“How can I be fair to both of them?”: I spent $20,000 more on my daughter’s education than on my son’s education. 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 course of action for my children.

I have a boy and a girl, both great kids and both in college. My wife died when they were teenagers, leaving her with various traumas. 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 from a major university in mathematics. He works hard, but not too hard. He is gifted.

My daughter has three semesters to go before she graduates as a mechanical engineer from a branch campus of a large university. She’s smart but not as gifted as my son, so she had to work harder than anyone I’ve ever seen as an engineer. I am very proud of their willingness to do what most children would not do.

My son was able to work while he was at school because of his degree and talent. He had a job in the cafeteria, so he lost his job when COVID-19 struck. He earned more from unemployment than from his job. My daughter cleaned houses and did odd jobs when she could. She had worked her freshman year and it was just too hard.

“My kids are both working very hard to improve.”

I worked my way through college and understood how difficult it was, so I encouraged her to quit her job and do odd jobs for money when she could. Both worked for a landscape gardener in the summer. Even though my daughter works harder at school, he works hard to keep a job and go to school. My children both work very hard to improve.

My daughter struggled more than my son after the death of my wife and went to college with little direction for a few years, majoring in communications. When she switched schools and majors to go into engineering, very little of her degree carried over. I gave my daughter a lot more money for college. I paid the tuition for both children, they pay for their own living expenses after two years in the dormitories.

However, since my son is on the right track and my daughter has been going much longer, I paid $20,000 more in tuition for her than for him. Also, my son became unemployed and had 19 months of social security.

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

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

How can I do justice to both? I gave my daughter far more money than my son and she accepted that gift and used it wisely to better herself and build a bright future. My son hasn’t wasted his but I don’t think he will have the same attitude and I’m concerned. I was wondering if I should take the difference between what I gave her and what I gave him and invest it for him: $20,000 will now be more than half a million for him when he retires.

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

The father

Dear father,

They all have gifts, even if some are less visible than others. The ability to persevere and show compassion are also gifts. Her children have worked hard to get where they are and they have come to terms with and overcome their mother’s death in their own way. Their respective academic abilities, personalities, ability to hold a part-time job while studying, choice of major and college, and tuition fees will never be exactly the same. Neither should you be.

As you say, life doesn’t go in a straight line. Your daughter initially struggled to cope with the death of her mother and your son appears to be scared later in life. It is too difficult to say whether her current emotional life and her decisions are directly related to this time. I warn you not to draw too many lines between the past and the present. It can help you retain compassion for your children’s choices, but it can also hold them back.

So, to answer your question, your children will both have times in their lives when one is better off financially and emotionally than the other. It will come in waves, and you will be there when they need you, just like you did as a single dad to make sure they have the best of everything. I don’t think you should reconsider the amounts you’ve spent on your college tuition. If you invest $20,000 for your son, I think you should give your daughter the same investment.

You are rightly proud of them. You’ve come a long way. you all have

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Brian Lowry

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