Relationships

Adult kids need to grow up

Special to The TribuneFebruary 25, 2014 

ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS

All parents want to provide for their children. They long to give them educational opportunities, stable environments and nourishing meals. But sometimes this well-intentioned desire backfires. Grown offspring assume Mom and Dad will continue to foot their bills long after they’ve left the home.

This sense of entitlement manifests itself in seemingly outrageous requests for goods and services. A 30-something man wants yet another car. Newlyweds expect a down payment for an expensive house. A new mother anticipates the grandparents will provide free child care when she returns to work.

Most parents are only too eager to pitch in. Yet they’re caught off guard by the latest round of demands. They feel taken advantage of. They question their parenting abilities: “Did I not give my child enough growing up?” “Am I a bad parent if I refuse?” Some are even concerned about placing their own financial security in jeopardy.

Four factors must be present for entitlement to occur. First, adult children must perceive that their parents have excessive resources. They tell themselves, “Mom and Dad are rich enough to pay for my new skis.” Or “They have three cars. They can give me one.”

Grown children have expensive tastes. They dream of a fairytale wedding. They need a trailer for their quarter horse. They want to live at an upscale address instead of a more affordable place that entails a bus ride.

There’s a lack of clarity in the financial relationship between parent and adult child. Perhaps they paid for Junior’s law degree or Sis’s nose job. Mothers and fathers have demonstrated a willingness to write large checks on behalf of their kids. Those same kids are only too happy to continue the trend.

Finally, parents are overly concerned about their relationship with their adult kids. “I don’t want to do anything to damage her self-esteem,” a mom says. Or “I don’t want him to be mad at me.” Even, “I wasn’t there when they were growing up. I want to make up for it now.” Parents are held financial hostages to their offspring’s emotional frailties.

The truth is that parents don’t owe their grown children anything. Once kids have graduated from high school, the financial pipeline dries up. Mom and Dad may graciously offer to pay for college. From then on, adult children write the checks. Even if the folks are wealthy, it’s their money, not the kids’. The clearer parents are about the financial ground rules, the less confusion there is about who pays for what.

HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR CHILDREN’S SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT

Tell yourself you’ve already done enough. You’ve carpooled kids to soccer. You paid for their braces and ballet. You paid your dues as a parent. It’s their turn to be self-sufficient.

Avoid getting caught off guard. Sometimes adult kids broadside you with a request. Don’t agree to anything rash that you’ll regret later. Instead, take a deep breath. Say, “Let me think about that.” Then take all the time you need to arrive at a decision.

Set clear limits. Pick what you feel good paying for. It’s completely up to you. State your guideline in a no-nonsense format so there’s no confusion about where you stand.

Be prepared for a backlash. Adult children may not be happy with your decision. Desperate ones may whine, threaten, induce guilt or pitch a fit. Remain calm. Say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. But here’s how it’s going to be.” Then leave the room or hang up the phone.

Promote parent-child activities that don’t involve money. Go on hikes. Cook a great meal. Play games. Say “I adore you” without using a credit card.

Understand that your love and concern far exceeds this particular issue. Entitlement isn’t about love. It’s about convoluted financial interactions. The sooner you make the distinction, the healthier your relationship will be.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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