Thursday, February 19, 2015

Give a Child an Unfair Advantage

Almost thirty years ago shortly after I first moved to the Washington D.C. area I read a newspaper article about the family life of recent Asian immigrants in the area. Education was described as a family affair. After dinner the entire family would sit around the table in order to become educated Americans. The children were expected to teach their parents what they were learning in school. The older siblings were expected to tutor their younger brothers and sisters. Everyone helped everyone with homework problems. Since I had learned in Engineering School that the best way to really understand a subject was to tutor others, I knew that in a few years these children and even their parents were going to have an unfair advantage in many important aspects of life.

If you have children it is your job to make certain you have given your progeny an unfair advantage in life.

Start with your faith:

Deuteronomy 11

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The actions of parents are far more important than their words. If parents model a love of education, their children will likely grow up understanding the importance of an education. If parents demonstrate a strong work ethic combined with the ability to defer gratification, their children will likely grow up understanding that consistent hard work and thrift practiced over long periods of time will result in financial freedom. If parents demonstrate the importance of family and community when facing a sometimes unfriendly world, their children will likely develop strong ties with their siblings, cousins, and other members of their cultural groups that will serve them well in time of need.

Let your children participant in your investment activities as you discuss the purchase and sale of stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles. Make it a family event. I once read a very good basic investment book by a very successful stock broker. Every Sunday afternoon his extended family would get together for a meal. His father, uncles, mother, and aunts would argue the relative merits of different investment strategies. As he grew older he was surprised to learn this was not normal for all families. He believes his skill with investments was born in these family arguments.

It is no accident that the median household income of American-Asian families is $68,000 about 33% more than the median for all households. The Department of Labor reports that about 47% of Asian Americans work in management or professional jobs that require considerable education, as compared to 35% for the entire U.S. workforce. Studies indicate that unemployment rates for Asian Americans is lower than that of the general population because when they loose a job, they are quick to take lower paying jobs, sometimes jobs in family owned businesses. The Chinese have a history of family enterprise that predates this nation by thousands of years. Such corporations are based on Confucian concepts of duty, loyalty, and mutual obligations. They are operated for the good of the clan, the entire clan. During most of Chinese history the government was often so corrupt that the only trust was between family members.

Give your children this kind of unfair advantage.

It doesn’t end with your children. Proverbs 13:22 states, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” For a long time I wondered why the verse specified grandchildren rather than children. Why didn’t it read, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children?” The answer? The Law of Moses gives very specific instructions to a father. He is legally obligated to leave an inheritance to his children. The eldest son receives a double portion because he will inherit the responsibility for the other siblings as clan chieftain. The other sons each receive a portion of their father’s estate. If there are no sons, the father’s inheritance is passed on to his daughters. Solomon indicates that a good man goes beyond the letter of the law. He is planning to bless not only his children but he is denying his own desires to bless his children’s children. Perhaps in ancient times, the father would be buying his grandchildren farms and livestock or perhaps paying a master craftsman to apprentice a talented grandchild. Today grandparents might help with tuition to send their children's children to a private school or establish a 529 college savings plan in a child’s name.

I have read that in Biblical times if parents did not provide their child with a way to make a living that child was under no obligation to care for their parents when they were old and infirm. If you aren’t actively seeking to give your children an unfair advantage when they are young, what will they be able to do for you when you are old?

If you don’t have any children, it doesn’t let you off the hook. The Lord will see to it that children pass through your life. Every time you are given the opportunity, be a blessing! See to it that you share something of value with another person’s child.

Give them an edge, an unfair advantage.

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

The Buddha

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