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How Much Help Is Too Much Help? Tips For Parents Supporting Their Kids’ Careers Or Business

It comes as no surprise that most parents are fiercely committed to giving their children a better life than what they had. But should they be so eager to help their kids out? Could helping children be what’s keeping them from building the resilience and resourcefulness needed to build their own version of success?

This is clearly not a black and white issue. Instead, it’s full of gray areas that make this parenting thing such a tough job. However, after all the coaching engagements I’ve done, conversations I’ve had with financial professionals and dipping my toe in the pool of step-parenting three teenagers, I’ve collected a short list of do’s and don’ts that may help you navigate the murky waters of launching your kids into the business world.

Do get comfortable watching your child struggle. I recently spoke with Matthew Wesley, Director at the Center for Family Wealth at Merill Private Wealth Management. He has helped many families, with considerable wealth at their disposal, navigate the balance of support and over-functioning.

A point he wishes all parents understood about supporting their children is, “The most important job of parenting is to prepare children to thrive on their own as adults. Parents who ‘over-function’ – that is do things for children that they could and should do for themselves – tend to foster children who have not learned the skills they need to be independent – in other words under-functioning adults. With respect to finances, children who do not learn how to earn and spend money wisely as children are likely to become financially dependent as adults. Children will be much better off if they are given responsibility – with real possibilities of not getting it right – so that they can learn in ‘safe-to-fail’ situations.”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I often think of the butterfly. So often this insect is used as the beautiful example of what happens when you allow yourself to change. But do we consider what would actually happen if we “helped” the butterfly out and made it easier for it to escape its cocoon? Its fragile and delicate wings wouldn’t be strong enough to fly. The struggle is what builds an individual’s ability and confidence.

Don’t put your comfort above your child’s self-sufficiency. As humans, we are wired to want to feel a sense of control over our domain. But when that domain includes another human being it can get tricky. I see managers make this same mistake. Managers that step in too quickly to fix things for employees are dubbed micro-managers and that’s rarely, if ever, a compliment.

What about parents? The nickname, helicopter parent, has become popular in recent years. But what is the impact of wanting to feel reassured that your child is always protected or that you are their hero, constantly saving them from themselves? In the short-term you may prevent having to see your child disappointed but in the long run it can do more harm than good.

The need for guaranteeing your child’s constant happiness is actually pretty selfish. That level of extreme need for control is more about your comfort levels than what is best for the person you chose to raise. Putting your children first is sometimes about having to watch them stumble, cry and feel hopeless when they get rejected or are faced with the harsh reality of failure.

Don’t wait to start teaching kids about money. I still don’t know why the school system continues to push subjects like political science and geometry but teaches zero about personal finances. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the aforementioned topics, I just don’t understand how something like financial management never made its way into our education system as a mandatory subject for all students.

I was lucky, in a way. Even though my mother and father were poor, that didn’t keep my mother from fully briefing me on what it took to pay the bills, manage credit cards and negotiate interest rates with banks. Since the age of five, my mother spoke to us about the financial ins and outs of making a living. Every month since I learned how to write I was tasked with filling out the checks for her to sign that paid our household bills.

To this day, I have no qualms about discussing money. But many people do. Knowing the language of finances and what to do with it is critical for anyone’s success. Don’t wait for the school system to figure it out. Talk to your children so they’re fluent in it by the time the reach adulthood.

Do loan money like a bank. A study by Millennial Branding found that 64% of college students want to start their own business someday. Furthermore, 43% would rather be an entrepreneur than an employee upon graduating college. That’s as exciting as it is daunting for the parents who are trying to make sure their children are set up for financial stability.

How do parents, who have the means, approach helping their children start their own business? Matthew Wesley recommends that you treat these types of loans or investments as close to what a bank may do. He advises that parents draw up loan documents and have them reviewed by an account and / or lawyer. Within the loan, you can stipulate certain consequence if payment isn’t made on time and layout the repayment schedule based on agreed upon factors of the business’s growth. This should also include a monthly statement showing how much is due, when and what the current balance is.

Do scale your support to your child’s capability. Another tidbit of advice that Matthew shared is to set up any support you provide to align with what the individual is capable of paying back vs. simply giving in to what they ask for because you have the means. In fact, he recommends having them do the leg work of putting a business plan together, seek out other investors and hire themselves a business consultant or career coach to help them think through their idea and goals. This ensures the focus stays on them learning how to navigate the real business world vs. winning their favor and buying their love.

Warren Buffet, one of the wealthiest people in the world, said on the topic of setting his kids up for success, “You should leave your children enough so they can do anything, but not enough so they can do nothing.” He clearly recognizes that the journey of learning to do for yourself is far more rewarding than having it handed to you. But you’ll notice it’s not about throwing your family to the wolves. Support and guidance come in many different forms that are not necessarily tagged with a dollar sign.