The many prob­lems of par­ents, adult chil­dren and money

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Sin­gle­tary

I spend a lot of time coach­ing peo­ple about money man­age­ment. With­out a doubt, the sad­dest ses­sions — the ones that draw the most tears — are when peo­ple are fight­ing with fam­ily about fi­nances.

The com­bat can get par­tic­u­larly nasty when it in­volves sib­lings, who seem to know just the right in­sults to hurt deeply.

And can I be hon­est? Many of these ar­gu­ments are the re­sult of par­ents stok­ing ri­val­ries or play­ing fa­vorites, par­tic­u­larly to ir­re­spon­si­ble adult chil­dren. Or a par­ent will tell one child one thing and an­other some­thing dif­fer­ent. Some­times it’s to keep the peace among war­ring adult chil­dren, but other times it’s a con­scious act to de­ceive.

I’ve opened up an av­enue for read­ers to ask my opin­ion about fam­ily fi­nan­cial feuds. In this reg­u­lar fea­ture, I try to pro­vide some clar­ity by shar­ing how I see the sit­u­a­tion. Some­times it helps to get an out­sider’s view­point. I re­cently heard from a reader who is up­set about parental sup­port that a sib­ling is re­ceiv­ing.

The back­ground: The reader’s sis­ter, who is 30, has re­ceived sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from the par­ents her en­tire adult life. They were pay­ing her rent at one time, and now she lives in their base­ment. The woman’s un­em­ployed boyfriend is also stay­ing there and has been for about nine months — in­clud­ing dur­ing a pe­riod when they were bro­ken up. The reader feels alone among her fam­ily in be­ing

up­set about how the par­ents have sup­ported the sis­ter.

The bat­tle: “Not to get into any emo­tional is­sues,” the reader said, “I want to know why I am the only one [in the fam­ily] to find a prob­lem with [the boyfriend] liv­ing off of my par­ents as well. Even when they broke up, he moved to a dif­fer­ent room but still paid no rent and had no job. No, ac­tu­ally he’d [got­ten] a job but had to quit af­ter a week be­cause he thought con­struc­tion work was too hard. My par­ents think they’re help­ing some­one who is down on his luck. They also paid to get his car fixed and all his in­sur­ance and gas money. Why am I the only one who doesn’t trust him?”

The bot­tom line: I’d like to un­wrap this as best I can with­out more in­for­ma­tion. (Peo­ple don’t al­ways give me all the facts.)

Let’s start with the rent. A lot of young adults have trou­ble mak­ing ends meet. They may be un­der­em­ployed, car­ry­ing stu­dent loan debt or both. So I’m not against par­ents help­ing an adult child who’s start­ing out.

But par­ents have to dis­tin­guish be­tween help and a hand­out to some­one who isn’t try­ing to be in­de­pen­dent. I’m par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about par­ents who are re­tired and dig­ging into lim­ited re­tire­ment funds to help an ir­re­spon­si­ble adult stay that way.

You are do­ing your child a dis­ser­vice — and re­ally, you aren’t be­ing a good par­ent when you en­able poor be­hav­ior. If the spigot is never turned off, it will run dry. Then what? How have you helped your child learn to sur­vive?

Re­gard­ing the reader’s sis­ter mov­ing back in with her folks, I’m not op­posed to that, ei­ther. My hus­band and I have told our chil­dren that they are wel­come to re­turn home af­ter col­lege to save to live on their own. In fact, we en­cour­age it. Our older daugh­ter is about to grad­u­ate from col­lege (yeah!) and she’s go­ing straight to grad­u­ate school. We’ve told her that af­ter she fin­ishes her ed­u­ca­tion, she should come home. We want her to save the money she would pay for rent for a few years so that once she launches, she’ ll have a fully funded emer­gency pot or even money for a down pay­ment on a home of her own.

And I’ ll add this: I’m a fan of multi­gen­er­a­tional or shared hous­ing. In many high-cost ar­eas, it’s hard for fam­i­lies to af­ford rent or a house. Shared liv­ing space is one so­lu­tion.

Now as to the boyfriend: The par­ents are not re­spon­si­ble for sup­port­ing this grown man, who is not mar­ried to their daugh­ter — and who ap­pears to have no work ethic. Please.

Fi­nally, as for my reader, I un­der­stand the con­cern. Who wants to see their par­ents tak­ing care of a tri­fling adult child? But in this case if the par­ents are be­ing taken ad­van­tage of, it’s by their choice.

And if this is about the sis­ter get­ting more than she de­serves, let it go. It’s not your money.

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