Authored by Joseph R. Weiland, CFP ®, Managing Partner

I was at party last evening with a group of fascinating people from varied backgrounds.  The conversation was lively, from art and architecture to jokes and tricks.  At one point, it came up that I am a Certified Financial Planner™ and one of the guests wanted to know my perspective on his conundrum.  He has two very different sons with different needs (both successful) and he wanted to know how to balance the gifts or assistance that he offers each of them. 

Many parents face this question.  How do I treat my two (or more) children fairly when they are so different?  The quick answer comes from my mother.  She raised 6 kids.  No two alike.  I quote, “it is not possible to treat them the same, they are not the same.”  My mother is failing now, but still wise in her own way.

That is the short answer.  Here is the practical answer. Do as little for each of them as you can.  The more that you give them the more you take away from their abilities and self-esteem.  Anyone that is self-made in this world knows that they put in the long hours, worried the late nights, fretted the possible failures and came out standing on their own two feet.  They know how they did it and what it would take to do it again.  They can look around their home and possessions, no matter how meager or grand and say to themselves, “It is mine and I did it.”  That is well earned pride which is one of the deepest senses of satisfaction a person can have in this world.  If someone handed this to them on a platter, the house or possessions may be the same, but they will never have the pride and satisfaction that only comes from personal productivity and success.

I gave my new friend the cocktail conversation version of what you just read.  It opened his eyes to something that he now found obvious and he related the following anecdote.  He grew up in an affluent Chicago suburb surrounded by families with wealth and options.  He thought of 5 of the friends that he grew up with who received family help and money at most turns.  In their 20s they traveled, in their 30s they changed careers and tried different things and in their 40s they watched as their friends who had spent the last 20 years grinding on their careers, professions and businesses enjoyed financial success.  Meanwhile, they were dependent upon what the family could afford.  Mostly it was less than what they needed.  It turned out the family purse was not the endless resource it had appeared and certainly it was not something that filled them with pride. 

As we spoke, the conversation shifted to his situation and sons.  What does make sense?  The quick answer is simple.  Nothing that supports their current lifestyle.  Nice birthday or Christmas presents are fine.  For people that want to move wealth to the next generation, I like seeing them fund IRAs or 529 plans for grandkids.  Both of those are working towards long term stability so the child can concentrate on providing for their current needs which will require a career and an ability to stand on their own two feet. 

The biggest gift that anyone of us can give our kids is the gift of self-reliance.  It is a gift that will allow them to be content and self-confident, whether they are sitting at home or out at a party with accomplished people talking about art and architecture, jokes and tricks.  Don’t give gifts that take this opportunity away from your kids.