This morning I got this crazy idea in my head: to ask my Facebook friends and B(itch)Log fans if they as parents would assume their children’s financial business is theirs for the asking. Interestingly enough, the majority of my friends/fans said “no, absolutely not.” Only two people said “yes,” with caveats, though. And one of those with the caveats said that it would really only be a matter of showing a good example until the kid was old enough. Finally, when I just asked if anyone still spoke about money with their families (regardless of who brought it up), a few more said they did; however, everyone stated unambiguously it was about things like good deals at the store, nice investment choices, and never about paychecks, weekly budgets, etc.
The response seemed quite common sense to me, although to many it may not be. The idea of having a conversation about my personal finances with some of my family seems absolutely ludicrous. Not only am I almost thirty years old, but in many cases it is just not anyone’s business. But the thought of asking my kids where money is coming from or how things are getting paid when they are my age seems even more absurd. What a wholly pompous and presumptuous thing to assume; and (in truth) if your kids are so irresponsible that you have to ask them about how they get/spend their money, than it is really more of a statement on your failures in parenting along the way.
The “no”s on the topic of assuming a right to one’s kid’s finances really took the morning’s conversation, though – the best of which included all sorts of wonderful insight. One woman that I know from a local writers group explained the situation with her own grown son: “While the kid was a college lower classman I gave lots of advice about how the money was to be spent. After I saw him being responsible with it, I backed off. Now, I think offering advice is way off limits however, I’d be willing to discuss it if he wanted and might suggest something for him to consider.” Another great comment (and from a friend who is an accountant) stated that with her son she plans on instilling in him the understanding of money and responsibility as soon as he understands the concepts of dollars and cents. To further, though, she stated: “But I am totally an anti-enabler parent, so my child will know that he is responsible for his own finances.”
I think here is where the conversation needs to go: there is a divide between the families that enable and those that do not. There is a divide between the families that believe everything – including finances – are a matter of everyone’s business and those that believe the discussion is off the table after a certain age. Let’s examine the possible outcomes, though:
You over-involve yourself in your child’s financial affairs beyond college and young adulthood, well into regular adulthood.
The possibilities are endless: it could end contrary to all psychological and sociological evidence and still all be okay; or it could end in complete disaster, which is what the statistics predict. In the worst case scenario, your child grows up to be entirely codependent on other people’s advise or approval in matters of money, and is unable to ever gain the confidence to make their own decisions. One day you and your spouse are no longer around and your child is completely unable to function because of an inability to make decisions. Another possible outcome is that your child grows up to have serious problems with understanding personal responsibility for the financial blunders that come up. One more simple possibility (on the other end of the results spectrum) is that eventually your child will grow to resent you for always asking and implying that it is your business where money comes from and goes to. I know a few people right now that are extremely resentful of the fact that their parents ask them where certain monies come from, or that offer unsolicited advise on a regular basis. And, in fact, one of the people commenting in the discussion this morning said that: “I know my father still thinks that its his business due to the fact that he is my father and wants me to be as safe and comfortable as I was as a kid living at home. There are always many arguments between us about this.” As with all enmeshed family systems, the over involvement of helicopter parents usually ends either in destruction of the child as a grown individual, or destruction of the family.
You raise your child by showing a positive example, as well as by teaching them individuality and – at a certain point – knowing when to draw the line and wait for them to come to you if advise is warranted.
Perhaps I am just biased because I have done such extensive research in school on the negative affects of families that are over-involved in each other’s lives and family systems theory. But then it wouldn’t really be a “bias” so much as it would be an educated understanding of psychological and sociological findings. In any event, one of the most important things we as parents can do is to teach our children to be responsible, upstanding adults. Over-involving ourselves in our kids’ lives, though, is a recipe for not doing that. It’s like when the baby bird just cannot learn to fly and the mother finally just pushes it off the tree branch – if kids do not experience financial assessment and responsibility for themselves, they will never learn the tools necessary to be able to live a functional life sans parent.
Ultimately, I think this is the fear the parents of young adults today are having a difficult time coming to terms with: that life does go on without them for their kids. For years, we are the sole reason those little miracles survive in a cold, heartless world; for them to move on and be able to function without us is overwhelming. What a better way to secure our place and importance in the world than by making sure those little miracles never canfunction without us – emotionally as well as financially. One of the most resounding comments from the morning stated that: “Ultimately I think its all about parents being strong enough to look at their children as adults and not kids.” In a time when more young adults run home to mommy and daddy whenever finances get a little scary; or when mommy and daddy taken upon themselves to assume financial dominion over their adult-aged children: truer words were never spoken. Whatever the reason may be, parents of these enmeshed families refuse to allow their children to ever be more than children.
Consider where you are on the spectrum of finances and your kids. Are you creating autonomous individuals that will go out in the world and prosper -whether you are there to help or not? Or are you creating codependent kids that have no idea what the value or responsibility of a dollar is? It’s hard to be a parent in a today’s world. Consider, though, that it’s even harder to be a kid.