family and money

the other day, nancy asked an interesting question in her saturday case study:

jeff and his two siblings, a brother and sister, each inherited a sizeable legacy when their parents died. jeff was conservative, and grew his legacy into an even more significant nest egg and is now independently wealthy.

he came to me because there was an unintended consequence to his wisdom: his siblings have very little left to show for their inheritance. he is too uncomfortable to let them know of his secret small fortune in comparison. as you can imagine he then has to hide his lifestyle which has resulted in increasing distance between him and his brother and sister.

what approaches might you suggest to jeff for bridging the gap, while protecting his own inner boundaries about his wealth?

this is an age-old question and i can think of a number of fairy tales with similar dynamics!

if i were to see jeff as a therapist, i might use “miracle questions”:

  • imagine you wake up one morning next year and a miracle has happened: you know that you now have a comfortable relationship with your siblings around money.
  • what would you tell others about your siblings?
  • what kinds of things would you be looking forward to do with your siblings? conversations? family gatherings? little joint projects?
  • how would you be displaying your lifestyle?
  • and what did you do to be so much more comfortable with your siblings?

it’s possible that just having a conversation with these questions as guidelines might bring about a change. for example, maybe talking about family gatherings might help jeff become aware how important they are for him – even more important than the money.

it’s also possible that this whole scenario is only the tip of the iceberg. maybe his relationship with his siblings would be difficult even without the money problem.

another possibility is that the discomfort around the difference in wealth is mostly on jeff’s side. as we all know, a great many problems in relationships stem from lack of communication. unfortunately, we often tend to make up for this insufficient and incomplete communication with imagined scenarios – but most of us are pretty bad mind readers and what we imagine is not quite the case.

but all of these (and more) are just possibilities.

if jeff came to see me, though, i’d do my best to keep these ideas far in the corner of my mind; i want to be as open, curious and receptive as possible when i see a new client. after all, my clients live with themselves 24/7 and are, therefore, much better experts at themselves than i can ever be.

my job is simply to be a midwife – to ask questions they may not have thought of before, to point out a perspective they might have forgotten, to support them in becoming even better experts of their lives.

to paraphrase henley: you are the master of your fate, you are the captain of your soul.

and that includes steering the ship of your financial life. you don’t want that to be captained by fear and discomfort; you want it to be captained by purpose.

now it’s your turn: how would you help jeff?

(if you look closely, you’ll see that this post is included in tony’s crazy surfer’s hullaballo carnival

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