You may have only meant the best by helping your kids financially, but enabling dependency only prevents them from becoming healthy, self-reliant adults.
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“A parent’s role is to care for their children until they can take care of themselves,” says Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist and author of “Better Than Perfect: 7 Steps to Crush your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love”. “By continuing to give them money, you are preventing them from growing up.”
Make a timeline for reducing or eliminating support
If helping your kids is affecting your retirement goals, make a game plan for how to best reduce or eliminate financial aid. Be mindful not to pull the rug out from under their feet, but to inch it out gradually.
"Before you have a formal conversation with your adult kid, spend some time thinking through and talking with your partner [if you’re co-parenting] about when you want to officially cut the cord,” says Tess Brigham, MFT, BCC, therapist and life coach. “No matter how much money you're giving your child, you're going to want to give them some lead time to prepare for this change. The length of time will really depend on how much you're giving them each month. [If you’re giving them] a couple of hundreds dollars a month, then a month or two should be sufficient. If you're completely supporting them, then they'll need six months to a year of notice.”
Ideally, you want your child to be in a better financial place by time the plug has been fully pulled. But that may not materialize.
“The really hard part [is to] stop giving your child money by the deadline even if they are not in a better financial position,” says Patti B. Black, CFP and partner at Bridgeworth Financial.
Explain that this is not a punishment — but a way of helping
Once you have your game plan mapped out, it’s time to have the big talk with your kids. As Brigham points out, you know your kid best, so come up with an approach that they’ll ideally respond to (e.g., whether this is better to do on the phone or in person).
However you go about this, you should clearly communicate to kids that this choice isn’t a punishment or a sign that you’re disappointed in them.
"Start the conversation by explaining you're not doing this to punish them in any way but to help them thrive and be independent,” says Brigham. “Most kids want to be independent and do not want to be completely supported by their parents. Share with them how proud you are of everything they have already accomplished and that you wouldn't be doing this if you didn't believe they had the ability to support themselves."
Give them a couple days to process this news
While you’re not firing your kids, it may feel something like that from their perspective. “Give your kid some time and space to process everything,” says Brigham. “You've had a few days to think about all of this and they are just getting the news. Give them some space to take it all in and be prepared for both positive and negative responses to this new plan.”
Be supportive in other ways
Cutting the cord doesn’t mean severing the parent-child bond. Let your kids know that you’re still there for them in terms of emotional support, and if willing, offer to help them strategize ways to generate more income.
"Ask your kid how you can support them through this process, other than financial support,” says Brigham. “Do they want your help in terms of looking for a job or possibly a higher paying job? Do they want you to call some of your friends about networking opportunities? Be OK with them saying 'no' and telling you they can do it on their own.”
You’ve been generous. Now you have to focus on yourself
“Feeling okay about cutting the purse strings off from your adult children depends a lot on how you've been dealing with this issue until now,” says Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, a family therapist with Baltimore Therapy Center.
“If you feel you've been generous thus far, if you've tried to help your kids to a reasonable extent given your own financial situation, if you've given them the tools to be successful on their own, then you can remind yourself that you've fulfilled your responsibility and then some,” Bilek says. “Parents are not required to support children who are able-minded for their entire lives. You have a right to take care of your own needs. Although every parents wants to help their children as much as (and perhaps more than) they possibly can, there is no need to feel guilty about saving your money for taking care of your own needs.”
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