“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.

Start 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.

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 people have survived in studio apartments–just ask half of the residents of New York city. We’ll come back to the issue of housing shortly.

Use of your credit cards is 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. Most of us can recall the satisfaction of buying our first pair of jeans with money we earned.

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 before his or her possible accident causes a surcharge on all cars in your fleet), gas, maintenance. If they can’t manage all those financially, then they’re not ready to own a vehicle.  His old bicycle might be sitting in the garage, just waiting to provide a healthy and cheap means of getting around.  It’s trendy, too.

Perhaps your child already owns a nice, late model auto, which can provide a source of funds for their own insurance.  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.

Removing your child from your health insurance policy is another money-saving option. 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, making deals with the homeowner that involved cooking, babysitting, housesitting, etc.  YMCAs always have room.

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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 the library offers free public use.

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.  The lowest level phone with a prepaid card is in itself is a useful educational tool.

When your adult child complains how straitened the circumstances are, 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–lecturing and hectoring only breed resentment.

Your job is not to manage your child’s money, or fix problems. You’ve already lean red how to manage your life.  Instead, offer you child trust 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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