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The Color of Money

A parent’s guide to launching grown children back into the world of paying bills

By Michelle Singletary
Washington Post / September 4, 2011

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One of my favorite movies is “Failure to Launch.’’ Not because it’s great cinema, I just like the premise. It’s about a 35-year-old, played by Matthew McConaughey, who lives at home and has no intentions of leaving. The take-away message for me is that parents need to help their adult children launch into adulthood.

An online poll commissioned in May by the National Endowment for Financial Education and found that nearly 60 percent of parents are giving, or have in the past granted, financial support to their adult children who are no longer in college.

Because of today’s weak economy, adults have returned to their parents’ homes out of financial necessity. But then too many stay long after they should have returned to the real world of paying their own bills.

Then there are adult children who don’t live at home but still feel entitled to their parents’ money. The result is that some parents are tapping their savings, taking on debt, delaying their retirement, or not saving for their retirement because they can’t cut the financial ties to their grown children.

So, parents with adult children who haven’t launched, what can you do?

For the Color of Money Book Club this month, I’m recommending “How to Raise Your Adult Children: Real-Life Advice for When Your Kids Don’t Want to Grow Up’’ ($16, Plume). The book is written by Susan Ende, a psychotherapist, and Emmy award-winning comedy writer Gail Parent.

The authors package their advice in a question-and-answer format with each giving a separate opinion. Much of the advice centers on money. Here are some of the questions they tackle:

■ Should a father always pay for dinner when out with his employed daughter and her husband? “It’s only really harmful when the kids expect more than a dinner out,’’ Parent writes. Ende doesn’t agree. “Parents who routinely pick up the tab may feel good about it, but paying all the time does nothing for the adult child’s self-esteem,’’ she says.

■ Should a father pay for a third trip through rehab for his addict son? Parent said no. Ende said pay maybe once.

■ A son, who is a dentist with a stay-at-home wife and two kids, asked his parents to financially support him and his family for a year so he could pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Both authors agreed the parents shouldn’t do it.

■ A daughter married a no-account who won’t pay child support. Her parents want to know if they should continue providing all support for their daughter and granddaughter. Parent said let the two stay but push the daughter to get a job and pay for expenses. Ende said the parents should help the daughter make a plan to eventually move.

I’ve found the word “no’’ to be one of the most powerful tools available in my parenting arsenal. I’m all for helping but not enabling. That’s an overly expensive form of parenting.

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post.

SOURCE: Bloomberg News