Continued Financial Support of Adult Children: A Way For You Both To Lose

I won’t grow up/I don’t want to wear a tie/And a serious expression/In the middle of July./And if it means I must prepare/To shoulder burdens with a worried air,/I’ll never grow up/never grow up, never grow up/Not me/Not I/Not me!/So there! ~ Peter Pan

If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll probably remember this: In my day, you were basically expected to be married and/or self-supporting when you finished college. Scout’s honor.

My husband–even more ancient than myself, if you can imagine–had parents who told him, “You can either pay rent and board somewhere else, or live at home and pay it to us.”

It was a tough world back then.

But those times are long, long gone.

Everything has gotten so expensive these days–college tuitions, rents, insurance–that our children now have an extremely prolonged and extended adolescence, as parents (who have the means) continue to support their children well into their twenties–and sometimes thirties and beyond.

A July 2011 article at money.msn.com entitled “Are your kids putting your retirement at risk?” offers the following astonishing statistics:

“Fifty-nine percent of parents financially support their adult children (ages 18 to 39) who aren’t in college, according to a new study by the National Endowment for Financial Education. Nearly half (48%) help their adult kids with living expenses, 41% with transportation costs, and 29% with spending money. When asked why they do it, 43% of parents said it was because they were “legitimately concerned” with their child’s financial well-being, and 37% said it was because they didn’t want their children to struggle financially like they once did.”

And in an amazing follow-up point, the article notes that “26% of parents have had to take on more debt” because of this support they offer their children.

I find it again and again in my practice. The parents provide the eternal safety net. I deal with a number of cases where the children (adults?) simply haven’t earned the privileges that the family is willing to indulge them in. But parents do it even when a child has gotten a job, is making money, and is ready to move out on his own.

Parents want their children in a safer neighborhood, so they make up the difference in the rent. Or–and how many times have you seen this?–they never take them off the family insurance. And then there’s the use of the credit card for gas, of course.

As an exercise for these children, I like for them to see how close they are to really “making it.” How many bills are actually footed by their parents, and taken enough for granted that the child thinks he’s surviving on his own?

If parents pay for the “extras,” the adult child doesn’t even know what self-supporting looks like. And if this has gone on for years, and you’re happy with it, and haven’t pushed to try to be more financially independent, or you haven’t looked for a second job, or a job that will cover all your expenses–well, we know who’s to blame.

It’s. . .

Your Parents.

And, parents, you’ve got some serious work to do to right this situation, but you can do it, and it will be better not just for your pocketbook, but for your child’s own sense of self.



I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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