Boomer parents find themselves in an interesting spot these days because we're part of the "sandwich" generation -- wedged between our elderly parents and adult "children". It's a tough situation that's getting tougher in this suck economy.
There were plenty of books to help us when our kids were well, kids. But, where are the books to help us parent adult "kids"? Up until a few months ago there weren't any. TV comedy writer Gail Parent and psychologist Susan Ende have filled that void by writing the insightful, How to Raise Your Adult Children. It's a fun and brutally honest guide book to parenting adult kids that's chock full of tips based on the situations of real parents who've written the authors.
The book tackles the biggest parent/kid issues of today -- Money, Work, Meddling, Dating & Marriage, In Laws and Grandchildren. Best of all, Gail and Susan cover it in an easy-to-read Q&A format that makes it a must-have guidebook for all Boomer parents.
We asked the experts to dish some brutal common sense for the Boomer Brief and they graciously accepted. Here are a couple of tips from their new book that'll help you in 2011.
Adult Children and Money
So they're adults now. You've guided them through college (and in most cases, footed the bill), and now we can put up our feet and sip martinis on a boat along the Keyes... right? I think most, if not all, Boomer parents of "adult kids" (A-Kids) would laugh at that idea. We KNOW that parenting never stops (or should never), but the problem with many "Adult Kid Parents" is that they're still trying to "Mommy-and-Daddy" the way they did back when Junior was still in Junior High. Boomers need a new mindset for parenting the A-Kid...and one of the most obvious areas, is the mindset when it comes to money.
Parents should want their children to be independent. The reality is that no one is truly independent unless he or she is financially independent, and we should always approach every A-Kid money issue using this foundation. For the A-kid, being able to fully support yourself boosts self-esteem and self-confidence; knowing that you can take care of yourself no matter what means security. And although the adult child may seem to have a healthy thrust toward financial autonomy, he may also have a hidden (or even subconscious) wish to be taken care of; so parents should ponder where they and their kids stand on this spectrum.
Boomer parents must remember that purse strings, like umbilical cords, need to be cut eventually; and since the purse is ours, we have to do the cutting.
One of the biggest drawbacks that we've seen is that (consciously or unconsciously) many parents hold a fantasy that if their adult children need their money, the adult children will love them and be grateful, just like they used to when they were younger. Actually, it's just the opposite! The parent who provides the money becomes a source of the child's shame and self-doubt. Really, it's a vicious cycle--if the child doesn't have confidence in himself, he falls back on dependence, and being dependent fosters insecurity and anxiety...and so the circle goes around.
Ok, now the toughest part: How to implement this financial principle in the real world. We'd love to give hard and fast rules, but you're a smart parent,--they made it to adulthood, didn't they?--you don't need rules, you just need examples and ideas. The following are a couple of real-life situations that touch on the issue of financial Independence. They are questions (that we actually received) and tips that we include in our book.
My son is a college junior. Lately he has been calling to say he's short of money. The first two times he asked, I just sent him a check, but now I'm not sure that I did the right thing. Did I?
Since the money is yours, you have the right to know what your son's purchases are about.
Before you send another dime, insist that your son tell you what he's spending money on. You need receipts. And not to be alarming, but one of the signs that a child is doing drugs is his need for more money, especially if there's a dramatic increase.
If your son's expenses have increased, you have to find out why. Does he need money for lab equipment, a poker stake, or, as Gail suggests, drugs? The burden should be on your son to provide a detailed accounting of his expenses with a clear explanation for the increase in need. Then you can decide whether the budget change is one you want to pay for. Our children can't claim independence if they rely on us for money. And if we're investing money, we have the right to know what it's being used for.
Our daughter is very responsible. She got a good job after college and moved into her own apartment. Unfortunately, she just lost her job. She came to us to discuss what she should do. Should she give up her apartment and move in with us until she gets another job? Should we lend her money to live on rather than have her move home?
Why don't you give your daughter three months' worth of living expenses as a gift? Give. Not lend. When a person loses her job, she's concerned enough about money without having to worry about paying it back. If she's as responsible a girl as you say she is, she'll be looking very hard for another job. If she does have to move in with you, you won't have her with you for long.
I'm also for a gift of three months' living expenses, unemployment insurance, taking in one or two room mates, and a temporary job just to make ends meet rather than suggesting that a child move in with her parents. Adults need to learn other ways of coping with adversity than moving in with their parents.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
GAIL PARENT is an award-winning writer and producer whose television credits include "The Golden Girls," "The Tracey Ullman Show," "The Carol Burnett Show," and "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman." Also a bestselling novelist, Parent is the author of SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK.
SUSAN ENDE, M.F.T has been a psychotherapist in private practice for twenty-five years and has taught at California Institute of Technology, Pepperdine University, and California State University at Los Angeles.