It’s tough being a parent — even when your children are fully fledged adults.
For so many years, moms and dads are involved in every aspect of their youngsters lives — what they eat, when they go to sleep, what they wear and what they do. The first 18 years comprise the biggest responsibility a person will ever have.
I remember the sense of wonder I felt when we brought our first baby home from the hospital. With that awe came the dawning realization — I was completely responsible for this helpless being. I knew my life would never be the same. And it wasn’t.
With the teenage years, parents get a taste of the future. They aren’t completely in the driver’s seat any more. Teens, with their still developing brains, start making some of their own decisions. It’s sheer terror for parents. I rarely got a good night’s sleep when my kids were adolescents. I was only half asleep until I heard the door close behind them when they came home at night.
Oddly, although they weren’t much older, I didn’t worry so much when they went off to college. I guess they’re out of sight and out of mind. I wondered what they were doing on a Saturday night, but I didn’t feel the same sense of fear and responsibility.
Despite the extended adolescence that many young adults experience, living at home longer, even when they start working, one day they will be (hopefully) fully launched into their adult lives. By then, their folks are relieved. Their responsibility has come to an end.
Or has it? As our children grow older, their problems don’t go away. Their problems just get bigger.
With wages stagnating, the higher cost of housing and daycare, and ballooning student loan debt, thirtysomethings are financially strapped. According to one survey, more than 53 percent of adults from 21-37 have received financial help from their parents.
Financial and in-kind assistance includes help paying for cellphones, groceries, rent, childcare and health insurance. It’s hard for young people to manage. So it isn’t uncommon for parents to struggle over whether to help their kids financially. And, if they do decide to help, and they have the means, how much and for how long?
We were fortunate — our parents helped us buy our first house in the early 1980s. Both of us had big student loans from graduate school and couldn’t save enough for the down payment.
We are helping one of our kids, now in her mid-30s with the cost of childcare while she is building her professional practice. Despite her husband’s good income, the cost of housing is close to 50 percent of his take home pay!
Here are some helpful tips for parents of adult children:
You are not obligated to help your kids. Adult children are not your responsibility. They have to live their own lives, make their own choices, and learn from their mistakes — just like we did.
Make sure both of you agree. It’s important for couples to be aligned and in agreement, especially when making financial decisions. Consider what help makes sense and be clear about how long you will provide it.
Only provide support that you agree with. I helped one daughter with her post-graduate training because it was a decision I supported. I didn’t help my other daughter with health insurance so she could leave a job without having another one.
Don’t loan your kids money. That’s my editorial and I am sure there are exceptions. Personal loans with family are fraught with danger and the opportunity for resentment that close relationships can live without. If you want to help them, give them a gift with no strings attached.
Keep your opinions to yourself. That’s the hardest job for parents. Adults don’t appreciate unsolicited advice or opinions — especially from their moms and dads.
Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.