for them.
Of course we pay for schooling and summer trips, and pick up the tab on a lot, which is our pleasure. And we give what we’re allowed each year for tax purposes. But it will all be his one day. They’d like a bigger house, better cars, more trips, etc. We’re in our 70s, they’re in their late 40s and the granddaughters are in their teens.
Why not allow him to make his own decisions without having to come to us and beg.
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Meg’s solution: Excuse me? So he doesn’t have to beg? You know, it sounds very basic … we have it to give, he wants it and is going to get it anyway … why not?
In that very simple equation, you win. But it’s not all about money, and it’s certainly not simple. Money is one part of life, and making a lot of it is a goal and a great accomplishment if you get there. Kudos to your husband. Most people struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
In that respect, your son is already very lucky with the gifts and enhancements you readily give. Don’t you recognize that? Doesn’t he?
What your husband is trying to do is to teach your son the character building parts of life that make the man in the end. It’s about pride, productivity, accomplishments, humility, generosity, values and gratefulness. If you’re handed everything you want, where does your personal growth come from? What happens to ambition? Excitement of achievement?
I think many a self made millionaire would tell you that the making of it is much more rewarding, exciting and fulfilling than the spending of it, after a while, with an exclusion for charitable giving.
I do believe there’s a middle ground, and you seem to have found it so far in helping so much along the way. It’s sad that he’s not extremely appreciative of what you already do. He just wants more. That in itself tells me a lot about him. I can imagine the dynamic in your family, and I feel for your husband who could use a partner to understand the bigger picture. Can you see the lessons he’s trying to teach your son and thus your granddaughters? What are they to see and learn?
My mother always told me money doesn’t grow on trees, and you know what? It doesn’t. You’re supposed to work for it.
Unfortunately, a lot of parents are ignoring the lessons and raising entitled kids who are not as pleasant or interesting as ones whose focus is on their own successes. It’s hard to “compete” with the kids getting new BMWs at 16 and using Daddy’s credit card. I suspect your son, and likely his family, are caught up in this overindulgence of stuff.
I know you would have preferred the simple answer, but trust me when I say that good character trumps almost anything. I would encourage you to see the situation through clear glasses, not rose colored ones, and help your husband be a good parent, which does not exclude generosity. Stop siding with your son and aggravating the issues, which I’m sure is spilling over to your impressionable grandchildren. Dig deep inside yourself to find the pride and respect your husband deserves for his accomplishments, and some humility and gratefulness that he has provided so well for you all. Maybe then you’ll be in position to help teach your child good values as well.
Got a dilemma? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Meg Green, CFP, is a wealth manager with offices in Aventura. Her Money Dilemmas column runs monthly in The Miami Herald.