High Net Worth Parenting… Raising Children of Character in the Land of Plenty

September 16, 2019

By Lise Stewart 

Creating Your Parenting Intent Plan

Jan and Craig met in college as part of a small tech team that formed as a result of a class project. They fell madly in love, broke up twice and finally tied the knot, seven years after their first date. During those seven busy years, the young couple, with the help of two additional partners, built a successful data processing company. After their marriage, Jan and Craig continued to work hard, often logging 17-hour days and riding the wave of a technology breakthrough that had several large multinational firms knocking on their door. Finally, in 2007, the company sold, releasing both Jan and Craig from their current positions and netting the couple well over $30M in cash. The timing was right, providing a wonderful financial safety net just before the market crashed and creating opportunities to invest in new opportunities while stock prices were low. So, their wealth continued to grow. In 2008, Jan gave birth to her first son, Daniel. Two years later, the couple had twins, Rebecca and Samuel.

The early years with the children were busy, but fun. Both Jan and Craig took an active role in raising their young family and they were committed to providing a worldly education and exposure to new cultures and opportunities. However, once the children began to attend a nearby private school, the couple became alarmed. They found their children making friends with families whose values differed greatly from their own. Some afterschool ‘play dates’ meant visiting the homes of families where the parents were either absent or present but aloof. New pals lived in opulent homes with incredible displays of toys, games and equipment, most of which went unused and unappreciated. Sometimes these children seemed out of control, displaying behavior that screamed for attention. Other times the children seemed sad and lonely and clung to Jan or Craig for affection.

This prompted the couple to examine their own lifestyle and values. Both had grown up in solid, quiet, hard-working families in the Midwest. While not affiliated with any particular religious tradition, they wanted their children to grow up with ‘strong moral values,’ a sense of community, a commitment to philanthropy, an appreciation of different cultures and lifestyles and a solid self-esteem that would help guide their decisions in the future. To this end, we were engaged to help with this process and introduced the concept of a Parenting Intent Document.

A Parenting Intent Document outlines the characteristics and skills that parents want their children to develop and display when they are ‘ready to launch.’ In many cases it is the first opportunity that parents have taken to both think about and articulate what these skills and characteristics might be and what role, specifically they will take in helping their children along this path.

First, the couple was asked to describe a successful parenting outcome. This consisted of questions such as “How will you know that you have raised a child who is prepared for the world?” “What actions might your child take, or attributes might they demonstrate if their self-esteem is healthy?” “What are the life outcomes that you would like to see?”

Jan and Craig developed the following list:

  1. Our children will be able to develop and sustain a healthy relationship with a life partner.
  2. Our children will be able to make healthy choices that nourish both their physical bodies and intellectual minds.
  3. Our children will be able to undertake meaningful and fulfilling work that provides them with the lifestyle of their personal choosing, be it humble or lavish or anywhere in between.
  4. Our children will display kindness, compassion and willingness to understand and engage with others, no matter the difference in social standing, cultural and/or political differences.

Next, Jan and Craig determined that the following were the most important attributes they wanted to see:

  1. Financial literacy – an understanding of how money works, as well as its attributes and power for positive and/or negative outcomes. 
  2. Curiosity about the world around them.
  3. Compassion for others – including empathy and understanding; seeking to understand rather than to judge.
  4. Courage – a willingness to try new things, seek new opportunities and stand up for their beliefs.
  5. Fortitude – the ability to laugh at themselves and know that they can try again.
  6. Resilience – the ability to provide self-care, manage their emotions and make life choices that sustain them.
  7. Emotional maturity – the ability to take personal responsibility for their actions and demonstrate impulse control.
  8. An understanding of the personal strengths and a willingness to capitalize on those strengths.
  9. The ability to see the good in others and look for positives first.
  10. A willingness to care for one another – family first.
  11. An awareness that one needs to work to meet financial, emotional, and personal needs – rather than to look to handouts and ‘luck.’

Once this list was completed the couple worked on carefully describing their values, as reflected in the list above and finally, developing an action plan to help to create an environment where their children could learn and display the attributes above. Some of this action plan included:

  • Open and candid discussion regarding personal and family values and how these are demonstrated in their daily lives.
  • Actively encouraging friendships with people who are outside of their standard circle.
  • Talking about the value of friendships and how to build effective relationships even when this is hard.
  • Teaching skills for working through conflict.
  • Looking for opportunities to learn about opposing points of view and discussing ways in which we can expand our thinking or understand another person’s perspective.
  • Developing opportunities to work and earn an allowance – with the caveat that money earned must be ‘shared’ with those in need (pick a cause or charity to help). 
  • Providing positive and encouraging feedback that is honest and supportive, but not gratuitous or false.
  • Strongly encouraging the children to learn to apologize. Demonstrate, through behavior, the importance of taking personal responsibility and apologizing for our actions.
  • Providing opportunities for new experiences and discussing what they are learning, feeling and experiencing – and how these things can be applied to other aspects of their life.
  • Developing ‘family rules’ and making sure they adhere to these rules, even when it is easier to let them slide.
  • Maintaining positive family routines – such as evening meals together – and discussing the importance of these routines. As the children grow, involving them in assessing and updating the rules.

The remainder of the list detailed a variety of specific actions that Jan and Craig wanted to take to help their children to understand both physical and mental health and their personal strengths.

One of the most important aspects of the exercise was the opportunity to cast their minds to the future and discuss what, ultimately, they wanted to contribute to their children’s lives and what this might produce. Working backward enabled the family to identify the steps to propel them in the right direction.

This process is consistent with the messages that we always hear – parents want to try to raise children who will be able to move confidently through the world, making a positive difference in both their own lives and the lives of others. Creating a Parenting Intent Document can be the first healthy step in making this happen.

For more information on this series, please contact us.

About Lisë Stewart

Lisë Stewart is Principal-in-Charge of EisnerAmper’s Center for Family Business Excellence within the Private Business Services Practice. Lisë has experience in organizational development, strategic planning and training, and human performance management.

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