Gifts with Strings Attached

Money issues can harm relationships, especially if a father hoards his money rather than open the purse strings for a son or daughter who could really use the help.

It’s been one of those weeks again when the same phrase shows up in three very different coaching conversations. When you stop to consider how your family feels about money and gift-giving in particular, do you ever get the sense that your parents will only give a financial gift “if there are strings attached?”

What does this really mean?

For some fathers, it is a reflection of their money style and history of doing without for many years. Now they have amazing wealth, but not the ability to let it flow freely. I have heard that some folks are so engrained with saving and frugality they just can’t bring themselves to spend even though there is ample cache.

Parents’ money styles that involve tight fists are hard to deal with when the next generation is looking for certainty about their financial well-being. There are farming sons and daughters who have done very well creating wealth and don’t expect any money from their parents. Those same sons and daughters may have siblings, the sisters of the successful farming child, who really could benefit from papa and mama’s unfettered generosity.

It seems to be a re-occurring story I am hearing from farming children. They are a bit miffed that any talk about how the farm wealth will be shared seems to come with a conversation about “We would give them more money, but they will just blow it, or spend it on things we don’t like!”

A gift once received is really out of the giver’s hands. If you choose to put conditions on how the gift is used, you are using money to manipulate your family. I have seen how lending to the family has turned into a nightmare of bad feelings and broken relationships. I have also witnessed wise lending when a promissory note was signed to protect both parties, with no hard feelings whatsoever.

We celebrate Father’s Day in June, and it is a time to honor our fathers. Some of you are having a hard time doing this because the way your dad has been handling the farm transfer is driving you crazy. You are feeling manipulated and you really would like to have some certainty around transition timelines.

We all would like the gift of respect. If this needs to be the year that you respectfully approach your parents to start the conversation around transition, do it gently, yet with a firm intention to reach your transition goals. Your dad is afraid of his future because he is looking for a meaningful life, and to him, that likely still involves doing stuff around the farm. He also has a spouse who is ready for a change, but he can’t resolve how he is going to please everyone in the process.

The town folks talk about “gifts with strings attached,” too. They see the things we possess and wonder if all the family members are treated the same when it is assumed that the business founder is doing really well financially. Some children are independent and never want parental help, while others also hope that the “bank of mom and dad” will be open forever.

I know families who keep ledgers of what they give each child, and to them, this gives them some sense of fairness. I wonder what the kids think about the ledger. My experience is that every situation is unique and some people will just need more money than others in order to make life work. There are folks who seem to have resources flowing to them in many forms: time, friends, gifts, barters, windfalls, and opportunities taken.

Could you present your father with a gift this year with absolutely no strings attached, with no expectation except the sheer delight of giving a gift that honors your dad?

A rancher from Alberta made an impact on my friends when he shared a story about the best gift of being the elder generation on his ranch. The time he spends with his wee grandson and the delight he sees in his face when they are riding the range together is “priceless” to this grandfather and father. His legacy of respect, love, and relationship building is a wonderful gift he receives all throughout the year.

When it comes to money, are you fearful of running out of resources as you age? Are you holding on tight to the wealth you have worked so hard to build up? If a financial advisor confirmed that you have more than enough, would you open your hand and let some dollars flow to the family member who needs a financial boost and those who don’t? Would you delight in seeing the face of an adopted family member use your resources to better their life? Could you give the gift anonymously to your community or a charity?

God has called us to honor our parents. He has also called us to be cheerful givers and sow abundantly.

I hope that you will spend some time reflecting on your style of giving and what expectations you carry with transferring gifts of money to your family and friends.

It’s one of those tough “undiscussabullsTM” that we all need to be clear about.

I highly recommend a book called The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. It will help address our feelings and relationship with money.

Love your father. Love your children. Leave a legacy of generosity and abundance of spirit. Let your financial footprints leave a path of certainty and strength for your family.

Have a wonderful Father’s Day!

Elaine Froese, the certified coach, helps facilitate safe family transition meetings. She farms with her husband Wes near Boissevain, Man. She agrees with Ralph Waldo Emerson that “your health is your wealth”, along with rich relationships to God, family, and friends.

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