In life, we receive so much from our parents; overall looks, hair color, height, and a host of other genetically-driven predispositions are largely hereditary. Sometimes, we follow in our parents’ footsteps, and sometimes we do not. With some notable exceptions, we get what we get, and life keeps rolling on – for better or for worse.
Recently, I read an article in The Atlantic – Rich People Raise Rich Kids – which caused me to ponder the financial impact our parents have upon our life trajectory. The issues explored and conclusions drawn in the article are thought-provoking, to say the least.
If “Rich People Raise Rich Kids,” does that imply that the corollary, i.e. “Poor People Raise Poor Kids,” is often true?
Of course, life experience shows us the impact our parents can play in financial futures. Plenty of people are born into money, but countless folks create their own wealth. Many of us will learn to manage money, for better or worse, in the same manner demonstrated by our parents. Others will seek their own path, if they bother to pay attention at all.
And all of this says nothing of the fact that our trajectories may change over time, though change can be hard to set into motion. The poor can become rich, and the rich can lose it all, sometimes in shocking fashion. This is America, after all. *Cues chants* USA! USA! USA!
The power and importance of environment is one point which I tend to agree with wholeheartedly from the aforementioned article. My life story bears out this truth every step of the way.
I grew up in a typical middle class home in West Michigan. My mom worked as a departmental secretary for a reputable regional bank, and my dad worked in manufacturing for one of the largest aerospace engineering companies in the country. Mom earned her Associates degree, while dad entered the work force after completing high school.
We lived in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom ranch home which was conveniently located within a few miles of everything: school, work, shopping, and my grandparents. Our family was solidly middle-class, though I had no idea or even any understanding of what that meant at the time.
My parents made the very best of the overall environment in which I was raised. When I was four, they sold our house and moved to the other side of town so I could attend the best schools in the area. I didn’t know at the time, but my mom often remarks today that this move was a financial sacrifice in may respects.
For reasons which I still do not fully understand, I was born with a sharp edge to achieve, and this desire only strengthened itself as I grew up. I didn’t want to just do something – I wanted to win, to be the best, to get a share of the spotlight. Of course, it didn’t work out every single time, but that internal motivation was sometimes a difference-maker.
Equally important, my internal motivation was complimented by external factors. My grandfather always pushed me toward the improbable and believed so much in me that I began to believe in myself.
My self-belief and confidence was shaken many times, but I survived and grew stronger because my parents were not of the helicopter variety. They allowed me to be independent, solve my own problems, and experience difficulty. I learned to bend without breaking.
My parents supported all of my far flung endeavors – competing in chess tournaments all across the country, basketball leagues and camps, and music lessons – and encouraged me to do my best. I was strong-willed and in hindsight demanded a lot. I was lucky to have good parents who provided opportunities.
The rest of the story is simple. I went to college, got a job, and moved out of state, like countless other people before and since. I am not special, and my life is not remarkable. My parents, extended family, and the environment they cultivated for me, on the other hand, are special and remarkable.
Foster a Great Environment For Your Kids
So how can today’s parents foster a positive environment for children and put them in a position to become successful? The following solutions offer a good starting point:
–Get to know your children. A one-size-fits-all approach will never work. In the interest of transparency, I am not yet a parent, but my experience as a teacher illustrates the importance of knowing children as individuals. Spending time with them is the best way to get to know them.
–Model a balanced, prioritized lifestyle. Kids are impressionable and form a surprisingly-high number of conclusions at young ages. As adults, they will remember how you spent your time and model their own priorities after yours in many ways, whether consciously or not.
–Teach them how to save money. For most children today, spending will come easily and saving will not; our instant-gratification culture is to blame. If you show your kids how to save, they will experience a valuable lesson.
–Allow your children to fail and encourage them to persevere when they do. They will learn important lessons as a result. They will become resilient, strong, and unafraid to fail, all of which are characteristics which will help them to succeed.
Related: How to Overcome the Fear of Failure
These practices are not perfect, but they will help you to create a growth-inspired environment for your children. They just may follow in or even exceed your footsteps as a result.
In what ways have you followed in your parents’ footsteps? What did they specifically do to help you in that regard? For parents – how are you helping your children to follow in your footsteps?