Sting's kids won't inherit his wealth: A way to raise children with 'grit'?

Sting has told media that he won't leave his self-made fortune to his children, in an effort to increase their self-reliance and personal drive. Is there a lesson here for parents who aren't as wealthy as rock stars?

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Musician Sting performs 'The Last Ship' onstage during the American Theatre Wing's 68th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, June 8.

As many American parents suffer to make ends meet, hoping to leave something more than debt to their children, wealthy parents like music legend Sting are choosing to pass along no inheritance to their privileged offspring in order to give them the grit to succeed on their own. 

At first glance, there would seem to be little linkage from Sting’s wealthy woes and that of the average American parent. But what we have in common is our shared wish to motivate our kids to be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and make it in the world after we are gone. 

Sting, who grew up poor and earned his $300 million through grit and determination, said Sunday that his children won't inherit any of his money when he dies as a means to motivate them to succeed on their own. 

"They have to work. All my kids know that and they rarely ask me for anything, which I really respect and appreciate," Sting told The Daily Mail. ”Obviously, if they were in trouble I would help them, but I've never really had to do that. They have the work ethic that makes them want to succeed on their own merit."

Sting called trust funds, “albatrosses round their necks."

Reading about Sting brought American TV newsman Anderson Cooper to mind as perhaps the proof of Sting's theory.

While Mr. Cooper’s mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, inherited her wealth from generations before her, she intends to leave none to her son.

"My mom's made clear to me that there's no trust fund. There's none of that,” He told Howard Stern in an interview, adding, "I don't believe in inheriting money.”

Cooper called a waiting trust fund an "initiative sucker" and a "curse."

"Who's like inherited a lot of money that has gone on to like do things in their own life?" Cooper asked Stern. "From the time I was growing up, if I felt that there was some pot of gold waiting for me, I don't know that I would've been so motivated."

The cases of both Sting and Cooper resonated with me today because the issue of needing grit in order to succeed was part of a theme for the TEDx Hampton Roads, Virginia, event that took place on June 20. The main theme was “Relevant Progress” and I was invited to speak at the event as a local community leader who has run a free chess program in Norfolk, Va. for the past six years. 

Right before my talk, the event’s Curator, Michael Savage, showed a video of a 2013 TED talk from former math teacher turned psychologist and researcher, Angela Lee Duckworth, of New York.

Ms. Duckworth talks about how our kids need “grit” more than IQ or wealthy parents, in order to succeed.

My talk was about how you don’t have to be independently wealthy or a chess expert to build  chess into your community. All you need is the grit to make it happen for your child and others, and the result is to see a community make progress when they come together across a chess board.

Duckworth, who has conducted studies on what it takes to succeed in both school and in life, talked about how, in education, we need a better understanding of students from a “motivational perspective.”

What Duckworth found in her studies was that it wasn’t IQ, education or money, but the “grit” that made people succeed.

She defined “grit” as that ability to soldier doggedly onward in order to meet a goal possessed. She says that is what makes all the difference and if we could only figure out how to instill this quality, to make our kids “grittier” it would make all the difference.

The video of Duckworth’s talk ended where mine began, as she admitted that she didn’t know how to get our kids mentally, spiritually, and emotionally “gritty,” and I offered that the challenges inherent in the game of chess could be one possible solution.

Therefore, seeing Sting trying to “nurture grit” in his kids by removing their golden parachutes, and  Cooper fashioning his own prosperous landing, I see that every parent, rich or poor, shares a common issue – raising kids with grit.

While we each approach the installation of grit in our kids in our own way, it is the illusive quality money can’t buy and something we can’t do for our kids, but something we have to let kids build up on their own.

It is the quality that is worth our time and effort to help our kids find within themselves by letting them try and sometimes fail on their own.

As much as we want them to succeed, sometimes their success may hinge not on the moment we take the training wheels off the bike and let go, but on the moment we encourage them to get back on the bike with a skinned knee.

To someone like Sting, or Ms. Vanderbilt (Cooper’s mom), it may mean ensuring their kids don’t have laurels that are not their own to rest on.

For a mom like me, trying to build responsibility and stick-to-it-iveness on the cheap,  it may mean encouraging my sons to get summer jobs, do chores, and learn to play another chess game after losing three in a row.

In the final analysis of the decisions made by both Sting and Vanderbilt, I wonder if it isn’t about the money at all, but rather their parental commitment to encourage strong, independent kids that really makes all the difference. 

Helping our kids succeed is not really about what we or they can afford, but what we can’t afford to ignore, the strength of their work ethic and character.

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