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Responding to Uncomfortable Questions About Money

Admittedly, these can be incredibly difficult conversations both to initiate and to sustain. Here are a few things you can do that will help when your almost-adult child hits you up for more money:

Reorganize the Way You View Your Adult Child. Social psychologist Terri Apter, author of The Myth of Maturity, points out that this lengthening transition between adolescence and adulthood creates a seeming paradox that parents must understand. To become adults, our children must pull away from us and learn to make their own decisions. The increased time it takes to become a truly independent adult means that our adult children need our emotional and psychological support more than ever. Too often we find it difficult to distinguish between curtailing financial support for our adult children and curtailing emotional support for them. While reducing or even eliminating financial support may be appropriate, it is vital that you continue to provide your young adult with emotional support. Your conversations, therefore, should be filled with emotional support, a much more valuable gift to your child than financial assistance.

Listen More Than You Talk
When your near-adult tells you about running short of money and wanting to borrow some, don't automatically tell him what to do. Listening is more important than talking. Offer advice rather than directions; help him build self-confidence by letting him make decisions and take charge of his life. Ask him what his options are for making money and listen as he tells you about his hopes and dreams.

Share Your Own Struggles
Our kids often enter adulthood with unrealistic optimism and return home when they discover they don't like scrimping and saving and living in a style to which they're not accustomed. Help them understand that they're not the only ones who have had to deal with this situation. Perhaps you lived at home at some point when you were a young adult. Perhaps you got yourself in financial trouble as a near-adult. When your child tells you her tale of woe and asks for money, share your own story of how you struggled. It demonstrates that if you can make it, she can, too.

Finally, some people find it easier to "discuss" this difficult financial issue in writing. Therefore, take a cue from one of our workshop attendees. Al Wroblewski, an independent financial planner in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who tries to "practice what he preaches," shared a copy of a letter he had written to his adult children about providing them with financial assistance. We like to call it the "Endeavors" letter. Al said that he was willing to help them financially by "supporting worthwhile endeavors." He said that in evaluating requests for money, he was looking at several things:

  • Is whatever you're going to do important to you? Are you really committed?
  • Does it represent something meaningful both to yourself and to others?
  • Does it move you toward financial self-sufficiency?
  • Will money make a difference?
  • Is giving you money healthy for our relationship?
The letter ended with this observation, which perhaps really says it all: "The distinction I guess I would like to draw between giving you money for worthwhile endeavors versus just for the hell of it is the difference between using money I give you to fuel your independence versus using it to prolong your dependency or to take the easy way out."

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From The Financially Intelligent Parent by Eileen Gallo, Ph.D. and Jon Gallo, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005 by Jon Gallo and Eileen Gallo. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, visit Amazon.

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