Struggling Vines Produce the Best Wines – A Metaphor for Good Parenting

In a loft, nestled around a large wooden artistic-type table overlooking the NYC landscape, sat two generations of a family. As my team led the family through their meeting agenda, it was time for the parents to share their “intended living legacy” (we provide a tool to parents to help them draft this). Dad began by sharing the following:

Mom and I haven’t always done everything right, but we have always tried to make decisions that would help each of you flourish. You see, parenting is like being a Vintner. To produce a great wine, it is important to ensure that the vines struggle – but not suffer. Vines that struggle to dig deeper in the soil to find its water source and other nutrients produce better grapes. If the vines are coddled and given everything then the vines gets lazy and the grapes get too big…

I will never forget this wise metaphor for parenting and have shared it with the myriad of other parents and families we have served over the years.

As a parent of three, I am frequently tempted to prevent my children from struggle, and we see this dynamic with almost every parent we serve especially when there are lots of family resources to prevent “struggling.” Given that parents want to see their children flourish, yet too often parent in a way that is likely to produce “grapes that get too big,” I will share some examples of how to help your children struggle, versus suffer.

Let’s begin with a couple of examples of what suffering looks like and thereby avoiding these parenting practices:

  1. On the one end of the suffering-continuum, parents will tend toward deprivation. We can think of this approach to parenting as a Vintner planting vines in a desert and expecting the vines to work it out on their own. For example, parents don’t provide any encouragement, mentoring, or communication about the opportunities and responsibilities of family wealth because they are too busy creating the wealth, or they believe it is better for them “to figure it out on their own” or when they are no longer on this side of heaven (“that’s why we have an estate plan”).
  2. On the other end of the suffering-continuum, parents will tend toward over engineering and being overly involved.  We can think of this approach to parenting as a Vintner overly caring for the vines by providing an abundance of water, preventing the vines from needing to struggle via digging its roots deep into the soil.  For example, parents assume that their children should live up to all their expectations in terms of who they should be and the path they should take in life. Or, ensuring every need and want is taken care of in their children’s lives, denying them of a sense of autonomy, achievement and competence.

Here are just a few examples to help your children struggle so they can produce great fruit in their lives:

  1. Don’t rescue them from every school, work, sport, or personal challenge….as a matter of fact, if there isn’t anything very serious on the line, let them fail.  If they are struggling in school, let them struggle even if you decide to financially support them with a tutor; don’t speak to the teacher for your child to see if a grade can be changed. If they received a less than ideal review from their boss, don’t message to them that they “don’t need that job anyway,” and instead ask them what they need to do to improve their standing at the company. On a personal note, my son went from playing up a grade and starting on all his basketball teams to now coming off the bench on his new team (and he really doesn’t like this!) and although I will go out and rebound for him anytime, for example, my message is, “what can you do to earn the starting position?” or “what are you learning from this experience that can benefit you in the future?”
  2. Help them clearly understand the difference between needs versus wants and be clear how and when you plan to financially support both (e.g., you may decide to create a safety net that ensures they will always have good health care, a roof over their heads, and help them buy a home that they will be able to cover the ongoing expenses via their own earned income, but not too much more than this). One of our client-families matched the W2 income of their children while they were in there twenties to early thirties and then shifted to limited access to a trust as they continue to show maturity and began to create their own families.
  3. Through you and your advisor team, ensure that each child has a minimum level of financial literacy so they are confident in their ability to manage their personal finances and communicate effectively with your advisor team (even if they don’t have an interest in becoming an investor or may say ,”I am not good with numbers”).  This will help prepare them for financial leadership roles they may have in your family or family office, and give you the confidence that they will be better prepared to steward larger sums of family resources.

So like successful Vintners who allow their vines to struggle in order to produce a great wine, parents obviously have a significant role in creating the conditions that will allow their children to flourish by avoiding either end of the suffering-continuum, and allowing their children to struggle.

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