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Ask Dave

Am I An Enabler?

Juliet's sons were brought up to have no debt, and now one of them has a home he can't afford. Are they hurting him by giving him money?

QUESTION: Juliet in Orlando wants to know how far parents should go in helping adult children. Juliet and her husband are in their 80s and have no debt. Their sons were brought up to have no debt, and now one of them has a home he can’t afford. He’s asked for money. Are they hurting him by giving him money?

ANSWER: You’re not hurting them. I mean, $1,500 probably didn’t do it. The thing you’ve got to do is anytime you give someone money, you want to make sure it’s causing them to move in a direction that helps them. If you give them money and they don’t work and they stay disorganized and keep overspending, then you’re giving a drunk a drink. But if you’re giving someone money who’s trying and struggling and heading toward the right thing, really what you’re doing is giving them a leg up. If he’s dependent, what is he doing that’s causing him to become dependent? He needs to change those ways in order to qualify for more help. Otherwise, we’re giving a drunk a drink. That’s called enabling. When you enable, you’re helping them to become less than they should be. That’s not really helping.

With what you described, those folks have been through some really tough times, they have a houseful of kids, and they’re trying to reset the mortgage. If now they get on a budget and do some smart things going forward and you have some extra money and want to help them again, that’d be fine. But if she goes out to the mall and buys 62 dresses and runs up a bunch of credit cards again and the kids don’t have lights in the house because they’ve misbehaved with money, then they call and want you to pay the light bill, I have a problem with that, because that’s enabling. It doesn’t sound like you have so far, though. It sounds like you’re just being careful.