September 13, 2013

Helping An Adult Child

I have been noticing a lot of web articles recently that deal with the issue of grown children and retirement. Phrases like "boomerang kids" have become common. The adult child has to move back home due to a lost job, or medical condition. The grown child needs help to pay for additional education to reenter the job market. A divorce may mean that child brings along his or her own children when moving back home. This is not a rare occurrence. One survey I found showed that 44% of jobless 18 to 34 year-olds live with their parents. Almost 25% with jobs are still at home.

Some of the articles take a firm position As parents, you have already done your job. The grown child is on his own. The money saved for retirement is not going to be used to solve someone else's problems. Maybe a small loan here and there, but no full scale bailout. You are not going to become a full time babysitter for your grandkids. The house is no longer set up to handle an extra person, or two or three.

The flip side to that is your child needs your help and you are going to provide it. When you became a parent you believe your responsibility doesn't end after a certain age, regardless of the circumstances.  You do what you have to do to provide shelter and food, or money for an education or a car to get to work, or whatever. If your retirement savings take a hit, so be it. Family trumps your portfolio.

So, what do you do? Cut the cord and tell the robin to fly, or provide support, both emotional and financial, as long as needed? How much should your own future be adjusted for an adult child?


Here is another toughie. I received an e-mail from a fellow a week or so ago asking for feedback and ideas from readers on another adult child-parent issue. His youngest daughter was into her final year of  college. She had done her part by getting scholarships and taking on a rather sizable student loan. Even so, helping her with college tuition put mom and dad further behind each month. Saving for their own retirement had to be delayed and their own debts were increasing.

This couple is within a few years of retirement. They are worried that the financial hole they have dug for themselves means retirement may be just a dream. The fellow's question was a simple one: if you have committed yourself to doing what you must for a child, do you have to accept that retirement is not a likely scenario? Is working well into the future the only option? They willingly helped their daughter and took on these obligations but wonder where they are headed.

These are not easy questions. My last post on the history of retirement noted that when we were a rural society this type of problem rarely arose. Everyone stayed close to home or accepted that each family member was responsible for the well-being of the rest of the family regardless of age or circumstances. That model no longer exists for most of us. Multi-generational living is still the exception rather than the norm.

Do you have any experiences in this area to share? Can you give some solace to the parents who have put their own retirement in the deep freeze for their daughter? Do you have feelings about where and when the obligations of parents ends...if it does?  Would the door to your home and bank account be closed or open in a similar situation?
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35 comments:

  1. When I was growing up, my divorced mother (of 3 boys) pointed out the window and said, 'You see the baby bird, son? When he flies from the nest, he doesn't come back.' I never moved back home...but I stayed close enough to take care of mom's yard, car, and finances. My wife and I included her on trips to Hawaii and Germany. She was a very independent woman who worked as a secretary from the day she graduated high school until retirement at 65. We didn't have much growing up but we'd go camping in a pop up trailer on summer vacations. I can still hear her voice over my shoulder sometimes.

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    1. That's a great story of family caring for family. It is heartwarming to read about your type of situation where the relationship between a mom and her grown son was as strong as yours.

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  2. Our grown son has come and gone a few times, but it was to benefit all of us, not just his situation.My sister in Law back in Philly has all 3 boys back home for a bit-- one broke up with his fiance, lost the apartment,needs to get resettled, find new digs, etc. the other lost his good job has student loans to pay, and is searching for another position the third is just 21, not really "finding" himself yet.. they come, they go.. such is family life.. I think we need to be there for family above ALL else.

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    1. That has been the situation for Betty and me: both daughters have returned at some point for various reasons and have been welcomed home for the appropriate period. You adapt to the new living arrangements and move on.

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  3. One of our sons was a late bloomer. He bounced back a few times. We would give him 2-3 months to get himself together and kick him out of the nest again. We were both still working then. I can't imagine how we would support either of them now, in retirement. Thankfully they are both quite successful now and it's not a concern.
    b

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    1. That really is the fellow's concern I noted in the post. They are so close to retirement that the drain on their resources is scary and may be irreplaceable. I don't know of an obvious answer to his concern.

      Glad it worked out for your family.

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  4. My daughter knows she will ALWAYS have a place to come home to. It might be a bedroom or a sofa bed, but there is room for her and any children she should have (none so far). She was given my old VW Bettle about a year ago, and is trying to save up money to by an RV. She wants live in it full time, and not be tied down to a mortgage. Personally, I cannot understand anyone turning away their child(ren. Unless of course that child has some kind of drug addiction or lifestyle that might be dangerous to other family members. That's must my personal opinion of course.

    I think the family needs to sit down with their daughter and explain how much help they can afford to give. They probably also need to go over their own budget and start cutting their expenses now. Perhaps the daughter can find a part time job to help with her costs if she's not already working.

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    1. Your suggestions for the family with the college-age daughter are certainly worth pursuing. I applaud their willingness to do what they have for her. But, there has to be a limit or the daughter will find dear old mom and dad on her doorstep!

      I gather the situation ends sometime next year. The real question is how are they going to replace all that has been spent.

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  5. We welcomed our adult son to move in with us rent-free for several months so that he could save as much as possible to get his financial feet back on the ground after a difficult break up with his fiance. However, we draw the line at lending money.

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    1. Lending money or co-signing for a loan or apartment lease should only be done with a great deal of thought. There is a potential for long term problems.

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  6. I am in a second relationship and we also have had family in & out. My current home is the largest one we've ever owned (ironically--long story there) but it has proven to be a perfect option as first my significant other's son stayed for awhile to finish college, then my daughter has moved in for awhile to pay off a second mortgage so she can afford to live in her condo on ONE job, not the three she has been carrying for nearly 10 years (we live on the coast of California, with the accompanying expensive real estate). My mom lived with me for awhile in a different home and originally we planned for her to live with us in this house, but she decided to live in an apartment near us instead. All three multi-generational arrangements have worked out well; each participant made and continues to make valuable time, money & energy contributions to the household.

    That said, I have two friends, also in blended families, with very different endings. In both cases, the husband's children were welcomed as "boomerang" children, but when the wife's children needed help, the husbands were unwilling to do that and both situations turned ugly. I feel blessed that my significant other cherishes the folks I cherish.

    I am retired & while I am helping, I am not jeopardizing my financial future for that. It seems counterproductive for me to help them & end up a burden on them in a few years. I have helped in the past also; sold a home to one family for what they could afford, not the market value and co-signed for another family to obtain a home loan. Much of this is due to where we live; in other areas of the country it would not have been necessary.

    I don't see myself as a person traveling around the world, or living in luxury while my family needs help; but I balance that with enabling. To my way of thinking those families doesn't get to have all the latest electronic gadgets, etc. while I'm being frugal to make ends meet. You're right; you adapt, balance & move on.

    pam

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  7. Being an enabler is one of the risks. The whole codependent/enabler dynamic is a tough one. How far is too far, how much help to too much help? It sounds as though you have achieved the right balance for you.

    BTW, drop me an e-mail so we can coordinate getting together when Betty and I are in your part of California.

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  8. That has been a hard-won balance enabling/not enabling, let me tell you!

    Email is on its way. Looking forward to seeing you & Betty. It's going to be exciting to see our world through her pictures & your words.

    pam

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  9. We also bought our biggest house ever when moving to TN, and always felt it would be a refuge either for our only child, a parent, or friends. Our daughter has never had to avail herself of it, except for vacations, but we would still help her financially if she needed it (she does not). Surprisingly our only surviving parent (Deb's Mom) had to move in with us over the past week, so things have changed in that regard. I agree with some of the other folks - family comes first, and we would do what we could to help, short of burying ourselves financially.

    For the couple that has imperiled their own retirement by helping with the daughter's tuition, that was a big mistake. The daughter has a lifetime to earn income; the couple has far less time to overcome their shortfall. Greater loans would have been a better option, or going to a less expensive school than it sounds like she attended (if scholarships and loans still left too big a shortfall, that the parents had to cover).

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    1. Thanks for your input, Chuck. When the amount of time left to make up a retirement shortfall is smaller than the amount needed that creates an almost unsolvable dilemma. I hope they find a solution that works for everyone,.

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    2. I'm from the very, VERY old school of thought. Bob mentioned the rural areas of the turn of the century. (19th not 20th) Sacrifice and compromise from everybody! Adult children helping older parents, parents helping children, adult children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren and grandparents helping everyone! Not just financially, but emotionally, spiritually and physically. We not only should be helping out our families and extended families but community as well.

      It reminds me of the Amish people and how the community would help build not only each other's houses and barns but extended family homes in the area and on the property. A smaller house called a Grossdaddi Haus (Grandfather's House)would be built close to the main house. This would house the grandparents when they "retired" and the oldest child and their family would take over the main house. Other brothers and sisters and their families would build close by.

      Sound bizarre? I've wanted this type of "compound" even before I had children. The only difference is that I designed my community up not out. Less acreage - more urban feel. Ask my family. They're still rolling their eyes!

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    3. Yes, my wife, Betty, has always wanted a compound with all family members of all generations living together on the same plot of land. Separate homes, but shared lives. The closest we have come to her dream is to all live within 40 minutes of each other.

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  10. I'm retired, on a fixed income and have an adult child (24) living with me. I also assist him on occasion. This is probably a more problematic situation for him than it is for me. I also took out small loans to assist in his previous education (one that has gotten him nary a job prospect). this is a difficult call. In my case I feel this is the right thing to do-because I know that said child has been doing everything he can to find a job, and because the only we he will get one is to rethink education and career. He and I have also started a small business together (no investment per se). As families I tend to think that we don't live in a vaccum.At this point in my life I would not give a child large amounts of money-but I would always welcome them and help them in financially small ways. I helped my son with books at the beginning of the school year, for example.

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    1. Thanks, Barb. You have been quite open on your blog over the years sharing the joys and problems of the situation you and your son have found yourselves in.

      I like your point that families don't exist in a vacuum. Families are supposed to be for better or worse. You do what you have to do up to a point. You son is lucky to have a mom like you, and you're lucky to have a boy like him.

      Thanks for sharing, Barb.

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  11. Tough call, and a question that doesn't have a one-size-fits-all answer. Since I have a variety of adult child situations, as you know, I have had to tailor my approach to each kid. My two sons with autism, for example, need lifelong care, so my priority was to get them situated appropriately. One daughter is in college--I'm helping her with tuition. Another daughter had a baby just as she started a two year college program. I allowed her to stay at home until she finished her education, and then she was expected to, and did, get a full time job. However, I help her quite a bit with childcare. The last daughter also had a baby, but has had a hard time taking responsibility for her life. Helping her falls more into the category of enabling, so I use more of a tough love approach with her.

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    1. You have had to juggle several different situations with your kids. Because they had different challenges you have had to make each approach fit the circumstances. Yours was very definitely not a" one size fits all" model.

      Thanks for sharing some of the details, Galen. I know it has not been easy for you, but you have maintained your cheery attitude and smile throughout.

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  12. We had a couple of boomerang kids. One lived in our RV for three years and earned her room and board by cleaning our house and cooking twice a week. Since then, I think all eight are gone for good. We lend money if for a worthy, non-enabling cause but don't lend a second time until the first has been paid back. We do not cosign!

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  13. One child living in your RV for three years: that must have been interesting. It brings new meaning to the concept of full-time RVing.

    Like you, we have lent money to our kids but have never cosigned a loan or lease. That is a road neither Betty or I are comfortable traveling.

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  14. Family is family. If they show up- we take them in. Food and shelter- nothing else.
    If they need retraining- we help them find ways to fund it.
    When they run out of the allotted money for tuition we lead them to the recruiter---Teach for America, Military,Peace Corps.
    We have given several loans to one daughter's family. Once the debt is paid another can be "taken out". This kept them out of the high interest rate groups when they had expensive car repairs.
    We NEVER went into debt for them. That would be a non starter in our book. Unless we were all starving, we will not go into debt. We will most likely never co-sign a loan (never say never)
    As far as our retirement goes--- we did not really save until both were "gone". Those last five years were key to settling our nest egg in. We lived on one salary and saved the other. It is very possible. When we were doing that we became very honest and told the kids what we were doing. They both seemed to understand.
    Don't misunderstand- we give our children loads of experiences. We believe in spending money on travel. BUT that is always with an invite and our time. That is the way we choose to use the money we have and it is a blast!

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    1. While our kids were growing up as a family we almost always choose experiences over things. Things don't last but memories do.

      We have loaned money under the same guidelines as yours: low or no interest and paid back in full in a reasonable amount of time. So far, so good!

      Thanks for an excellent summary of how your family handled this situation.

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  15. This is a tough reality for most Baby Boomer families. Mine is so far so good, but they're only 23 and 25. We were divorced when they were in gradeschool, but I saved quite a bit for college in 529 accounts. I decided the choice of how to use it was theirs, but told them "this is it, there won't be more $, but we'll always be here for you." One went to an expensive year of college then took the rest to pay off his loan, the other eventually took the funds to buy a travel trailer to live in. The first elected tradeschool & is doing fabulously, the other is living his lifestyle dream frugally. Neither has rebounded for more than a couple weeks & both live within their means (albeit differently). The clear messages along with acceptance of their choices & mistakes seem to have paid off. They both come around & enjoy hanging out with their girlfriends. Life is good! :)

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    1. There is no argument the answer to the questions posed in this post are very personal. Each family is unique and must approach the proper mix of support and teaching independence.

      I like reading how your two kids really prove this point. Both took very different path and both have figured out how to make it work for them.

      Life is good! Absolutely.

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  16. LInda, "all EIGHT!" Bless your heart!!!!!! Life is messy. Not predictable at all! Nut what an adventure! I love all the comments--they highlight al the different approaches to family needs.. and it's easy to see, like most things in life, we have to take an individual approach as things come up. I do believe in the idea of having parameters , plans, meetings with the young un's about getting back on their feet, helping with chores and working as much as they can.. with a goal to reach for, not a never ending story..

    Betty's idea of a family compound sounds cool.. except there are a few family members that are better to have some miles between us and periodic visits!! LOL!!!!!

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    1. Betty has dreamed of the compound idea for years. The best we can do is have family gatherings on a regular basis!

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  17. We have likewise housed both our daughters after college as they worked to get settled. One daughter moved back in for five months while she studied for her teaching exams, and the other moved back in for five months as she transitioned from a job in Colorado to a new job back here in California. In both cases we all knew about how long the stay would be, and what they were working toward.

    If they came to us in the future we would welcome them, though we would want there to be a plan on how long they expected to stay, and why. I would also expect the majority of any monies they made while living with us to be banked for whatever future endeavor awaited them. We are always here to help, but never to enable.

    We likewise don't loan money to our kids, because as Dave Ramsey has frequently said, "It makes the Thanksgiving turkey taste different going forward." We've gifted them with money over the years, however, as we've identified areas or things we'd like to help with. It's been a joy to help them monetarily when it's not expected.

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    1. There seems to be general agreement from most of those who have left a comment that helping with living space and some monetary support are important and part of what makes a family. But the line is drawn at enabling that grown child to stay stuck in his or her present state.

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  18. Our son never has asked us for any significant help. Perhaps partly because of his attitude, we delight in helping him as much as we can. It's a two-way feel good situation for us.

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  19. Every situation is different. YMMV

    We recently finished a 16 month period where an adult sibling stayed with us. I'd like to share a few lessons learned. This individual was had been laid off, gotten divorced and was basically living in their car. They were flat on their back with nowhere else left to turn. If we were to be in a similar situation in the future, I would:

    1. Lay out expectations from the start. Define what what you will provide and what your expectations are. How long is the stay planned? What are your expectations as respects smoking, liquor, girl/boy friends? Remember, this is YOUR house and it should not be "taken over" by anyone or their manners / habits. This might be painful or sound uncaring, but it provides a baseline all parties can work with.
    2. How long is this stay planned for? In our situation, we left things open ended, we should have stipulated that our sibling had to be ready to move out 6 months after they had been working steadily.
    3. Our mission in helping our sibling was to help them while they looked for a job and get back to living independently.. You do not want to feel like you are running a Gulag, what you are doing and why needs to stay in sharp focus.
    4. Room & Board: What are they expected to contribute? $50 per week for food, mowing the lawn?
    5. How much of their "stuff" do they plan to bring along - and how much can you accommodate? We ran into a definite surprise in the area. Our attic, basement, garage, and lawn shed were filled with our sibling's household items. Determine what YOU can handle and who else in the family can keep something at their place(s).
    6. Their money. This can be difficult, especially if you are providing rent free accommodation, Make it absolutely clear at the outset that your intent is to help them over a rough spot. It is NOT to enable them, once they start working again, to spend their money on toys or hobby items - since they do not have to pay rent, utilities, laundry, etc. This ties in with the "6 months working steadily and you need to be ready to move on" idea.

    v/r

    Bob In NH

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    1. All excellent points, Bob. By agreeing on specifics a lot of the heartache and frustration can be avoided. There is every chance for this type of situation to strengthen family bonds, but only if the type of details you relate are clear from the beginning.

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  20. I don't have time (or energy) to read all of the comments, so maybe someone has already touched on it. Our son (I use this term loosely, as he is my husband's son, my step-son, but I raised him from the time he was 3, so to me he is my son as well) is 22, military veteran - spent time in Afganistan. He came home to a house that was his, very reasonable payments ($300-$400 per month). While in high school, he drank a lot and although I had him tested several times and came back negative, I wasn't stupid or naïve, yep - synthetic marijuana - which I have since verified. When he got back from Afganistan, he fell back into the same pattern, alcholol and drugs and was unable to keep his house. He moved with his gfriend to an apartment and things slowly slipped backwards. He checked himself into treatment and the next day checked himself out. The next time we checked him in and the next day he checked himself out. The third time, he begged for help and so we took him and he checked himself in and completed, but we now know that he was flat broke and didn't want to deal with life, so it was a vacation for him (none of the issues were dealt with). He moved in with us after as he had no where to go. After less than a month, we kicked him out. He lived with a new gfriend and her family for awhile and then told us yet again, that he was ready to get his life straightened out. So in he moved again, got a job. After a week of poor choices and excessive drinking he gave us no choice but to kick him out again. He lost his job after a week. All during this time my husband insisted we help him financially (much to my dismay - because I was brought up with tough love, figure it out or go without)..... to the tune of $5,200. The last time he was kicked out, I put my foot down and said no more money. This is ridiculous. We are just enabling him. So, my husband finally agreed with me, but now our son has a new job and it is out of town and again no money, because the money he was borrowed by other friends and family for this opportunity at a job was spent on alcohol. My husband gave in and gave him $60 so he could get to his destination - luggage fee and some money to buy groceries. In less than 2 hours it was all gone and now no money for food. I told my husband that it is not our problem anymore. He feels bad and wants to help, but due to other circumstances, we are unable to give much and I don't want it to affect our ability to pay "our own" bills. It is doing a number on our marriage and our financial well-being.

    So, tell me again - family should come first, but to the determent of your own relationship? How is this helping our next generation? I don't want to see him on the streets, but maybe that would make him hit rock bottom, because by us putting him first sure isn't helping him make something of himself and his life. He is not being a responsible adult or a part of society.

    His behavior isn't just affecting my husband and I, but our son's Mom and step-dad, our daughter and her husband and grandparents galore. Everyone is worried, feels bad for him, wants to help and yet on some level everyone is also angry. It is putting a strain on each respective relationship because the ones that are blood want to enable and the ones that aren't, want him to succeed, but not at everyone else's expense.

    Thoughts would be appreciated.

    Tough Love Mom

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