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The Family as a Cultural System

No two families are alike. All families, wealthy or not, are complex, dynamic organisms that are forever changing cultural systems. The culture of a family, like any other cultural system, consists of the beliefs, values, attitudes, norms, and behaviors of its members. Each family’s history affects its current culture. Individual family members influence one another in countless, complex ways. Numerous external forces influence the life, identity, and culture of a family as well. Marriages bring "outsiders" into a family, while death and divorce can shatter families and shift lines of power and influence. The extended families of spouses who marry into a family exert their influence too, bringing with them new issues of culture, heritage, business success, family dysfunction, and social prominence.

Still another factor that can color the dynamics in any family is the very presence of wealth itself. Money can be tremendously empowering and can afford its owners extraordinary opportunities. At the same time, money can complicate family relationships, foster resentment, and create dependency. At the extreme, poorly managed wealth can lead to degeneracy and even corruption.

I believe that wealthy parents—like all parents—need to be intentional about instilling values of accountability and responsibility in their children when it comes to the use of money. Indeed, doing so can be critical to the family’s long-term survival! Many wealthy parents indulge their children financially. In so doing, they often foster economic dependency and create a generation of children that feels entitled to the benefits of wealth, but which is ill prepared to manage the responsibilities that wealth entails. Such children often become reliant on their parents for their lifestyles and often lack the discipline to use money wisely. It’s no wonder that some people believe that passing wealth from one generation to the next is doing their heirs and society a disservice.

Not surprisingly, financial dependency can affect a family in significant ways. Just how do you go about raising a generation to be empowered by its wealth, not filled with a sense of over-entitlement because of it? I don’t know of a single wealthy parent who doesn’t worry about this issue a great deal.

That’s one more reason why wealth management is about so much more than money. It’s also about fostering strong intergenerational values related to productivity, work, accountability, and personal responsibility. Doing this can ensure the health of families for multiple generations. The failure to do it can lead to family dysfunction and the rapid loss of wealth.

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