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“How can I be fair to both? : I spent $20,000 more on my daughter’s education than my son’s. Should I level the playing field and invest $20,000 in stocks for my son’s retirement?

Dear Quentin,

I have a question regarding the right thing to do for my children.

I have a boy and a girl, both great kids and both in college. When they were teenagers my wife passed away which left them with varying levels of trauma. My son was 14 and my daughter was 16, and it hit my daughter harder. My son is naturally very gifted and is about to graduate with a degree in mathematics from a top university. He works hard, but not too much. He’s talented.

My daughter is 3 semesters away from earning a mechanical engineering degree from a major university high school campus. She’s smart, but not gifted like my son, so she must have worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen become an engineer. I’m very proud of his willingness to do what most kids wouldn’t do.

My son, thanks to his diploma and his gifts, was able to work during his studies. He had a job in the cafeteria, so when COVID-19 hit, he lost his job. He was earning more from unemployment than if he was working. My daughter cleaned houses and did odd jobs when she could. She had worked her freshman year and it was just too hard.

“My children are both working very hard to improve themselves.”

I worked my way through college and realized how hard it was, so I encouraged her to quit her job and do odd jobs for money when she could. They both worked for a landscaper in the summer. So even though my daughter is working harder in school, he is working hard to keep a job and go to school. My children are both working very hard to improve.

My daughter struggled more than my son after my wife died and went to college with little direction for a few years, majoring in communications. When she changed schools and majors to become an engineer, very few of her degrees were transferred. I gave my daughter a lot more money for college. I paid the school fees for the two children, they pay their own living expenses after two years in the dorms.

However, because my son is on the right track and my daughter is going much longer, I paid $20,000 more in tuition for her than for him. In addition, my son received unemployment and had 19 months of social security.

“I gave a lot more money to my daughter than to my son.”

My daughter’s job prospects after college are better than my son’s. His trauma left him somewhat anxious and introverted. She was able to get a summer internship in her field, but he couldn’t get anything, and that makes me worry more about his future.

How can I be fair to both? I gave my daughter way more money than my son and she took that gift and put it to good use to better herself and prepare for a bright future. My son didn’t waste his, but I don’t think he’ll have the same vision and I’m worried. I was wondering if I should take the difference between what I gave him and what I gave him, and invest it for him: $20,000 now will be over half a million for him when he retires .

I would appreciate your thoughts. I love my kids and want them to have the life they deserve, but I want to be fair to both of them.

The father

Dear father,

They both have gifts, although some are more visible than others. The ability to persevere and show compassion are also gifts. Your children have worked hard to get where they are, and they have lived and overcome their mother’s death in their own way. Their respective academic abilities, personalities, ability to maintain parallel hustle while studying, choice of major and university, and tuition fees will never be exactly the same. Nor should they be.

As you suggest, life does not flow in a straight line. Your daughter initially struggled to cope with her mother’s death, and your son seems to have anxiety later in life. It is too difficult to say if their emotional life today and their choices are directly related to this time. I caution you against drawing too many lines between past and present. This can help you stay compassionate with your children’s choices, but it can also hold them back.

And so to your question: Your children will both have times in their lives when one will do better than the other financially and emotionally. It will come in waves and you will be there when they need you, just like you were as a single dad making sure they had the best of everything. I don’t think you should think too much about how much you spent on their tuition. If you invest $20,000 for your son, I think you should give your daughter an equal investment.

You are rightly proud of them. They have come a long way. You have everything.

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