Continued Financial Support of Adult Children: Lose-Lose

I won’t grow up/I don’t want to wear a tie/And a serious expression/In the middle of July./And if it means I must prepare/To shoulder burdens with a worried air,/I’ll never grow up/never grow up, never grow up/Not me/Not I/Not me!/So there! ~ Peter Pan

If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll probably remember this: In my day, you were basically expected to be married and/or self-supporting when you finished college. Scout’s honor.

My husband–even more ancient than myself, if you can imagine–had parents who told him, “You can either pay rent and board somewhere else, or live at home and pay it to us.”

It was a tough world back then.

But those times are long, long gone.

Everything has gotten so expensive these days–college tuitions, rents, insurance–that our children now have an extremely prolonged and extended adolescence, as parents (who have the means) continue to support their children well into their twenties–and sometimes thirties and beyond.

A July 2011 article at money.msn.com entitled “Are your kids putting your retirement at risk?” offers the following astonishing statistics:

“Fifty-nine percent of parents financially support their adult children (ages 18 to 39) who aren’t in college, according to a new study by the National Endowment for Financial Education. Nearly half (48%) help their adult kids with living expenses, 41% with transportation costs, and 29% with spending money. When asked why they do it, 43% of parents said it was because they were “legitimately concerned” with their child’s financial well-being, and 37% said “it was because they didn’t want their children to struggle financially like they once did.”

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And in an amazing follow-up point, the article notes that “26% of parents have had to take on more debt” because of this support they offer their children.

 

The parents provide the eternal safety net in many families I work with. In certain cases where children (adults?) simply haven’t earned the privileges that the family is willing to indulge them in. But parents continue to support or supplement even when a child has a job and is ready to move out.

Parents want their children in a safer neighborhood, so they make up the difference in the rent. Or–and how many times have you seen this?–they never take them off the family car and health insurance. And then there’s the use of the credit card for gas, of course. And for “emergencies.”

As an exercise for these children, I like for them to see how close they are to really “making it.” How many bills are actually footed by their parents, and taken enough for granted that the child thinks he’s surviving on his own?

If parents pay for the “extras,” the adult child doesn’t even know what self-supporting looks like. And if this has gone on for years, and the 29 year old “child” is happy with it and hasn’t pushed to try to be more financially independent, maybe a second job, or a job that will cover all your expenses–well, we know who’s to blame.

It’s. . .

The Parents.

And, parents, you’ve got some serious work to do to right this situation, but you can do it, and it will be better not just for your pocketbook, but for your child’s own sense of self.

See:

But What If?: Adult Children With Extenuating Circumstances

Brian always seemed a few steps behind everyone else socially, unsure when to laugh, when to put himself forward, when to retreat. His stutter contributed to his painful shyness. And from the get-go he had never managed to get his school work done.

Not from the time he was in first grade and was expected to memorize spelling words, not when he had to read 20 minutes a day in fifth grade, not when he was–most unrealistically–expected to memorize the parts of a cell, and not when he was supposed to find the value of ‘x.’

His parents, anxious that he should succeed, at least in the bottom level courses into which he was placed, worked hard with Brian, but always wound up more-or-less doing the work, as Brian was so slow to catch on, and became more anxious and agitated as his parents pushed him to perform.  And, when they tired of doing the work, they hired tutors to do it, under the guise of ‘teaching’ Brian.

Diagnosed as dyslexic, ADHD, with executive functioning difficulties, and an IQ that put him in ‘dull normal’ range, Brian underperformed even his parents’ adjusted expectations, and, in their heart of hearts, his parents believed the high school graduated him because they were big muckety-mucks in the community. He had no friends, no skills of any use, no ambition, nowhere to go–and no hope for the future.

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Renee was a serious over-achiever, and had been from the moment she pushed herself out of her mother’s womb ahead of her twin, who, by anatomical rights, should have come first. She had the best dioramas in elementary school, gave the longest oral report on Roman aqueducts in the history of her school, wrote the most creative essays, attended the local community college during math class time since she finished calculus her junior year, and–to no one’s surprise–graduated valedictorian.

Given a free ride to a top-tiered school only a few blocks from her house, Renee continued to excel, finally needing special permission from the dean to take a class load as heavy as she wanted. Eating, exercising, socializing went by the wayside as she pulled a Hermione Granger, seemingly accomplishing the impossible with the amount of time spent in learning and studying.

Her mental breakdown junior year was severe, profound, and not unexpected.  A year later Renee’s parents watched as Renee’s twin scraped by with no honors but with, thank the Lord, a diploma, at the local college, and as the rest of Renee’s class turned the tassels on their graduation caps, indicating they had completed one more of those tasks that set them on the road to independent adulthood.

Their daughter, on the other hand, was still in and out of hospitals, and, as a more-honest-than-one-would-have-hoped-for-psychiatrist shared, her prognosis was very poor.

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Joan had always felt insecure about her weight, which was, to call a spade a spade, definitely on the high side. She watched as her friends flirted with their boyfriends and coupled off, remaining, despite her deep desire for male companionship, almost stubbornly single.

It was a common topic of conversation at family meals, as her father tried to control her caloric intake, and her mother comforted Joan and apologized for her father’s ‘cruelty.’ Joan, a bright enough girl, under-achieved in high school, and attended the local community college, where she made few friends.

Invited to a bar one night by one of those friends, she met a foreign man–no one really ever figured out his origins, and Joan kept his secrets. We might say he swept her off her feet–not by his sheer romantic prowess, but by his ability to look at, engage with, and be interested in her. For Joan it was the proverbial love at first sight.  Stephan was older, in his thirties, and in the country illegally, and generally signficantly restrained when discussing his background, but all that seemed as nothing to Joan when he took her out, spent time with her, kissed and stroked her.

Over significant parental protest–well, at least on Joan’s part; Stephan didn’t seem to have any family at all–the two married in a small ceremony with Joan two months pregnant.

Stephan didn’t believe in birth control, didn’t believe in Joan keeping up steady contact with her own family, didn’t believe, apparently, in working (that is, his working–Joan worked hard as a part-time secretary to try to make a dent in the bills that just grew with each child), and, Joan’s parents later found, didn’t believe in keeping his fists away from Joan.

In a sign of how damaged Joan’s sense of self was, she never left, even as she had to take on a second job, which never quite worked, given childcare needs, even as her six children grew to fear their father, even as she had to try new makeup application techniques to hide her bruises, even as their debt accrued, despite her best efforts, due to Stephan’s impulsive spending.

It was Stephan who left. He was just gone one day, with nothing so much as goodbye, as a thank-you for the 10 years, the financial support, the brood of children. And once he was gone, creditors Joan hadn’t known about began to swarm around her, like flies on a dying man.

With no ability to pay the rent, let alone keep the kids in clothes and school supplies, with even full government benefits not cutting it for food and health care, Joan did what numerous single mothers before her have done: She moved herself and her children back in with her parents.

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Sometimes, whether due to a learning disability, a serious physical or mental illness, or circumstances beyond their control, adult children do wind up back with and supported by parents–and the tough love approach I outlined in past posts is inappropriate.

What is the best way to encourage as much independence as possible in children who currently need full support, to get the parents’ needs met to best avoid frustration, and still allowing the parents to be parents–the ones children turn to when they have nowhere else to turn?

They do it by going to Plan B.

Letting Your Children Be Adults: The Two Principles

So let’s say, just for the sake of argument, you have the adult child who won’t leave, a child you support even though she doesn’t work, a child you’ve tried to help by finding different jobs for her in the family business, none of which particularly showed her in the greatest light. Perhaps you’re still living down the last couple of attempts, as a matter of fact, so you may currently be willing to pay your child not to work at the family company.

[Note: I’ll address in another post special needs situations. These posts assume your child is, indeed, capable of work.]

I have two words for you that I think might just be revolutionary. Ready for this? Got your pens out, or your Blackberries ready? Here they are:

Setting Boundaries

That’s right, you heard me. That’s the entire trick. Well, I guess there’s a corollary, which is Sticking to the Boundaries You Set, which I can boil down to Nancy Reagan’s brilliant slogan:

Just Say No.

I’ve fixed all your problems for you. Yes, I’ll accept your undying gratitude in place of a fee (although donations are always accepted, don’t get me wrong).

But even though these two brilliant ideas I’ve just set before you underpin the entire process of moving your offspring from child to adult, I’ve found that parents actually tend to resist implementing them–even more than their children resist having the boundaries set. However, if you’re willing to ride the pony, everyone’s life will be better–and you will be saving your child.

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One adult child whose family got the message now lives on his own in a studio apartment, and takes public transportation. A Zipcar suffices for the rare occasion when a car must do.  He pays all his own bills, cashing in some childhood saving bonds when necessary. He hasn’t had a panic attack in over a year. But better than all those things that are part and parcel of making Jamie an adult–Jamie feels like an adult, and believes that he can manage in life without the constant micro-management of his parents.

His parents stopped paying his way. He worked for the things most important and did without the lesser ones.

So are you ready to hear what Setting Boundaries and Just Say No look like in practice?

It’s not for the faint of heart, I warn you, but it is for anyone who wants to give his child a shot at being an adult–and, incidentally, to give his own pocketbook a serious vacation.

Come back tomorrow, same place, same time. I’ll be waiting for you.

Financial Support of Adult Children: Lose–Lose

I won’t grow up/I don’t want to wear a tie/And a serious expression/In the middle of July./And if it means I must prepare/To shoulder burdens with a worried air,/I’ll never grow up/never grow up, never grow up/Not me/Not I/Not me!/So there! ~ Peter Pan

If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll probably remember this: In my day, you were basically expected to be married and/or self-supporting when you finished college. Scout’s honor.

My husband–even more ancient than myself, if you can imagine–had parents who told him, “You can either pay rent and board somewhere else, or live at home and pay it to us.”

It was a tough world back then.

But those times are long, long gone.

Everything has gotten so expensive these days–college tuitions, rents, insurance–that our children now have an extremely prolonged and extended adolescence, as parents (who have the means) continue to support their children well into their twenties–and sometimes thirties and beyond.

A July 2011 article at money.msn.com entitled “Are your kids putting your retirement at risk?” offers the following astonishing statistics:

“Fifty-nine percent of parents financially support their adult children (ages 18 to 39) who aren’t in college, according to a new study by the National Endowment for Financial Education. Nearly half (48%) help their adult kids with living expenses, 41% with transportation costs, and 29% with spending money. When asked why they do it, 43% of parents said it was because they were “legitimately concerned” with their child’s financial well-being, and 37% said it was because they didn’t want their children to struggle financially like they once did.”

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And in an amazing follow-up point, the article notes that “26% of parents have had to take on more debt” because of this support they offer their children.

I find it again and again in my practice. The parents provide the eternal safety net. I deal with a number of cases where the children (adults?) simply haven’t earned the privileges that the family is willing to indulge them in. But parents do it even when a child has gotten a job, is making money, and is ready to move out on his own.

Parents want their children in a safer neighborhood, so they make up the difference in the rent. Or–and how many times have you seen this?–they never take them off the family insurance. And then there’s the use of the credit card for gas, of course.

As an exercise for these children, I like for them to see how close they are to really “making it.” How many bills are actually footed by their parents, and taken enough for granted that the child thinks he’s surviving on his own?

Really, if you think you’re covering all your own expenses, I ask the adult children, how many of the questions in the following quiz have an affirmative answer? Open the quiz by clicking on it–and be honest now.

[polldaddy survey=”3D8D7538CBF51D6A” type=”button” title=”Are You Really Financially Independent?” style=”square” text_color=”FFFFFF” back_color=”000000″]

If you’re answering yes to some of these questions, you haven’t reached the stage of being self-supporting. And if this has gone on for years, and you’re happy with it, and haven’t pushed to try to be more financially independent, or you haven’t looked for a second job, or a job that will cover all your expenses–well, we know who’s to blame.

It’s. . .

Your Parents.

And, parents, you’ve got some serious work to do to right this situation, but you can do it, and it will be better not just for your pocketbook, but for your child’s own sense of self.

See: