5 Ways to Tell if You Are Being Too Financially Generous with Your Adult Children

As I am writing this article, the U.S. economy has been growing for a record 128 consecutive months. In addition, unemployment, now standing at 3.6%, is the lowest that has been in half a century.

Yet, despite these positive indicators, there is a feeling that not everyone is benefiting equally from the recent economic expansion. And, among those feeling somewhat left behind are our kids, many of whom are struggling with high levels of student debt, limited job prospects and unrealistic life expectations, fueled by a social media infrastructure gone crazy.

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that, despite the economic boom, 23% of Millennials still live with their parents. That’s according to a 2018 study by Zillow, an online real estate database company.

In addition, according to a report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, 58% of 18-34-year-olds say that they could not afford their current lifestyle without parental support.

To be clear, I have nothing but sympathy for these young adults, who are genuinely struggling to make ends meet. But, today, I want to write about the flip side of the coin – how can we, as parents to adult children, tell if we are being too financially generous with our money.

To better understand this issue, I recently reached out to 10 of my friends who are still supporting their adult children. Some of them have let their children “return to the nest.” Others are simply providing financial support. But, all of them are helping their kids financially, in one way or another.

Before I share the 5 ways that you can tell if you are being too financially generous with your adult children, I want to make one thing clear. I realize that this is an emotional topic. In addition, since everyone feels like their situation is unique, it would be foolish to paint everyone with the same brush.

That said, I hope that these 5 indicators give you something to think about. They are not “rules.” They are just topics for discussion with your partner, friends and adult children.

Here are 5 possible indicators that you may have become too generous with your adult kids.

Your Own Finances Are Suffering

As parents, we want to be generous with our kids. This is especially true when we see that they are suffering. But, at some point, we have to admit to ourselves (and our adult children) that we are pushing ourselves too hard.

As I was conducting interviews for this article, one of my friends admitted that she had added $15,000 in fresh credit card debt (after spending a decade getting out of debt) to support her adult daughter.

Our reasons for wanting to help our adult children are usually valid. “He just can’t find a job.” “He needs a car to get to work.” “Rent in San Francisco is so expensive,” “My parents helped me,” “If I don’t help, he’s going to end up on the street,” “My son has an addiction problem,” “My daughter is a single mom,” “He’s trying to better himself by going back to college,” “She just lost her roommate”… the list goes on and on.

But, as they say in those airplane safety videos, the best advice in any emergency is to “first put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.”

To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to stop helping your adult children completely. On the contrary, being honest about your situation may allow you to help them for longer – or in more meaningful ways.

Just don’t forget about your own financial needs. You are also important. Besides, no-one benefits – including your adult children – if you quite literally run out of money.

Your Conversations with Your Adult Kids Always Center Around Money

One of the women I talked to complained that the only time her adult children call her is to ask her for money. And, I have a feeling that she is not alone.

Many of us feel like the 2-3 minutes of casual conversation that we get at the beginning of each telephone call from our kids is just leading up to the next financial request.

So, how can we deal with this situation? Many of the people I spoke with said that they had found success in formalizing the support that they will provide and making it crystal clear that no exceptions would be made.

For example, you might agree to pay a fixed amount each month and refuse to discuss other requests for money. Or, you might say that, with the exception of genuine medical emergencies, you just aren’t able to help beyond what you are already doing.

It will be hard the first few times that your adult children call asking for an exception, but, you can do this! If you give in, you will forever be seen as “The Bank of Mom.”

Your Adult Children Are Becoming More, Not Less, Dependent

No-one wants their adult children to be dependent on them. In fact, most of us start giving support to our adult children specifically because we want to help them to find their own feet. We feel like if we just give them a little boost, they will get their lives under control and get on the road to independence.

Unfortunately, as a friend once told me, “there is nothing more permanent than temporary” and, far too often, our attempts to help our adult children actually make them more, not less, dependent on us.

I’m sure that, if you sit down and really think about your situation honestly, you will know if this is happening in your family. Are your kids using your financial support to rebuild their own lives? Have they shared their plans with you for the future? Are they executing on these plans?

If the answer to these questions is no, then, it might be time to reconsider whether your assistance is really helping them to become the people that you know they can be.

Your Assistance Feels Expected (or Even Deserved!)

Nothing feels worse than having your support taken for granted. And, this is exactly how many parents of adult children feel. Or, even worse, they feel like their kids have an entitled mentality to the help they are receiving.

To be 100% clear, no matter who you are, if you are reading this article, you did your best as a parent. Did you make compromises along the way? Of course! Did you often have to choose between work, your kids and your partner? Absolutely? Did you make mistakes? We all did!

No matter what happened in the first 18 years of your kids’ lives, you don’t owe them anything. If you choose to help them, that is your decision – and it can be a noble and correct decision. But, you deserve to be appreciated and loved.

If your relationship with your kids – particularly when you consider the financial support you are providing – seems one-sided, it may be time to have an open and honest conversation with everyone involved.

You Find Yourself Always Thinking of Worst-Case Scenarios

Many parents are helping their adult children with “normal life” issues – paying the rent, putting fuel in the car to get to work, paying for childcare. But, for others, giving support to their adult children quite literally feels like a life or death decision.

For example, one man in our interview group told me that his son had a drug addiction problem and that he had already put him through 4 rounds of rehab – at a cost of over $50,000! By the way, this man is not rich. He dipped into his 401K on each occasion to help his son.

Unless you have a child with a serious medical, mental or addiction challenge, you can’t begin to imagine the worry involved. And, when your child is suffering and asks for your help, you can’t help thinking about the worst-case scenarios. “Will my daughter end up on the street?” “What if my son relapses?” “My daughter will do something harmful if she can’t see her favorite therapist.”

These are by far the hardest situations to deal with when it comes to providing financial support to your adult children. And, I’m most definitely not going to provide advice here. But, I would suggest that, if you are feeling overwhelmed, financially, emotionally and mentally, that you seek help for yourself.

This help could come in the form of therapy. Or, it could just be a matter of being honest with your partner or a trusted friend about your situation. Regardless, if you are always thinking about the worst-case scenario, it’s time to get some support. You deserve to be happy too!

Do you ever feel like you are being too financially generous with your adult children? Do any of the scenarios in this article hit close to home?