A True Gift for the Holidays

Date: Nov 11 2014

Coventry Edwards-Pitt, CFA, CFP®

With toy catalogues in the mailbox and Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’ve been finding myself thinking a lot lately about the gifts we give to our children and which ones they end up being truly thankful for when they are older. 
I recently had the opportunity to hear a lot about this topic in discussions I had with real-life grounded and successful inheritors (for my book Raised Healthy, Wealthy & Wise.)  What I learned from the inheritors I spoke with is that the gifts they appreciated the most in hindsight were not ones that they were thankful for (or even happy with!) at the time.  
What children tend to like in the moment is when parents say yes – yes to everything from more ice cream to not having to make their bed to being able to hang out over the summer instead of getting a job.  But what the now grown children I spoke with most appreciated upon reflection is when their parents said no.  When they set limits, held them accountable, allowed them to take responsibility for their own mistakes (rather than swooping in and rescuing them), and allowed them to strive for their own success.
Of course, saying no as a parent is never fun.  We all want to help our children.  But the question these interviews inspired me to think about was “help them do what?”  Help them get whatever it is they want in the here and now, or help them become emotionally and financially self-sufficient and thriving over the long-term?  Put this way, a lot of the “no”s that the inheritors I spoke with heard in their childhoods were actually “yes”s in the long-term.  Their parents were saying yes to the long-term goal of helping their children become financially and emotionally self-sufficient.  
So when we think about what to give our children not just this holiday season but throughout this next year, let’s think about giving them a few more of those “no”s that are “yes”s in disguise.  We can know that we are helping our children and we can even hope that they might one day (maybe in 15 years!) be able to appreciate it.