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Doctor's Kids: 8 Tips For Overcoming Shadow Syndrome

May 11, 2024

Doctor’s Kids

I admit it, I am one of those parents who expect my adult children living at home to contribute in exchange for free housing. I don't ask for much considering I provide them with food and housing—it's a pretty good deal. One of their most dreaded responsibilities is mowing the lawn for our 3 properties (all within a block of each other) every week. Each lawn takes about an hour to mow. To be fair, I outsource the groundskeeping and landscaping management, so they only need to handle the mowing and leaf raking in the fall. Snow removal in the winter is also outsourced.

To me, it's all about trying to prevent the development of an "entitlement" mindset in them as children of wealthy doctors. It's also meant to instill in them the responsibility and self-sufficiency they'll need when they have their own homes or properties.

Most children of doctors will deal with shadow syndrome to some degree. Shadow syndrome refers to children growing up in the shadow of highly successful and self-sufficient parents. I recommend you start preparing now to address it.

I Wish I Had Known This

I was speaking to my 22-year-old daughter recently and told her I wish I had known at age 20 what I know now about wealth creation, taxes, and real estate. I explained to her that growing up in a working-class family, the only professionals I interacted with regularly were teachers. As I reflect back on many of them, I realize that many had side hustles ranging from coaching to insurance sales to landlording. I commented that the smart ones knew it was challenging to become financially independent on a teacher's salary—but real estate offered them a great tax-advantaged wealth-building channel.

My advice to her was to consider investing in real estate early in her life as a foundation for creating wealth. And to be honest, since she is a "starving artist" creative writer—who has already learned that she needs to have a "real job" to pay the bills—I suspect she'll always be on the hunt for income-generating opportunities. She shared that she had read about the idea of buying a 4-plex—living in one unit and renting out the other three—as a great opportunity. It made me happy to see that she had already grasped a concept that took me until age 40 to embrace—you go, girl!

So I thought it might be wise to try to summarize some tips that doctors as parents may want to share with their kids.

8 Ways To Help Your Kids Overcome Your Shadow

Here are 8 ways to empower your children in the shadow of YOUR success.

  1. . Live Well Under Your Means

    Artificially lower your kids' lifestyle. It does not have to be the very best that you can afford. The problem is that sometimes that feels like you're punishing yourself. There's no reason you can't drive a Tesla while they drive a Civic. You can fly coach when you take the kids and First Class when you don't. Better yet, you can do what our family of 7 did to live frugally—we purchased a used Suburban and packed it full to drive all over the country for our family vacations. Those were great laboratories for learning to cohabitate in small spaces for long periods of time—although having a DVD system was also a nice feature in the vehicle!

  2. Communicate

    ASK your kids how they feel about growing up in your shadow and start talking about it while they're young. You can let them know how some people in their situation feel and what they have done about it. You can have them talk to therapists or advisors who specialize in dealing with this kind of thing. The key point is that it’s ok to talk about it, and it’s also ok to not have to be like the rest of the family.

  3. Don't Force Kids into a Particular Career or Major

    Point out the pluses and minuses of a given career and how their attitudes toward work and income and lifestyle might change over the next few decades. But don't force them. Funny thing in our family—everyone one of them ended up with a job that involved wearing scrubs—just like dear old dad! It wasn’t planned that way—but it just happened—and this includes our 22 yo creative writer who works full time at a dentist office.

  4. Lighten Their Burden

    "Lighten their burden but do not remove the struggle." That requires a very careful, individualized balancing act. You've got to be really careful not only how you use your wealth to benefit them, but also how, when, and under what conditions you pass it on to them. One of our kids is on the autism spectrum which has made life more challenging for him—so we are always mindful that there times we must lighten his burden—even if it’s not the same thing we did for all the rest of the kids.

  5. Help Them To Be Grateful

    The children of the wealthy have a lot to be grateful for, but it doesn't happen naturally. What will happen naturally is called entitlement or "out-of-touch-ness." Gratitude has to be taught. This can be done by emphasizing how fortunate their lives are, through travel, through giving, and particularly through service to others. One the best ways that we helped our kids grasp this was by taking them on 3rd world mission trips with each us—where they got to see real worldwide poverty and pain—but also visualized how they could and should help others less fortunate.

  6. Learn Where the Wealth Came From

    Your kids need to understand the sacrifices you made and the work you put in to build your fortune. They should know where you got lucky and about the important decisions you've made in your career and with your investments. This knowledge will help them to have a more realistic view of their parents, the family wealth, and their own place in the story. My kids love these “when I was your age” stories that my wife and I share with them around the kitchen and living room.

  7. Build Financial Literacy

    Wealthy heirs often have money dumped in their laps without any significant preparation. At a minimum, make sure they have general financial literacy. We tried to teach the concept of stewardship with each of our kids—attempting to hard wire the 3 Jars concept of spend, save, give with all their earnings. I have also shared my business interests with our kids who are interested in learning the ropes.

  8. Help Them to Be Wealth Creators, Not Wealth Consumers

    If generation 1 is the only generation that ever creates any wealth, your family is highly likely to be one of those that goes "shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves" in 3 generations. But if that second and third generation can also learn to be wealth creators, that will go a long way toward building generational wealth. My two biggest wealth generating tips: Start a business& invest in real Estate


Do you have experience with shadow syndrome? What do you plan to do about it in your family? I invite you to be intentional about how your raising your children, and the mindsets that you creating in them as you do life together.

This is a great segue into my SimpliMD coaching program, because it holistically covers areas like this and helps you develop the skills needed to thrive—even as a parent! Sign up for it here!