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How Financial Support May Affect Emotional Maturity

Money matters when it’s time to leave home.

Key points

  • Some forms of financial support catalyze a young adult's maturity, and some inhibit it.
  • Most parents err in one direction or another—either bankrolling their adult child too much or too little.
  • An awareness of your fiscal history helps you determine how your subsidies can spark separation and growth.
Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

This is Part 2 of a series. Read Part 1 here.

As we were discussing in the previous post, knowing more about your relationship with money can help you when it comes to understanding the ways in which your financially-based decisions are likely to spur or stymie your young adult’s maturity.

Across families whom I’ve treated, many parents have difficulty setting limits when it comes to subsidizing their adult children. They may provide what may be very legitimate and conventional financial support, such as paying for their college tuition, helping them to buy a car, or keeping them on their health insurance as long as possible.

But they may also be providing financial support that is questionable—underwriting in a way that undermines their child’s growth.

This might include continuing to pay for college tuition when courses are being dropped or not being passed, regularly bailing them out of credit card debt, repeatedly covering parking tickets or traffic violations, or offering unrestricted financial allowances for recreational activities like eating out or traveling.

On a similar note, I have worked with many parents who complain that their young adult is not moving out of their house, but who are not as aware as they might be that life in their home is so cozy, cossetted, and comfortable that there is little motivation for them to summon the effort to leave. As a parent of a teen once sardonically commented to me, "When I want to punish my child, I’m tempted to send myself up to his room, rather than him, because it’s so nice up there, he’s got a great setup.”

Not as frequently, I have worked with many parents who tend to be too stingy or stringent when it comes to the financial support of their young adult, not acknowledging how the economic world has changed since they were young adults themselves (and it has changed dramatically), and not aware of how they might be inadvertently holding their child back from moving forward.

This can take the form of refusing to pay for an expensive car repair when the young adult needs transportation to get back and forth to work, or declining to co-sign for an apartment or help out with a security deposit when the young adult doesn’t have the credit or the funds to manage these on his or her own.

In either situation, it is valuable for you to take a close look at your own, and your family-of-origin’s, monetary history. The past can influence your present decision-making in multiple (and sometimes contradictory) ways. For example:

  1. If you feel like your own parents over-indulged you at that stage, you might attempt to compensate by being too tight-fisted as a parent. Or, you might feel that your children deserve to be treated at least as well as you were… or even better.
  2. If you feel like your own parents under-indulged you at that stage, you might attempt to compensate by being overly generous as a parent, giving them all that you weren’t given...and more. Or, you might try to make it “as tough on your child” as you felt like your parents were on you, especially if you believe that it eventually worked out well for you.

Revisiting that time in your life by asking yourself these questions will help to illuminate your experience, which lays the groundwork for assessing more objectively whether your financial support is working to your adult child’s maturational advantage or disadvantage:

  1. What lessons about money—and about what it signifies and symbolizes—did you learn growing up?
  2. What money-related anecdotes and stories were told in your family?
  3. In what ways did your family use money wisely and/or foolishly?
  4. How well-off, or impoverished, did you feel during childhood and adolescence? How did that change, or stay the same, as you grew and left home?
  5. How has your gender, and your ethnic and religious background, influenced how you behave when it comes to how you believe money should be earned, received, saved, or shared?
  6. If you have siblings, were they treated differently from you with respect to money? If so, in what ways?
  7. What financial expectations did you have of your parents in terms of their support as you were preparing to leave home?
  8. What financial expectations did your parents have of you in terms of becoming self-reliant as you were preparing to leave home?

We will continue exploring the fiscal dimensions of emptying the nest in a subsequent post.

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