I love saying yes to my kids – even though at 22 and 24, they are out of college and living on their own. It gives me pleasure to give. Why? Well, I love being their mom. I love to make them happy, and I love to feel that I can make their life easier cause we all know life is can be hard. But how long is this going to go on for?
I know what my dad would say if he were still around – “Cut ‘em off, it makes ‘em tougher – don’t keep padding the nest – let ‘em fly. No learning was ever had from too much coddling.”
But since he’s from the Old School and I’m from the New (ish), more “gray” area of parenting, I went to Dr. Margie Solovay (www.MargieSolovayPhD.com), a psychologist in private practice in New York City and a proud BA50.
Her answers follow:
As with all things, I believe in moderation and balance. There’s no need to habitually give handouts or to withhold unnecessarily. I also don’t believe in a “one size fits all parenting” style. If you have a responsible child who either has a job, is trying hard to obtain work, or is studying for a future pursuit, then you can be more generous. This is especially true if your son or daughter does not take advantage of you or get too comfortable leaning on you.
On the other hand, if you have a 20-something who is not doing something productive or making a good effort to try to be productive, then you want to set stricter limits on the giving and discuss together what the expectations are. For example, if they are at a dead end job and not trying to do something better, I don’t think it’s wise to subsidize their lifestyle (i.e., charge no rent, pay their car payments, etc.) so they can use their whole paycheck for entertainment. It is a legitimate choice if your child wants a very easy job with no career path, but then s/he needs to learn to live with more limited resources.
In terms of budgeting, giving money, etc., it depends on their age. When my daughter was a young teen, she was always looking for clothes. At a certain point, I told her it was too much, so she asked me to decide how much I would want to spend on her a month. We came up with a number, which wasn’t overly high. And to her credit, she became the greatest bargain hunter/value shopper around. I couldn’t believe how much she was able to buy – way more than I had been getting her with more money. She has continued to hone her shopping skills and now makes money on the side buying furniture at tag sales and estate sales and selling it on craigslist.
I also think that it’s helpful if kids have to save for things and wait because they tend to appreciate it more. Otherwise, if they get too many things fast and easily, they often lose interest very quickly. Learning to delay gratification gives kids time to enjoy while they anticipate a pleasure, and putting some skin in the game – i.e., saving money, waiting, etc. – makes them feel better about the acquisition when it comes.
You and your child’s coparent (possibly spouse or x-spouse) should discuss what is reasonable to spend on your child each month. It is helpful to have your child draw up a budget of expenses and go over that together in order to make the decision regarding how much money you are going to supply and how much, if any, your child can contribute to his/her own expenses. Try to set up a plan together for when the child will be taking over more and more of his/her own expenses.
Money issues, as we all know, can present sticky situations. You might not be comfortable with the way your 20-something spends money for his/her entertainment, especially if you are footing the bill: i.e., partying, weekend jaunts, etc. On the other hand, as an adult, your child wants to feel autonomy in this area and should choose their own extracurricular pursuits. For that reason, I think if it is at all possible, you should only supplement necessary expenses whether it is school, rent, etc. Your child should shoulder the costs of his/her own entertainment and recreation either from a part time job, savings, etc.
This should hold true even if you can easily afford to offer your child more help; it might sound trite but it is important for them to get firsthand experience learning the value of money. Kids with trust funds that are given to them too early often don’t learn to deal with the frustration and growing pains that others endure in order to become productive citizens. Being productive is important to building and maintaining self-esteem.
Of course the best laid plans don’t always go as one might like. You might be helping your child financially but disapprove of their choices or lifestyle. Here is where personal judgments calls really are important. My view is that it is not up to you to micromanage their choices unless these choices really conflict with your values or are self-destructive to your child in some way.
With all of this, it is important for you and your child to communicate openly and clearly, and to check in together on this arrangement periodically. It often takes creative parenting to negotiate arrangements that make both you and your child comfortable. Continue to revisit these decisions periodically together and to keep the lines of communication open.