I recently moved into a new house. Once things settled down a little, I invited a couple of friends over to watch the NBA Finals. Gabby, one of my daughters, decided that it would be fun to hang out with the grown-ups for a while.
She's a pretty energetic kid. Her continuous barrage of antics, interruptions, and off-the-wall observations made it challenging to concentrate on the game. Mostly, I focused on helping her not kick my beer over onto the pristine carpet, but at one point she referred to the new house as her house, and I finally had to put my foot down.
"Your house?" I said. "Oh, I mean your and mom's house," she replied immediately. One of my guests looked at me quizzically. I told him I'd trained my girls to never refer to anything as theirs if they hadn't earned with their blood, sweat, and tears.
There's an exception for personal gifts, but everything else--household income, vehicles, gaming systems, kitchen appliances, etc.--belongs to me and my wife.
I do this for three reasons:
1. It helps them develop their identity.
It's not really about what's mine or yours-- it's about identity and a sense of responsibility. Our kids will craft a personality that will be a part of this legacy, but it's entirely up to them to do it. Why not encourage your children from a young age to create their own identity--to see themselves as an individual, a separate human being, to steer their own ship?
It helps the kids realize that they're in charge of their destiny. They don't have to become what we say they should become. We'll give them our suggestions, but they ultimately won't inherit who they are from us. We want them to value who they are as individuals from a young age.
Individualism is a crucial part of entrepreneurship. It's choosing your path. Frequently, it's the path that the people you trust most discourage you from taking.
2. It removes their sense of entitlement.
I've taught my kids that when I say, "This stuff belongs to your mom and me," it means "We owe this to our hard work." They understand that I'm trying to create an environment in which they have the freedom to develop the skills and nurture the talents that will assist them in moving in a direction where they'll eventually be able to afford stuff of their own.
It's all about pride of authorship. If you didn't author the book, it would be ridiculous to take pride in it. Why should you take pride in a house or car for which you didn't contribute a dime?
3. It helps kids develop a unique world-view.
I don't want my kids restricted by how I view the world. The world is changing around me, and I'm trying to adapt to it. Encouraging Gabby to not claim what I've earned through my blood, sweat, and tears isn't about being strict. When Gabby self-corrected in front of my friends, she was laughing, and so was I.
If my girls develop a sense of real ownership, it'll help them see the world as their oyster. They'll evolve a view where everything is possible. The difference between that and being raised with a silver spoon in your mouth--i.e., growing up assuming that your parents' fortune is your own--is massive.
I know people raised in that situation who still feel owned by their parents when they're 45. We have friends whom I'll call "silver spooners" for example, whose parents are telling them where to go on vacation--" Meet us here, this is where you're taking a vacation." I can't imagine living like that.
I can't envision my girls living like that, either. I want them to be as prepared as possible to face an increasingly complex world with calm, cheerful fortitude. They need to learn the difference between what's theirs and what's mine. If they're working hard work to increase what's theirs while appreciating what I've provided, is an exceptional place to start.