Keep Your Kids Out of Your Basement
Just the like the old adage, “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second-best time is today,” so it is with raising children. In an ideal world, a parent would both know how and begin to raise a financially responsible child from the time they are able to begin self-control around age 2 or 3. But none of us are perfect parents, none of us have perfect children, and none of us live in a perfect world. So how can we do all we can now to help those kids of ours grow and prosper- or at least not end up in our basement playing video games?
One of the most important things you can do with your kids is to establish expectations for them. (And it helps if both parents are on the same page.) You’ll want to communicate these with the kids in an age appropriate way as soon as you can. We have one client who has a 9 year old who clarified that while they understood that they needed to have their own job when they grew up, the 9 year old wanted to know if it be ok for them to live with their parents for a little while so they could save up for a house. The parents stated they would see what things were like at that time, but they would very much like to support their children’s goals where they could. This conversation is cute, but it’s also instilling a sense of independence with the child without a sense of fear that they are alone in a big, bad world.
These expectations should also be communicated should your adult child need support. You will pay for college, but you want to see grades. You will let them live at home for a set period of time, but you want them working and participating in the upkeep of the home. Establishing boundaries and expectations for what you will do and what they will do- in writing, if necessary, is one of the tricks of the parents we have seen who have been very successful in launching their kids. The opposite- just doling out the cash with no expectations, can be a disaster.
One of the best things that parents can do for their adult children is to encourage good planning. Start as early as possible (when they are pre-teens/teens) helping them set up a savings account and get a job of some sort. When they turn 18, make sure they have and understand Powers of Attorney and get a credit card in their name. If they are going to college, ensure that they have some skin in the game and come up with a plan together on how college will be paid for.
When the time comes for their first career, offer to help with the choosing of their benefits. When they get married, don’t just pay for the wedding, talk to them (both) about those Powers of Attorney and maybe a basic will. If they decide to have children, talk to them about life and disability insurance- not just a college fund. When they are mature enough, share your personal plans with them, but also show them where you started so they can see how your success grew slowly, over time, with good decisions and discipline. Let them know about your mistakes and bumps in the road.
Depending on what is happening with their adult children, we have had multiple clients assist with the cost of some of these “mundane” needs of planning. For example, a parent may pay for the legal work, or help with insurance costs for their adult children who need them done, but cost is a factor. We do encourage clients to be careful not to set their kids up for failure. For example, providing a down payment for a home that your adult child could not steadily maintain in a good situation, not to mention a bad one, may not be the best choice.
Another subject we often discuss with our clients is to let your kids be themselves- not you. You may have a high-powered law career with all the trimmings, but they may be perfectly content with their job as a social worker and the lifestyle it provides. You can kindly ask if they need anything, but if they say they are good, let them know you are there if they need you. However, in our observations, it’s better to let them do their own thing, and be proud of them for doing it.
If your kids are asking for help, either regularly, or because of a crisis, do what you can to avoid a crisis of your own. This can be a particularly hard thing for parents who have children with mental illness or drug additions. We highly encourage those parents not to go it alone. Support groups and therapists who specialize in supporting the parents of these kids can be most helpful with resources and behavioral strategies so they can help their kids as best as they can.
Being a parent really is the hardest job in the world- and it doesn’t end when the kids are grown. Know that you are not alone and have lots of resources to help you get it right for your family.