I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about parents continuing to support their adult children.
As the mother of three boys of varying ages – fifteen, eleven, and three – this is a topic that greatly interests me. After all, my fifteen-yea-old son is a sophomore in high school. In just a few short years, he’s heading off to college. That means I’ll soon be faced with the decision as to when to cut the proverbial cord.
Also, some of the articles that have come out talk about thirty-somethings still being dependent on their parents. I’m thirty-something. And I haven’t been dependent on my parents for almost twenty years now.
Our ultimate goal as parents is not to raise good children. It’s to raise children that become good adults. We want our kids to be productive members of society, and we don’t want them to depend on us forever. After all, one day we won’t be here anymore to shepherd them through life.
To set our children up for success, we need to think about how we can help them stand on their own two feet out in the world. We also need to think about ourselves, and our own long-term needs. After all, many of us also don’t want to set our kids up for an adulthood filled with being part of a “sandwich” where they need to financially support us in our old age.
So today I’m going to talk a bit about cutting the financial cord with your
Parents Aren’t Putting On Their Oxygen Masks
In the US, where many can’t handle a $400 emergency, and half of
And yet, many who can’t afford it do it anyway, to the detriment of their own financial situation.
In fact, a survey from Merrill found that parents support their adult children to the tune of $500 billion per year – twice what they’re saving for their own retirement. Seventy-nine
Look, we all love our children and want what’s best for them. But if we’re not taking care of ourselves financially, we’re not setting them up for success in the long run. And parenting is all about the long run.
You know how on airplanes they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping your kids? That’s because if you’re oxygen deprived, you can’t help your children. Putting on your own mask ensures you won’t pass out before you can help your children, potentially saving both of you.
The same is true financially. Funding your kid’s groceries, cell phone bill, wedding, and so on shouldn’t come at the cost of your own secure financial future. Why not? Because one day, you may need that security. You may require expensive nursing home care. You’re likely going to be racking up a ton of medical bills at some point.
Basically, you’re going to need money.
Now, if you can afford to help your kids and still have a secure financial future, that’s great. But it’s not the only factor to consider.
Helping Can Hurt Them
I remember reading in The Millionaire Next Door (one of the four books that changed my financial life) a long time ago about a concept called “Economic Outpatient Care“. That’s a fancy term for providing financial support to your adult children, and several of the stories stuck with me.
There were stories about adult children who were so used to getting payouts from the “Bank of Mom and Dad” that they skimped on using their parent’s money to pay for quality end of life care. Why? They were terrified of the money running out.
There were children who received, and quickly burned through, inheritances. Why? Because they needed the money to maintain the lifestyle their parents had bought for them in life. And once the money ran out, those children were in for a shock, and a forced lifestyle downgrade (or funding life through debt instead).
There were stories of well-meaning parents who had put down payments
Stories of parents who had bought their adult children a fancy object – I think it may have been a rug? – and their children now felt the Diderot effect of pressure to upgrade everything else. Because all their old stuff looked shabby next to this beautiful new thing.
When you fund your adult children’s
A Question Of Culture
The question of how much financial support parents should provide to adult children always has a cultural aspect to it.
As a woman who grew up in the United States, the value of independence and not accepting help was drilled into me at a young age. Now, this isn’t true of all people with my background. I’ve known plenty of people who come from a similar background who have parents providing a ton of support.
There are certainly cultures around the world where parental help and support is expected, and where children are similarly expected to support their parents in old age. In some countries (Korea, for example) this cultural expectation is enshrined in law. Also, there are cultures where it’s expected adult children continue to live with their parents until they’re married. And the concept of multi-generational living, where parents and adult children with their families live together, is also typically a question of cultural background.
So What To Do – And When To Do It?
When I read about parents who are overbearingly intrusive into their adult children’s
I would never want my kids to starve, of course, or to feel like they don’t have a place to come in an emergency. And I want to start them off in adulthood right.
I want them to have reasonable expectations for the kind of lifestyle they’re going to lead out of college. It’s not reasonable to expect you’re going to live the same kind of life your parents have spent decades creating. There’s a reason that the stereotypical image of a college student is one where they’re eating ramen, and why people typically live with roommates the first few years out of college.
I don’t want to hurt my kids by allowing them to do nothing, to fund a lifestyle they can’t afford, or to foster a sense of entitlement. And I certainly don’t want to hurt them by compromising my and my husband’s finances. That will just come back to hurt my kids in the long run, and I don’t want them feeling the pressure of a financial sandwich where they’re paying for their own children and supporting us at the same time.
So as my oldest approaches the age where he can get a job, drive a car, and soon head off to college, this is an area where I’m giving serious thought. I’d love to know what advice you have!
This is such a thorny question, and I would love advice from fellow parents who have been-there-done-that, young adults who have seen what worked (or didn’t) with their own parents, or have given some serious thought to these same questions.
- What did your parents do that worked particularly well in setting you up to succeed on your own as an adult?
- What could they have done differently, or better?
- What are you planning to do, or actually doing, with your own adult children?
- What issues have you seen in your own life – with friends, siblings, co-workers – where parents have provided too much financial support? Or not enough?
I’m looking forward to your advice and stories.