How to Stop Financially Supporting Your Adult Children

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Do you find yourself financially supporting your adult children?

Does it make you feel resentment or anger?

Empty Nest Pro Tip: Quit giving your adult kids money to keep them dependent on you.

If only it was that easy, right? So, when is the right time to stop financially supporting adult kids?

Are You Financially Supporting Adult Kids On The Money Struggle Bus?

The reality for many parents is that it is too painful for them to watch their child struggle with money. So, in an effort to help them, we step in to rescue them financially. It’s difficult to navigate this issue because money can be a powerful motivator.

Money can symbolize emotional investment, acceptance and security. Adult children who have been supported may struggle with their own emotional state if their parents decide to stop that support. It can be a difficult process to go through, but setting clear boundaries and expectations will help you in this transition.

Giving Adult Kids Money Can Send The Wrong Message

We can’t blame our kids if we have trained them to rely on our rescuing behavior! There is an old saying: We teach people how to treat us. And if we have taught them that we will always rescue them, they they will always need to be rescued.

If You Are Financially Supporting Your Adult Kids, You Might Have Rescued Them Too Many Times

More than likely, the adult child has had a history of being rescued by mom and dad in other areas. Growing up this child was protected from negative consequences. Often this child was not held accountable for things like household chores, bad grades, and rude behavior.

Despite being an adult, this rescue dynamic feels normal to them. The truth is, rescuing our kids can manifest into a nasty case of adult children entitlement.

Rescuing our kids from life consequences will have long term effects on their ability to be an financially independent adult.

Sometimes We Financially Support Our Adult Kids Through A Tough Season

There are some basic understandable reasons adult kids might need to receive money from their parents. They might have a disability, they might have a temporary need for support, they might be recovering from an unexpected illness. Life can kick you in the dollars, and you might need some family support, I get it.

Sometimes we can provide a short-term bridge for our adult kids to quickly cross over into the land of financial stability.

Timeline Based, Limited Financial Support Is The Goal

That is an ideal situation, for both parents and adult children. Limited support, with a deadline, in emergency situations only. Continually financially supporting your adult children is a invitation to family dysfunction.

Family Feud: The Survey Says Too Many Parents Are Financially Supporting Their Adult Kids!

In a recent study by Merrill Lynch:

Seventy-nine percent of parents with adult children between the ages of 18 and 34 reported that they provide some sort of financial support in one area or more, according to a 2018 Merrill Lynch survey of 2,500 parents. About 60 percent gave financial assistance for food and groceries. Forty-four percent helped with 44 percent educational expenses, and 27 percent chipped in with repaying student loans. Another 36 percent said they helped out with rent or mortgages.

If the above information is not scary enough, there is an identified behavior disorder that can occur in adult children who have parents that are financially supporting them.

What is “Adult Entitled Dependence Syndrome”?

Q: What is Adult Entitled Dependence (AED)?

A: It is a phenomenon where adults remain dependent on their parents in exaggerated ways that hinder their development and normal functioning. The dependency of the adult child creates distress and negative dynamics between them and their parents

The above is a fascinating article on Adult Entitled Dependence. It is a great resource to help you identify the issue of adult entitlement and it offers solid solutions that are successful in ending the financial dependence.

Are Your Adult Kids Entitled To Your Money?

Some parents have trained their adult children to be financially dependent upon them. I see this in my coaching business with increasing frequency. Young adults struggle with creating enough income to support themselves, and parents’ step in to rescue them. As a result, financial enmeshment is created.

What The Heck Is Enmeshment?

Enmeshment is a psychological term that describes a blurring of boundaries between people, typically family members. Enmeshment often contributes to dysfunction in families and may lead to a lack of autonomy and independence that can become problematic.

The idea of enmeshment began with a famous psychologist named Munchin. His style of therapy focused on working with families that struggled to create and maintain boundaries. A lack of boundaries can happen with emotions, physical space and finances.

“Failure To Launch” Is A Real Problem With Young Adults

It is debilitating when parents of adult children provide money to house and feed their grown children. The overarching message is one of fear and incompetence. Parents who keep their children financially tethered are fearful people.

Keeping our adult kids dependent on us by giving them money is a form of control.

We need to understand that when we make choices based on fear, it is an attempt to control people around us. When we are able to control those around us, we feel safer and more competent.

The ugly truth is, these parents believe that their grown children are not capable of functioning as an adults.

Hey Dad, Can I Have $20 Bucks?

Most parents offer financial support to their children as they begin to develop a need for money. Gas money, ticket money, food money, if you have had kids, you know that the requests can feel endless!

Are You Financially Enabling Your Grown Child?

We all know that the natural order of things is that our children grow, develop, and begin jobs that prepare them for permanent independence. That natural process is destroyed in some families due to the inability of parents to create and hold financial boundaries with their emerging adult children.

Financially Supporting Adult Kids Can Harm Them

As a coach, I have worked with clients who are developmentally delayed in their independence as a result of “generous parents”. Some parents have a desire to create a better, wealthier environment then they one they grew up in.

As a result, they do not allow their children to be impacted by lack. When a person feels a “lack” they look for ways to fill it. Lack in finances means finding a job, getting a better job or reducing your living expenses until you can afford what you want.

When Your Financial Generosity Is Really A Controlling Behavior

I have worked with some adult clients that have had houses and cars paid for by their parents. Most of these clients do not have an income that supports their lifestyle, but they know that mom and dad will step in to rescue them from falling off the financial cliff.

I personally know of one set of parents that emptied their retirement accounts to save their adult son’s home from foreclosure! It worked temporarily, but eventually their son divorced, lost this house and ended up moving in with them.

Financially Rescuing Adult Kids Does Not Guarantee A Happy Ending

They very thing they feared, their son experiencing the consequences of his choices, became the very thing that destroyed their lifestyle. There was nothing left in their retirement and both parents must work to pay for basics, like groceries and utilities.

They are almost 80 years old. They will work until they die, which is not an ideal situation for anyone.

Fear Has A Very Loud Voice

For most parents, the fear of their child having to navigate difficulty is the motivating emotion. The thought of letting their adult child suffer and grow as a result of adversity is triggering. Fear steps in and stops the natural development of an independent adult. These parents often justify their fear by explaining that “they don’t want their child to have to struggle like they did”.

Does Your Adult Child Act Like The World Owes Them?

And so adult children remain enmeshed with their parents. Because of the “rescue dynamic” the adult kids give up the struggle to separate from their parents. They don’t have confidence in their own ability to provide for themselves.

Some parents feel that they have “incompetent” adult children, and so it is up to the parents to rescue their child. The highest emotional need here is the feeling that mom and dad are good parents, but they somehow got a stupid kid.

And having a dumb kid makes us look dumb, so we overcompensate to project the family image we want to project.

If You Are Still Financially Supporting Your Adult Child, You Need To Let Go

The bottom line is financial dependence on parents serves only the parents and disables the adult children. In these situations, parents function out of fear.

As a result, controlling, reactive behaviors are more important than long term family health.

Your Adult Kids Don’t Need You To Be Their Super Hero Anymore

Despite being dysfunctional, these parents get what they need from the situation. They need to feel emotionally important, much like when they had toddlers and young children.

Back then Mom and Dad were the superheroes, saving the world in an appropriate fashion. But adult kids do not need a superhero, they need a chance to save their own lives.

Adult kids need the opportunity to learn how to support themselves financially.

Time To Stop Financially Supporting Your Adult Children

If you are a parent that is keeping your adult child bound to you through finances, it is time to cut the flow of dollars. Each situation is unique but starting an open conversation about limiting financial support and creating an upcoming “cut-off” deadline is critical.

1. Have an open dialogue with your kids – Before taking any action, have an honest conversation with them about why you need to discontinue their financial support. Listen carefully so that everyone understands the situation without any assumptions or misunderstandings. This will allow both parties to come up with a plan together on how they will move forward financially independent of each other.

2. Create boundaries – Make sure that while still providing financial support, you make clear boundaries. For example, if you are covering a phone bill, make it clear that any additional data use must be paid out of pocket by the adult child. This will help to encourage responsibility while still allowing them access to basic needs.

3. Look for other forms of support – It’s important to remember that financial support isn’t the only type of help you can offer your adult kids. Encourage them to seek out other forms of support such as career advice or emotional counseling. Showing your continued love and care through non-financial means can show a deeper level of commitment than just money alone.

4. Take baby steps – Don’t try to cut off all ties at once; transition into it slowly. Start with small amounts and work up to more significant payments each month. This can help to ease the burden of an immediate financial shock while still making progress towards independence.

Be prepared for your adult child to feel angry and resentful when you begin to change your level of financial support.

Your Kids Are Going To Hate It

Don’t expect your adult child to feel excited about this change, they are as scared as you are! They have not had to “fight” to survive, and their independence instincts are weak.

Take responsibility for your misjudgment and hold a firm stance about the upcoming money changes. Just like when your child was a toddler, ignore the emotional noise and focus on creating a healthy new family dynamic.


Create A Healthy Adult Dynamic For You And Your Adult Kids

Most adult children will find a way to provide for themselves when given a chance. There is a measurable amount of shame for some adults, knowing that they cannot navigate their life on their own. Despite being frightening, many adult kids feel a sense of relief and an increased sense of self-respect when they can provide for their own needs.

It might help to reach out to a coach, or therapist to help with this transition. Getting the support you need to let go of your adult child is critical. There is no shame in realizing that things need to change for the betterment of your family and your long term family relationship.

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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