PROB­LEM SHARED with Pro­fes­sor Tanya By­ron

I have a son in his mid-30s who is much less suc­cess­ful than his si­b­lings. While the oth­ers are both set­tled in their ca­reers and with their fam­i­lies, he still seems to be floun­der­ing. I know that he is in debt and I think this is hold­ing him back. I sugg

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - News - with Pro­fes­sor Tanya By­ron

TANYA SAYS It seems to me you are hold­ing on to the emo­tional as­pect of your son’s predica­ment, feel­ing pro­tec­tive of him and sorry for him. You may fear that his debt will ex­ac­er­bate his feel­ing of help­less­ness and send him into a spi­ral of un­hap­pi­ness, per­haps lead­ing to de­pres­sion.

Your hus­band may feel that dig­ging your son out of his fi­nan­cial hole will only in­crease his help­less­ness, en­cour­age fu­ture spi­rals into debt and pos­si­bly lead to de­pres­sion. So I sus­pect you are both wor­ry­ing about the same out­come, even if you can’t agree on a so­lu­tion.

While I un­der­stand your ma­ter­nal per­spec­tive, I also won­der, like your hus­band, how pay­ing off your son’s debts helps him in the longer term. In tak­ing away the pain, are you also tak­ing away the bur­den of re­spon­si­bil­ity? Will he con­tinue to take risks or make poor fi­nan­cial choices be­cause he thinks the Bank of Mum and Dad will al­ways bail him out? At what point do you both say enough is enough? When you do reach that point, how bad will things be?

We have to teach our chil­dren to be ac­count­able for their de­ci­sions and deal with the con­se­quences. Your son has to play a cen­tral role in the man­age­ment of his debt or he will never ac­cept full re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ac­tions, nor will he learn from them.

Be­fore you de­cide whether to of­fer him fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, think about how your son got him­self into this po­si­tion and what he needs to learn. Rather than pre­sent­ing him with a clear-cut so­lu­tion, like bail­ing him out, ask your son to find a re­al­is­tic way of elim­i­nat­ing the debt. He could seek ad­vice from thedebt­coun­sel­ If he wants you to clear it, he should pro­pose a plan for pay­ing it back – and iden­tify what be­hav­iour pat­terns need to change to pre­vent this hap­pen­ing again. Per­haps a course in money man­age­ment would be use­ful, or speak­ing to a fi­nan­cial ad­viser.

He must also prove to you that he is learn­ing from his mis­takes. How will he bud­get his money? Will he cre­ate a monthly spend­ing plan? Cut up his credit cards?

If you agree to bail him out, you will have to de­cide whether or not you’ll be charg­ing him in­ter­est. Pay­ment ar­range­ments will need to be es­tab­lished, as will the sanc­tions you’ll im­pose if he does not stick to them. Ev­ery­thing agreed should be put in writ­ing, and signed by all of you to avoid fu­ture mis­un­der­stand­ings.

Other is­sues that con­trib­ute to a chaotic lifestyle may also need to be ad­dressed. If his self-es­teem is low, he may ben­e­fit from ther­apy or life coach­ing. He could try vis­it­ing its good to or life­coachdi­rec­

You can all move for­ward by en­sur­ing that he un­der­stands and ac­cepts the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion, re­spects any fi­nan­cial sac­ri­fice you are mak­ing, and shows re­spect, hu­mil­ity and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to make real changes for him­self. If he does not, how­ever hard this may be for you, I sug­gest you step back and let him work it out on his own.

We have to teach our chil­dren to be ac­count­able for their de­ci­sions

Pro­fes­sor By­ron is a char­tered clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist. Each month, she coun­sels a reader go­ing through an emo­tional cri­sis.

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