Archive for the Category » Parenting and Child Development «

Monday, November 24th, 2008 | Author: mjward

I’ve been looking at a book on the relationship between adult children and their parents. One issue arises when adult children ask for financial help. I’m thinking of friends whose forty-year-old daughter keeps getting into trouble, both legally and financially. Her retired parents keep bailing her out starting from paying a lawyer to helping her buy a new car when she crashed the one they’d got her earlier. They’ll probably continue to help her until they die. This makes me think about what parents owe their so-called adult children.

Think of a son who has lent money unwisely and allowed friends to abuse his credit. He has lost his driver’s license until he can pay the fines they ran up. This was after they reneged on their share of apartment rent. He is asking his mother to help him to the tune of several thousand dollars – to pay fines, to buy a used motor home, and generally to rescue him from the fallout from his bad decisions. He believes (wrongly) that in the past he has been given far less than his brothers and sisters. He wants his due. In fact, he considers the cash he is given for Christmas and birthday “insulting” though it is more than his siblings get. He is thirty-nine and his mother is over seventy and living on a pension.

In both these examples, the children have not learned to accept the consequences of their own choices. They think that society (or at least their parents) owe them a living. This notion comes from a number of sources. First, there is the general idea in society that everyone should enjoy the good life. When this doesn’t materialize, the “deprived” person searches for the culprit who has wronged them. Often they look to social services for help. In the case of the young man, he was denied aid by unemployment insurance, by the worker’s compensation board for alleged work-related illness, and by the mental health system.

Family is supposed to care for its members, isn’t it? So he looked to his mother and counted up all the grievances he could catalog against her to show how unfairly he was treated and how much he deserves now. In the past, she did help him when he was in difficult circumstances, such as assisting with legal fees or paying modestly toward a move to a new city where he believed he’d have better opportunities. It is easy to help children once or twice, thus encouraging them to believe there is an eternal spring flowing with cash. Parents, however, need to be open about their own financial circumstances. More important, they need to stop paying the consequences of their children’s poor life choices.

What do we owe our children? We need to provide nurturing during childhood and loving concern during the rest of their lives. We should give them an education within our resources. We owe them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. If we are compassionate parents, we will provide a cushion to soften the early falls. Like training wheels on bikes, however, parents’ support needs to be withdrawn so that grown children can control their own lives. We should expect that they will assume responsibility for themselves in a timely manner and desire they will succeed in life. This does not preclude gifts from parents, freely given within their means. These should not be regarded as an entitlement. It is a bonus if our children care for our well-being and ask how they can help us live a full life.