I’ve been trying to help my daughter buy a house in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country–Westchester County, NY; and it’s brought up issues I find difficult to face.
I’ve tried my best to create a space in which she could grow, unencumbered by the sense of limitations I felt in my youth. Now I find myself having to deal with the monster that I’ve created.
Not that she’s a monster. Far from it. She sees her mission as doing good in the world, making change for the better. She works for a nonprofit foundation. She’s well-liked and respected for her contributions, and she’s well compensated for someone of her age and experience (early 30’s), by the standards of nonprofit compensation
No, the monster has more to do with me and my expectations. I want her to have access to the conventional markers of status and happiness in life—a good marriage, children (my grandchildren), a home with a stable partner—preferably in close proximity to where I live.
Yet, unlike many young women of the generation in which I was raised, she’s not looking for an ambitious young man who can provide—or help provide– the good things in life. And the ambitious young men of her generation don’t seem to be looking for strong-minded women with ambitions of their own. They want someone docile and more easily molded to meet their needs and aspirations. After all, how much strong-mindedness and ambition can one household withstand?
The problem is that it takes two good incomes to buy a home in Westchester County; and, preferably, two sets of parents who can gift a substantial chunk of cash for the down payment. As a widow—and, for most of my life, a single parent—I come up short.
We’ve explored a lot of options: sharing a two-family house, for example. But suburban Westchester isn’t particularly zoned for multifamily properties. What about a house with a mother-daughter apartment? But there are few of those either, and they come with zoning restrictions. They might work down the road, but not now.
So, while we haven’t solved the housing situation, I have learned a lot about myself.
I’ve learned that I value my privacy, and I like having my own space.
I’ve learned that my expectations, whether realistic or not, are mine, not hers; and I need to own them.
I’ve learned to confide in my female friends. We share cautionary tales, like the story of the mother who sold her home in New York and moved out to Arizona to stay close to her grandchildren. Her daughter, who had moved to Arizona to live with her boyfriend, had talked her mother into making the move and helping her buy a home. The boyfriend left—he didn’t like living with children. The daughter sold the house and followed him. And the mother wound up living with the grandchildren in a small apartment, using up her retirement assets and struggling to make ends meet.
I also read online a study by TD Bank which showed that one in five Americans provide support to a parent and/or an adult child, to the tune of $630 billion a year. Surprisingly, 79 percent of those who provide financial support to others have not discussed it with a financial professional.
I consulted with my financial advisor, who told me what I could afford to gift my daughter during my lifetime. I looked long and hard at my own wants and needs and attempted to balance my desire to help my daughter with my desire to maintain my independence and have some pleasure in my retirement years.
I made the personal decision to set limits, stick to my limits and communicate my limits.
Then I sat down with my daughter over a cup of tea. I told her how difficult it was for me to have this conversation; and I asked her to appreciate my vulnerability. I explained to her that I would hate to become a burden to her in my declining years. I acknowledged my past unconventional choices, including my choice to become a single parent back in the 1980s; before single parenting became the so-called “new norm.” I opened up a space for her to ask questions and for me to answer honestly, which we did.
I can’t say it was easy. Acknowledging one’s own limitations is never easy. But the fact of having this conversation has helped us to move our relationship to a new place; one in which norms of fairness, trust and reciprocity can begin to grow and replace the previous bonds of deep affection, mingled with implicit expectations, ambivalence and resentment.
©Sheila R. Klatzky, 2017. All rights reserved.