Defending ‘bank of mum and dad’
OPINION: A reporter’s email inbox is an open door to everyone with a cause to promote or a pet peeve to air.
This brings excitement to a working day and opportunities to know people and things you were previously ignorant of.
Surveys are among my favourite things to arrive out of the blue, especially those that betray the surveyor was guided by a slightly odd set of values.
‘‘Nearly a third of parents (31 per cent) allow their adult children to live at home rent-free, while 22 per cent charge discounted rent,’’ claimed the authors of one survey I was recently sent.
Just under half bought food their children ate without paying for, and a fifth had given or lent their children money for a home deposit.
These parents were ‘‘dishing out’’ money to support their children. It was the bank of mum and dad ‘‘in full swing’’. One million parents ‘‘subsidise their adult kids’’.
There’s some pretty loaded language there, and it struck a dissonant chord with me. Among the obvious conclusions not drawn by the surveyor was that ‘‘personal finances’’ are not especially personal.
Many, if not most of us, take at least a partially family view of money. The concept of charging our children a market rent to live with us is alien.
When the concept of families taking an intergenerational approach to money is mentioned in connection with a non-Pa¯ keha¯ portion of the population, it’s often portrayed in a positive light, one of community and family recognising and honouring the relationships between generations. But when it’s mentioned in the world of Pa¯ keha¯ , it’s more often spoken of in negative terms, as privilege, or sponging, or subsidising.
It has often suited the investment and advice industries to play on this theme. Money spent on the kids isn’t invested in a way fund managers and advisers can earn fees off. Culturally, though, most families are not in the business of driving the kids from the nest as soon as they have fledged, or making them pay for a bed.
It is the fond hope of most parents that their children will stand on their own two feet, live free lives and make their way in the world. But that cultural value does not eclipse all others in the culture of many families.
The idea of charging my children to live in my house doesn’t fit with my family culture, for example. If I have room, and they have a need, then there will be room for them.
Nor would I bill the kids for Christmas dinner, or issue invoices for babysitting. These things are, I admit, still in my future, as I have teenagers.
But if home prices are ludicrous in the future and I am still able, of course, I will do my bit to see them housed, so the next generation of my family can have the same happy upbringing that I, and my children, had.
Should anyone have to help their adult offspring buy a home? No, of course not. Our housing stuff-up is a ludicrous failure of greed and incompetence.
Parents’ role should be to raise capable, happy, useful children, not buy them houses. But if chipping in to the deposit is the only way that will happen, the survey is pretty clear that parents who can, will do it.
Perhaps the irony is not missed on them that if young people could pay less for homes, theirs would be worth less. Is that the young subsidising the old? When it comes to money, it appears the dominant Kiwi family culture is, What’s mine doesn’t belong to my kids but nor is it entirely mine.
There is a limit to the help a parent can, and should, give their adult children. You do have to have your finances in order to be in a position to help. But casting a negative light on families trying to use their limited resources to get the best overall outcomes for all generations is ignorant, and fundamentally misunderstands families.
CALL TO ACTION
Got a question for Rob Stock or an issue you want him to tackle? Contact him by going online to Neighbourly and typing the name of our newspaper into the search bar. Click our name and select Contact from the menu bar and ‘‘message our reporter’’ from the drop-down menu.