A Guest Post by Hartley Goldstone, originally posted here: http://www.navigatingthetrustscape.com/
Our Family Blessings
We started blessings, as we called it, with our kids when they were very young. At Christmas time, we asked each of the kids to write a blessing to each other and to their mom and their dad. They all went into a big pot. Then we sat around the fire and sorted them out and each of us read the blessings we had received from the others.
There was no requirement or expectation of what the kids were supposed to say. They could say anything they wanted. Even things like, I was really mad at you because you took my ball or something, you know, but now I'm not mad anymore. It would be that type of thing. As they grew older they got more perspective the blessings became more intimate. Very touching.
I think that has made a massive difference in the ability of our kids to talk to each other and for us to talk to them. They got used to telling each other how they really felt about something. Our kids are all close with each other in a relatively unusual way, I think, because they talk to each other, they know what is happening in each other's lives in a very personal, intimate kind of way.
Now that our kids are adults, before they arrive we sit down and write out a discussion form, just three or four things to be thinking of. Such things as how are things going with your family, at your place of employment this year, are their problems with your company, where you are, this kind of thing. The questions are just to give everybody a chance to think a little bit about what we might be talking about.
They all come over and we have breakfast for them. Then we sit down and we go around. Everybody gets a chance to say what they want to say and how things are going in their lives. They are very forthcoming. They are really honest.
We go around and really catch up and that includes us. We get our turn as well.
Sometimes there are tears. Everybody gets teary when somebody else is getting teary. If somebody has something going on that is difficult, we are all there. They've always known that we are all there for each other all the time.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Our tradition of blessings at Christmas changed our family.
Neither of us did this as kids. It was something we talked about doing. We liked the idea really well so we put it into practice. Now we do something similar with our little grandkids.
One Christmas when we were doing our blessings we told our kids that we wanted them to have their inheritances while they could really use it and while we were alive so we could enjoy watching them.
Here's how that came about. First of all, I guess we did pretty well in starting businesses. We decided that as healthy as we are (and we are very healthy) that our life expectancies are long ones. We said, "Well geez, the kids are going to be older than we are now before they see a dime." That didn't make sense to either of us. So we decided four or five years ago that we were going to start downloading wealth, as we called it, so that we could see, experience what our kids are doing.
We had a conversation about not wanting to make their life super easy. We feel and felt than they needed to stretch themselves and take risks and get their noses bloody a time or two. We didn't want to take those kinds of life experiences away from them. At the same time, we wanted to shift some assets down to them. We kind of worked our way through most of that.
Our kids are all very solid, very competent. They all have families. Our grandkids are being raised in the most wonderful way. The grandkids themselves are exploring their talents in various ways. We encourage that type of thing.
So we give each of them a check. We do it based on each person's needs and good common sense. Not one of those kids of ours cares whatsoever about what somebody else gets.
We made a fundamental decision that the only generation we are concerned about is our own kids. Our grandkids, it is their responsibility to figure that stuff out.
We just don't feel like we want to be controlling down the line. We want to only work with the first generation. They can work with the rest of it.
That goes along with our philosophy that our kids are quite capable.
One of the things that is really unique about my parents is that for all the warts we have in our family, there is something that is magical about their combination. It's far greater than what they bring to the table individually. My mom always says that one plus one equals four (a play on there being four of us kids).
From a money perspective, my mom is one of the most "unmoney" oriented people I know. She gives freely, she accepts freely. She was not raised with money. There seems to be no hooks about money with her.
My dad wasn't raised with money either. He has always been the major breadwinner in our family. He is the entrepreneur - the one who started multiple businesses, the last of which is the one that really exploded for them and created the wealth that is in my family.
My dad has a strong feeling of wanting to raise his children up on his shoulders. He doesn't give with strings. I never get the sense that he has any expectations when he gives to us, in fact, it seems clear to me that my parents have always been more focused on our family's human capital than our financial capital.
A perfect example of this is when I started my business. In my mid-20s I had a strong desire to start my own business – but I was scared. My mom and dad and I went to dinner one night and my dad said to me, "You've been talking about this business for so long – why don't you quit your job and just do it?" He was pushing me. "Decide to take action – get off the fence."
I got fierce about it. "I am not going to throw myself off of a financial cliff. You didn't raise me that way." He was a big risk taker and had raised us that way, but I told him I wasn't taking the big financial risk.
He and I left dinner mad at each other. He called me later that week. "I understand what you are talking about. I've heard you talk about this dream for so long, I want you to make it happen. What is the worst thing that could happen?"
"The worst thing that could happen is that I can't pay my mortgage."
"We have an entire basement you can move into. If the shit hits the fan you will rent or sell your place and you have a basement to move into." He didn't say, "I'm going to swoop in and send you a check to pay your mortgage."
I really loved that that was his response. I think one of the great challenges of integrating financial wealth into a human life is the potential to undermine your confidence in your ability to do something on your own. Whether he did it consciously or fell into it unconsciously, he and my mom let me know their support was there and allowed me to take risks that I wouldn't have taken otherwise. I didn't feel undermined by the money part of it. I felt that I had their true support – not the "I will write you and check and cover it" kind of support.
It seems important to find the most pure understanding of what money is to you, to each of us. What is the imprint, what is the message you would like to transfer to the next generation about money in its most pure form? Not who has money but what is possible because of money.
The first time that my parents gave us distributions from their assets was absolutely unexpected. My parents asked us to come to their house one morning during the first week in December. This was our first family meeting. We hadn't been together as a nuclear family for many years. So to have my parents ask us to come back, just the six of us, for a meeting was an extraordinary thing. The four of us kids had no idea what to expect.
I remember being both nervous and excited. I got up really, really early. There was a big snowstorm. I got in the car and drove to my parents' house. The meeting was a 9 o'clock. I barely got there in time because of the snow.
It was oddly uncomfortable to have the six of us together. We were all standing around my parent's kitchen. We hadn't been together in so many years. We knew the conversation was going to be about estate planning.
I remember going from feeling too hot, to feeling too cold. I was nervous and I didn't know what to expect (I mean, we were talking about my parents dying, right?). I was feeling this was all a little weird, and my heart kept fluttering, even though my mind was trying to be calm. We are going to talk about what? I found myself was really appreciating being there, with my brothers and my parents, even though we were all a little uncomfortable.
There was a lot of nervous laughter. One of my brothers was making hilarious off-color jokes about my parents dying. We all laughed because we didn't know what else to do. Our parents aren't that old and nobody was thinking about them dying or us inheriting anything. We all knew there were significant assets but didn't know how much. It felt like that was something you didn't talk about.
When my parents' attorney showed up to facilitate the meeting, we all got together and sat down. He gave us some context about why estate planning is important and a sense of what documentation is necessary to honor both my parents' intentions. Also, why it is important for each of us to have estate plans as we married and had children.
My parents asked each of us to give an update on where we were at in life and what was going on. We shared deep feelings about where we were in our lives; it was like it cracked something open in each of us. I think for the most part, my family has always liked each other, but I feel like it was that day that we really laid the foundation for us all to have relationships as adults together.
Toward the end of the meeting my parents said, "We've told you all along that there is a significant amount of wealth that came out of this last business that went public and we feel strongly that we don't want you guys to wait to get this money until we are dead. Each of you guys is going to be incredibly successful in your own right; you probably won't need it when we are dead. We want to see it impact your lives while we are alive. We want to see the power of what this money can do in your lives now."
My dad was really clear – it was the first time I ever heard him say, and he has said multiple times since then - that he created this first wave of wealth but has no desire to have any control over it past our generation. Other than funds that he and my mom might put away for each of the grandkids' college, they have no designs for the wealth. They very consciously didn't set up trusts or formal ways to distribute money to us. In his typical way, my dad said, "Once it hits your generation it's your problem."
My dad handed out checks made out to each one of us. I remember the noise and confusion in my head because nobody was expecting that.
That was the first year. The six of us have had family meetings in December every single year since then. My parents have chosen some years to give less, some years to give more. I have no idea how they come up with what it is they chose to give. If some year they give nothing, I guarantee you every single one of us wouldn't bat an eye at it. We come together now because it is this yearly catharsis. We spend hours telling about our wins and challenges. Each year someone ends up taking up two hours of the time together because they need to cry and be heard and have their family see and support them. It shifts and it is different things at different times.
I look at how we lived, how we were raised, and it never, ever, was about what other people were doing. What car should we be driving, what house should we live in, where should our vacation home be, what scholarships? I never remembered my parents comparing to others.
I think that has been a massive blessing. When I started off I said something about having the warts that all families have. One of the things that I absolutely treasure about my family is that we've lived all of those warts as openly and courageously as we could, individually and as a family.
One of the strengths I recognize in my parents is to be willing, even if it looks ugly on the outside, to name warts to the extent that we can. We talk about them; there is a willingness to not have to be perfect for other people's sake.
I feel really, deeply grateful. I have a really full heart when I think about my parents and my brothers. I recognize that these are the people that know me longest on this planet and that I have a totally unique gift in the fact that we have this annual family gathering.
Actually...I think I need to send my parents a note and say thank you. They are pretty amazing.