Experiencing Turbulence

It was time.

Well, it was almost time.

Around 2:45 pm on December 6th, 2022, I sat in a lonely hallway awaiting my invitation into the operating room.

My wife was about to give birth to our 4th child and our first daughter.

If I’m being honest, this is always a bit of an anxious time in our household after losing our first son in 2017, 35 weeks into pregnancy.

“Ok, we are ready for you!” The cheerful nurse exclaimed as she waved me back to the operating room.

I had become somewhat familiar with this process, as our other two boys at home were both delivered via c-section in this very operating room. Yet, this time was a bit different – there were A LOT more people in the room than in the past. One anesthesiologist arrived to relieve another for a break, a group of nurses were “in training,” and a handful of other medical professionals of different roles filled the room.

When you’re anxious – change or surprise of any kind only amplifies the feeling, and so it was for me at this moment.  Nonetheless, just like I was familiar with before, I sat holding my wife’s hand behind a curtain as the doctors worked on welcoming my baby girl to the world.

From here on out, nothing else was familiar or expected.

I came out from behind the curtain to greet my daughter, expecting to cut her umbilical cord.  Instead, I was crowded out by a busy group of nurses hunched over my newborn, and I was overwhelmed with the chatter of medical language. I couldn’t translate what they were saying, but it was obvious that our baby was having trouble breathing.

“Call the NICU! Get them here right away,” shouted one of the nurses.

My heart dropped; all my greatest fears began to surface. My wife looked over and asked if everything was ok, I tried to reassure her but found myself losing my balance a bit. I was about to faint. I was overwhelmed by the fear of losing my little girl.  I was also fighting to stay conscious as I didn’t want to divert attention away from my daughter or my wife.

A few nurses started to notice my pale complexion and heavy perspiration. “Are you ok, sir?” I just kept replying that I was fine, but eventually had to leave the room. I was overwhelmed, I was scared, and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t keep my composure. I sat on the floor, head in my hands, fighting back tears. After losing our firstborn, I’ve had a high sensitivity to any sort of medical complications – a PTSD of sorts, I suppose.

Let me calm the nerves of our readers – our little girl would spend the next four days in NICU but progressed in strength and health daily.  She was sent home with her mom on that fourth day. They are both doing great 🙂

I spent those four days in the hospital just reminded me of (1) how fragile our lives are and (2) how a parent would do anything – absolutely anything – to protect their child. As selfish as humans are, a parent would elect to take every ounce of pain in place of their child.

I lay restless on that hospital couch that first night thinking about a financial planning meeting I had just a week prior. A colleague and I were meeting with a client going over their financial plan. Much of the discussion revolved around two financial goals: college funding and early retirement.  We were butting up against two important aspirations the client had and realizing that it may not be attainable to achieve both goals to the full extent of their expectations. In economics or personal finance, we call this a tradeoff. You can do one, or you can do some of each, but you can’t do both completely.

As I was recollecting this discussion and meditating on this financial riddle, I found myself staring at this tension point right in the eyes. A parent wants nothing more than to care for, provide for, and protect their child, yet we have our limitations. In that operating room, I felt helpless, I had every ounce of desire with no practical skills or knowledge to help in this situation. In financial planning, we may face this same dichotomy – an unquenchable desire to do it all but faced with our own financial limitations.

Immediately I started to recite in my head the guidance we are all so familiar with from the pre-flight safety presentation:

“In the event of a sudden drop in pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from above. Secure your own mask first before assisting others.”

I thought about how important it was for my client to first secure their own retirement plans before funding their kid’s full college tuition, a wedding, graduate school, or helping with the down payment on a first home purchase.  Why?  Because a parent’s greatest fear (or one of them at least) is being a burden on their children in their latter years, poor prioritization in planning can lead to this sort of future financial dependency.  Our financial flight attendant might say it this way, “Secure your own financial future first before financially assisting others.

The parental responsibilities don’t stop here. First, you are to secure your own financial future via prudent planning, and then next, you are called to good stewardship with how you plan to bequest these “leftover” finances to the next generation.

For the parent allocating resources that seemed to be just enough, we heeded the advice from the flight attendant.  For parents allocating resources that seem to be overflowing in abundance, we might be best to seek advice from our local park ranger.  As the signs all over national parks read,

Please Don’t Feed the Wildlife.” 

This is the simplest example of when helping hurts.  Just as wildlife can become dependent on campers for survival, an ill-prepared beneficiary can be harmed by a sudden windfall of abundance.

We won’t unpack all the steps and processes here today for healthy bequeathing, but it’s important to be reminded of this additional responsibility parents have to pass the wealth baton in a prudent manner.

No one ever said parenting was going to be easy, right? And surely no one ever said personal finances were going to be a walk in the park.  Combine the two, and we’d be wise to slow down, seek counsel, and be intentional about how we approach these matters.

As we wrap up 2022, what better time than now to reflect on our blessings and begin to meditate on our own financial objectives for the coming year.  For some, prioritization will be key and candid conversations with their financial advisor on these matters will be important.  For others, a reminder is needed that with wealth comes responsibility and an added level of complexity as we layer on the piece regarding legacy planning.

For the Cummings household, we are feeling absolutely blessed by our growing family, and we are excited to celebrate Christmas with an added stocking on the mantel.  I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and take time to dwell on all the blessings that have been bestowed on you.

Merry Christmas, friends.

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About the Author

Trevor Cummings

Private Wealth Advisor, Partner

Trevor is a Partner and Director of our Private Wealth Advisor Group.

As the author of TOM [Thoughts On Money], Trevor endeavors to write and speak about financial concepts and principles in a kind of “straight” talk demeanor and posture.

He received his Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Biola University and his MBA from California State University, Fullerton.