Love and Money

Last month was Valentine’s Day, and this past week my wife and I celebrated our 20th year of marriage. So love has been a recurring theme of late. However, rather than write about romantic love, I’ve instead picked a topic around the subject of love and money. More specifically, how love and money relate to the relationship between parents and their children.

The love one feels for his or her child is perhaps the most pure and stable kind of love we can know and experience as humans. This assumes, of course, that we are fortunate enough to have parents or be parents capable of such love. But it’s not always easy for parents, even the best ones, especially when the ego gets in the way. Parents continue to live out their own hurts and pains after a child is born, invariably passing on some new form or hurt to the next generation. Some hurts are small and “no big deal”, at least in the big scheme of things, but others can be more extreme leading, in the worst case, to various kinds of abuse.

And when it comes to money, even if parents only have limited resources, money can end up being a lever used by parents to act on their own pain and/or egos.  In a recent note from my son’s Head of School, Chris Edwards, in Singapore, he related a story from twenty years ago where a father admonished his son in front of him. Chris worked at one of the UK’s top private schools, and at a parents’ evening, the boy student said in front of his dad that he wanted to become a teacher. The father replied: “I’m not paying school fees so that you end up working in a place like this.”

I can relate to the ties and implicit obligations which I put on third parties when it comes to money. For example, when I invest money into a company I expect management to do what they said they would do, generally to make more money. Even charitable giving often comes with strings attached. When giving money to a church or charity, for example, I know that I can feel the urge to want to have a say in how things are run. After all, I’m paying the salaries, right?

But how often, just like the father admonishing his child for wanting to be a teacher, do parents use money to influence or downright manipulate children, under the auspices of love? That’s a tough question, and something I know in my own life I would have to plead guilty of.

After paying for my daughter’s college education a few years ago, I know that my daughter felt pressure from me to do something with her life which, first and foremost, would be a clear return on the investment her parents had made. Sensing that she, like many new graduates, didn’t have a clear view on what she wanted to do career-wise, we jumped into action and mapped out a multi-year career path for her. I made a few phone calls, got her a job interview which resulted in a job offer, and we thought we had her all sorted out. But, alas, this was our agenda not hers, and she derailed it. We were livid at the time but in hindsight I can’t blame her for not playing by our rules. Yes, we had funded her college education. Had we agreed with her in advance that she would take whatever job we recommended after graduation, maybe we would have had something to complain about, but no such agreement had been made. This was simply our own agenda and we had attached our own strings. The unilateral attaching of strings is both unfair and ineffective.

Money is both a powerful tool and a weapon, and a little bit can go a long way for either use. And while the usual saying “love is blind”, I would argue that money can be equally blind. Consider what blind spots you may have when it comes to money, especially as it relates to your children, no matter what their age.

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