Is It an Either/Or: Inheritance or a Work Ethic? - Live Like a Mensch
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Is It an Either/Or: Inheritance or a Work Ethic?

Photo of piercing blue eyes and majestic silver hair courtesy of minds-eye


This morning, I read this piece about how newsman Anderson Cooper will receive zilcho from his mother, heiress and millionaire-in-her-own-right Gloria Vanderbilt.

This really got me thinking about a couple of things:

1. How did I not know that Anderson Cooper was a Vanderbilt?


2. Why does it seem as though parents have to choose between passing along an inheritance and passing along a strong work ethic, as if they are mutually exclusive?

If you didn't read the original piece, it talks about how Cooper knows his mother will not leave him anything and that he feels like he got a better inheritance by learning an incredible work ethic from her. He actually described inherited wealth as an "initiative sucker" and a "curse."

I generally tend to hew to Cooper's money philosophy. I just recently wrote about how one of my money scripts (unconscious beliefs about money) is that I don't deserve money that I didn't earn. This has less to do with my feeling as though I am unworthy of gifts of money (although being the beneficiary of my father's life insurance certainly did come with mixed emotions), and more to do with the pride I feel at earning my own money.

I remember the first "job" I had outside of my family. I was about 12 years old, and I worked as a mother's helper for my father's best friend whose little girl was about 1. For two hours of entertaining the baby, I was paid $5. I remember walking on air on my way home because it felt so incredible to have earned that money. I wasn't quite plotting to take over the world with my five-spot, but I definitely felt as though an entire new world of possibility had been opened to me because I could earn money.

So in my own life, I'm personally much happier to have a solid work ethic and a belief in my own abilities rather than gifts of money.

On the other hand, when I think about LO and BB, there are definitely financial gifts that I would like to pass along to them in addition to the work ethic.

In particular, it's my dream to give them their undergraduate education free and clear--and to put no restrictions on what they study. I am pretty sure that I'm not going to be able to fully follow through. (They will probably have to take some loans in order to get their Bachelor's degrees.) However, I'm definitely sticking to my dream that they can pursue anything they like in college.

Unfortunately, this is the only consistent disagreement J and I have had over the years. He's afraid that my dream of such a gift will allow our kids to take a four year vacation, during which time they'll major in Underwater Basketweaving and keg stands. While I suspect that we're not capable of raising two kids who would do that (and I humbly suggest that we could always change our plans if we do), J does have a bit of a point. If LO and BB need to feel financially/externally invested in their education, then giving it to them gratis could set them up for a world of hurt.

So, even though I have no reason to be worried about the sort of initiative-sucking millions that a Vanderbilt kid might fall "prey" to, I do wonder if it's possible to raise hard-working children with the financial privileges you hope to give them. I suspect that finding a way to do both is like walking a tightrope (as is true for many parenting dilemmas.) But it seems like it would be better for the kids to err on the side of the work ethic--which is probably why Gloria Vanderbilt is not leaving her son a dime.

In our case, J's and my conversation/discussion/disagreement about college will likely continue and change its dynamic as our boys grow and show interest in various subjects. I want them to be internally motivated to complete their studies and love whatever it is they decide to learn and do with their lives. J wants them to be able to take care of themselves financially. Hopefully we'll find that those two wants are not mutually exclusive.

Although I'm still throwing out any college brochures that focus too much on the exciting developments in the Underwater Basketweaving department.

What do you think? Are money privilege and a work ethic mutually exclusive parenting gifts? How do you balance wanting to give you kids the world and trying to prepare them for it?



haverwench said:

I remember growing up with three fundamental, unquestioned assumptions about my future:

1) After high school, I would go to college for four years.

2) My parents would foot the bill for it.

3) After that, it would be my responsibility to get a job and support myself.

Now, granted, having this third assumption did not prevent me from pursuing a degree in English, which does not exactly open up lots of doors in the career world. And I did end up having to spend six months temping and living in my old room at home before I found steady work. But with that basic assumption that getting a job was the required next step after college, there was never any danger that I was going to turn into Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, resting on my academic laurels while having a meaningless affair with a neighbor.

I guess my point is, I don't think that paying for your kids' tuition, assuming you can afford it, automatically creates a mindset of entitlement—as long as it's clear to them from the outset that that's as far as it goes.

April 2, 2014 11:03 AM

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