Last weekend, I was walking to the beach with our 4-year-old (or “4 ½ !”, as he would say). 

He asked:

“Dad, are my friends going to be there?”

I responded:  

“Yea, buddy.  I’m pretty sure Tommy is going to be there.”

Him:

“Tommy is going to be there?!  I haven’t seen him in forever!”

(It had probably been a week since their last interaction – how many months is that in kid years?). 

With his excitement, I cautioned him…

Me:

“Yea, but just so you know, I think Tommy’s parents have some friends in town and they have kids, too.  You might have to jump in the mix.”

Him:

“That’s fine, Dad! I’m sure we’ll all like each other!”

That moment gave me such a mixture of emotions. 

I was so happy for him to have such a wonderful attitude.  Many of us, prior to meeting new people, likely default to our insecurities vs. seeing the opportunity in meeting someone new.

The other side of me was so sad that I planted that seed for him.  He saw nothing but opportunity while I cautioned him of the horizon.  What a great night he ended up having, despite my attempt to intervene.

That 20 second exchange came at a great time.  I had just commented to my wife, Nikki, earlier in the day that I’m, personally, starting to realize that many of my parental interventions are at best unhelpful, worse, they can be hurtful. 

This may not be applicable to all parents and all children – for me, it’s starting to hold true.  In the conversation of ‘pick your battles’, my battles are becoming fewer and fewer.  Our kids are who they are.  And, the more I intervene, the more I realize I’m projecting my own neurosis on them.

I’m willing to say that 80-90% of parenting is simply making sure your child knows and feels that you’re there for them unconditionally – while the other 10-20% is life training.  In search for control, it’s easy to flip the ratio – the irony being, it’s completely inefficient.

A few days ago, an industry colleague Tweeted below:

Morgan’s point is very parallel to my observations of parenting.  I did some Googling to determine which adult obsession contains more books written: personal finance or parenting.  While nothing revealed itself decisively, I’m willing to guess that’s a pretty close race.  People have a lot to say about both.

Morgan revealed the secret passage in one simple Tweet. 

We could likely do something similar for parenting.  Maybe something like:

Love unconditionally.

Be a good role model with a long time horizon.

Expect and accept volatility.

That’s 90% of parenting.

90%.

Yes, there is business in the other 10%.  This is why my industry exists, counselors exist, and why people write lots of books about parenting and money. 

But, the energy and focus, is largely placed in the wrong places.  We inverse the attention – the simple blocking and tackling captures but a glimpse – meanwhile, the blocking and tackling begs for nearly all our focus.

Children are allowed to go through phases, just like our investments.  We don’t have to “fix” them because of short-term gyrations or child-like immaturities that make us uncomfortable.  In fact, we should expect our children to leave us scratching our heads – they’re testing the boundaries!  Just as the market does – constantly testing the highs and lows, gauging who’s in and who’s out.    

For wealth, 90% is doing very little – living below our means, long-term diversified investing, and embracing volatility.  Same for our children: being there for them, for the long-term, and embracing all of life’s volatility. 

Then, we choose wisely on the other 10%.  We pick our battles.  We hire the right people.  We read and consume the right stuff. 

The skill is keeping the ratio.

Stay calm. Stay invested.

Thanks for reading,

Mitch

As an aside, for practical advice on implementing good habits, I highly recommend Ramit Sethi’s book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.  He holds no punches, writes directly, and cuts through the huge industry that is writing books about personal finance.

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