Fixing “We’ll Just Fix It For You”: Letting Your Children Be Adults: Walking the Walk

Posted on March 13, 2012 by

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High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation. ~Jack Kinder

So you’re ready to set boundaries with and just say no to your over-indulged adult child–and you haven’t the faintest idea where to begin.

Well, you’ve come to the right place. It’s time to teach your child financial responsibility–a bit late, it’s true, but these things happen–through the best kind of learning approach: hands-on.

You need to start off by making a schedule with your child for the gradual reduction of financial support, with an ending date mutually agreed upon. (And, parents, when this date comes, if you don’t stick to it, you will have once again taught your child that she can’t make it, can’t manage, and will never survive without her parents’ safety net. You break this contract at the peril of your child’s successful path to adulthood.)

But clearly just making up some arbitrary date, closing your eyes, and hoping for the best isn’t going to work any better than thinking you’ll get home by informing us there’s no place like it and clicking your heels–minus the ruby slippers.  You need to start implementing your new “setting boundaries” approach to child-rearing immediately.

Start by withdrawing support for less essential items in your child’s life. You can begin small. If your adult-child has an apartment way beyond her means, it’s time for her to learn about the wonderful concept of the roommate. And as J.D. Salinger, famous author and recluse, informed us, “It’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs.” Maybe your child will, in fact, start to feel some discomfort about her indulged life when faced with the non-stop reality of someone who doesn’t have every luxury imaginable. This is nothing but good.

Your child doesn't have to have a deluxe apartment--get something she can more realistically afford.

Alternatively, you and she can give up or sell the deluxe apartment, and she can move into a much smaller one, in a more affordable neighborhood. Many many people have survived in studio apartments without the world ending–just ask half of the residents of New York city. We’ll come back to the issue of housing shortly.

Vacations should come to a stop until your child can afford to finance them herself completely. Really, if you think of it, exactly what does your child need a vacation from?

Use of your credit cards needs to be limited for essentials, until it’s stopped altogether. Nights out on the town, treating friends to dinner, buying new clothes–none of these qualify as necessities, no matter what your child might maintain. These non-essentials on your Visa should come to a complete halt immediately.

Who says she needs to drive a Jag?

Next it’s time to deal with the car. It’s easy enough to sell a Jaguar or a Lexus and do an exchange for a beat-up old Chevy–what we all drove in my day. In fact, today’s are practically luxury models compared to what we had. I had one car where the driver’s side handle broke off the very first day–and no one seemed to think that was a problem, least of all the people who sold it to me.

And here’s where you’re going to really have to toe the line. Your son or daughter has to be responsible for all the car expenses if they’re to have a car. That means insurance (cancel them from yours pronto), gas, maintenance. If they can’t manage all those financially, then they’re not ready to own a vehicle. Many good, decent Americans don’t have cars–and they survive just fine. They use things known as–and I hope these aren’t words your child has never encountered before–buses and trains. That’s what these transportation modes are there for. Taking a cab from place to place is simply not an reasonable alternative option.

You need to remove your child from your health insurance policy, or stop paying their premiums. Despite all the rumor-mongering, people don’t die from not having private health insurance.  They go to a clinic where they get, in point of fact, the same treatment as the rest of us, often with the same surgeons, if it comes to that.

Time running out, and your child still hasn’t bestirred herself to make some money? Then it’s time to re-visit the apartment situation. One option is for your child to move into someone’s basement. This is cheaper than apartments, and I’ve had several clients who did this, and then made deals with their landlords that involved cooking or babysitting, and cut the price even further. If it comes to it, and your child refuses to work, after running through resources, the YMCAs always have room.

You do see where I’m going with this, right? You hardly even need me anymore.

A computer is great, if your child can afford to pay for it. If not–it goes. The library offers free public use.

If your son or daughter still doesn’t work, it’s time to let them turn to the government for support, instead of to Mommy and Daddy. If he can’t get benefits because he owns too much property, say, then let him start selling it off to support himself, and, if he runs through it, he can come back to the government when he’s truly poor. A more likely possibility? He’ll finally grow up in the process, and be able to manage with what he has, before he runs through his last dime.

Because not everyone needs the latest Apple phone.

Despite the fact that it got upgraded to “necessity” in recent years, a cell phone remains a luxury. Do not be persuaded to pay your child’s cell phone bills because she needs it, or because it’s a safety factor, or because you want her to call if she’s out late at night. This is about growing up, remember? You don’t call your parents if you’re out late. A child in her mid-20s and onward shouldn’t have to report back home; she’s an adult.

If you do feel it’s necessary for your child to have a phone for her own safety, it’s time to chuck the Apple with its expensive package, great as it is [and I, for one, am a huge Apple fan, it being the only smart phone I can actually figure out how to use]. She should go with the lowest level phone, and, as you’re weaning her off your dole, get a pre-paid package. Keeping within that constraint in itself is a useful educational tool.

If your child calls multiple times a day, it’s time to cut that phone/umbilical cord, too. Clearly your methods of communication and support have short-curcuited; time for a new approach. And when she does call with a problem, don’t fix it for her. You can sympathetically respond, “Boy, that’s challenge. What are you going to do about it?”

Give verbal and non-verbal messages that indicate that you believe she, too, has begun to suspect that her own ways of solving her problems are not working well, and help instill in her the belief that she herself knows better than anyone else how to manage her life.

Important: Do all this without  threatening, scolding, or verbal “teaching.” As your child makes inevitable mistakes, she will learn from them, like the rest of us–you don’t need to act as a mouthpiece.

Final quiz, parents: If your child is coming to rely on you heavily for specific financial advice as she feels the belt tightening, should you. . .

a) Hook her up with your financial advisor?

b) Teach her how to trade in high-risk currency, and set up a trading account for her?

c) Arrange for a tutor to come and address each and every one of her questions?

d) Provide her with some information, and then direct her to the web and the local library?

If you answered a), b), or c), I sentence you to 20 lashes and back to remedial ‘adult-rearing’ classes. Your child can–and should, by the time the situation has reached this point–be able to use her own resources (translation: not Mommy and Daddy) to figure out how best to manage her money.

Your job is not to manage your child’s money, or fix her every problem. It’s to believe in her ability to manage her own life as a competent adult.

And it is your belief and expectation that will create this reality.

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