Paying respect to family tradition
As I began to think about preparing and hosting Thanksgiving this year, it occurred to me that this would be my family's first holiday celebration without my grandmother, who passed away earlier this year.
Of course, it was sad to think of her not being at the packed dining room table, sharing funny stories and events from our family's past. No one knew or could tell those stories better. In thinking about her absence, I felt tremendous disappointment and wondered who would now be the family member responsible for passing along those stories to the next generation -- specifically, to my children.
At this point you might be wondering what this has to do with teaching kids about money and financial literacy. Trust me, it has a lot to do with it.
There is a famous proverb known as "shirtsleeves-to-shirtsleeves in three generations." That is, the first generation creates the wealth. The second generation maintains the wealth. And the third generation spends (destroys) the wealth. We see this time and time again, in many cases because the third generation knows or understands little of the history that went into creating the wealth by the first generation.
It is clear that the absence of any historical perspective causes a disconnect between the effort that went into building that wealth and the values required and expected to maintain it. Sharing your family's history provides context to the values inherent in the family's wealth creation, and passes along a host of other lessons that go beyond the space limitations of this column.
A few years ago my own family set out to recapture a little of its history, in writing. I wanted to have some sort of document that could be a work in progress that at least covered the highlights as far back as my great-grandparents. Why? As morbid as it sounds, I wanted to have a brief history of both of our family lines, so that if we never got around to sharing it together with the kids, they could at least read about it.
It was actually a fun endeavor, interviewing our parents to recount their childhood, and ours. And now that we have the history, whenever something "newsworthy" happens within our family, we update the document, making it more current.
All this is to say that Thanksgiving is a time of reflection. Whether grandma can physically make the family dinner or not, don't forget to make sure she is there in spirit by remembering the family's past in building your future. In order to continue to grow, it is important to understand the history of what got you to where you are today. And our children will benefit from understanding that history.
Tom Henske, a Westport resident and partner with Lenox Advisors, a wealth management firm with offices in New York City and Stamford, developed the Lenox Money-Smart Kids Program in conjunction with MassMutal Financial Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org