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Let Your Grown Children Find Their Own Way

The author of 'Entitlemania' on adversity as a teaching tool

By Richard Watts

Many of us believe the wisdom we distill from surviving life’s obstacle course is best directed at rescuing our kids from the difficulty and heartache of similar growing experiences. More strategic than yesteryear’s helicopter parents, today’s drone parents seek out and destroy perceived impediments to our children’s success. But it is not the successes of life that expose our kid’s uniqueness.

Grown Children
Credit: Adobe

As Michelangelo said of his statue David, “David was always inside the block of marble. It just a matter for the sculptor to hammer and chisel away the pieces that didn’t belong.” Life’s setbacks and sufferings help us to identify and embrace what is most important to us. To separate the valuable from the meaningless. To find our own way. Why would we want any less for our children?

Allow for Stumbles

Most parents love their children. But love is a tricky word. For many parents, love means protecting and making sure no harm comes to our kids. These are well meant efforts. However, I prefer to think of love as an unconditional promise to affirm our kids without interfering in their life course. That used to be called tough love; often as tough for the parent as for the child!

You say: How can I allow my son or daughter to stumble down a path that may be detrimental or destructive to his or her future?

Think of your own life experience: Life took numerous directions your parents may have thought negative. You recall some of these times as being so disorienting and destructive, they caused memories of permanent hurt. Although sometimes painful, these detours provide us contrast, teach discernment, groove a confident path and ingrain the skill of recovery.

Adversity: A Valuable Teaching Tool

Adversity is a teaching tool more valuable than success. Sometimes, wrong choices help our children identify the right ones. And once the right direction is selected, their passion energizes the will to outrun any obstacle because of one thing they have realized: they care deeply about the finish line.

Yet as parents, we often manipulate our child into choices that are preferred by us, with no regard for what our child may have wanted for himself or herself. Parents prefer their children have a certain future, although intuitively they know uncertainty plays a significant role in them finding their path.

In my career of managing financially successful families, I have experienced many examples of this misdirected love. One such story was of Katya, a Ukrainian immigrant who came to the United States and married Andre, a cardio thoracic surgeon. Tara was their daughter.

Katya and Tara: An Example of Misdirected Love

In Katya’s youth, she was a top-rated tennis player, but lacked the professional talent to advance to world ranking. Mom had fallen short of her dreams and decided tennis must be in her daughter’s genes. She insisted Tara try her hand at the sport. Mom had dedicated her entire early life to tennis and demanded the same of her daughter. Mom and Dad paid for nothing but the best in coaching, nutrition and fitness. But Tara loved art.

By the time Tara entered college, she was seeded No. 1 nationally for women’s college tennis and knew little else of a previous decade of all things being devoted to tennis. If there was a Bachelor of Arts in Tennis, her mother would have signed her up. Tara majored in Art History with an emphasis on the Renaissance instead.

Toward the end of Tara’s senior year, she was playing an exhibition match in Paris, and happened by the Louvre. With a renewed passion, she spent the afternoon smiling at art. She could not get past the Mona Lisa. Da Vinci had captured a complacency and sadness. A sadness Tara also felt deep within her heart. Where was the joy? Where was the expression? In front of a crowded gallery of onlookers, Tara began to cry.


In that moment, she realized her life was unknown to her. Both she and Da Vinci’s masterpiece felt nothing. She called her coach that day and quit her sport. There would be no more tennis.

A Severed Relationship

Mom was furious. Her life had been ruined… again! The relationship was severed and for nearly two years, mom and daughter did not communicate. Tara took a position as assistant curator in a small art and cultural center in New York City.

After mom had her fill of silence, she once again connected with Tara and their relationship limped back to normal. It was difficult for Katya to recognize her expectations of her daughter had morphed into resentment from Tara, and that she had robbed her daughter of not only her passion, but her life.

Tara is now happily married, and has two kids. Tara’s mom is hopeful that one of them might carry on her legacy of tennis. Tara…not so much.

The Risk to You

What our children deserve is an authentic story…their story. One they believe in. It might take them several attempts at different opportunities. And what is the risk to you? They might fail.

You should respond with encouragement and affirmation, because if we script their lives, they will never identify the inner passion which gives them the self-stamina to drive through adversity. They need to be allowed to stumble, yet recognize with perseverance they will eventually find their way.

One has to be lost to be found. Our children need to determine what personal goal is worth giving their all. Sometimes that requires them to walk into walls. Absent a path of self-discovery, our children will never realize and develop the natural gifts that make the an original instead of a copy.

Rather than raising them to fulfill your expectations, what if you put as much effort into helping them realize their own?

Richard Watts is the author of Entitlemania: How Not to Spoil Your Kids, and What to Do If You Have. He is also a personal adviser and legal counsel to the super wealthy and founder and president of Family Business Office, a legal and consulting firm in Santa Ana, Calif. Read More
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