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Ask Dave

Helping Him Have Problems

Angela has a 21-year-old son she decided to help while he established himself. She watched him flounder after she stopped helping him. He's struggling, and she wants to help without giving him money.

QUESTION: Angela in Connecticut has a 21-year-old son she decided to help for a year while he established himself. She stood back and watched him flounder after she stopped helping him. He’s struggling, and she wants to help him now without giving him money. What’s the best way to do that?

ANSWER: You’ve really helped him because you’ve helped him to have some problems. His decisions before had no consequences. This is very helpful to him. It’s going to be the worst time in your life and the best time in his life.

It is one of the most painful things to do in the world to watch somebody you love be stupid—especially your own kids. It is almost as if he’s manipulating you—intentionally or unintentionally—by pitching out all the dumb things he’s doing for shock effect. He’ll become a travel agent for guilt trips if you let him.

If he’s hurting bad enough, you can offer help with conditions attached to it. The conditions are him heading in good directions—not bad directions. If he can be trusted and his integrity is intact, you could say, “If you will cut up this credit card and close the account and promise not to open any more of them, I will match you dollar for dollar as you pay it off.” Then you’re encouraging him A) to stop borrowing and B) to clean up his debt, and you’re bribing him a little bit into doing that. But he won’t do that if he doesn’t think the credit card is a problem. If it’s started to be a problem, if he’s started to have issues, then there we go. Or the payday lender—the same thing. You could say, “I’ll match you to help you get out of this payday lender because I think you now have realized and you’re repentant that what you were doing is stupid. If you prove that by never going to a payday lender again, that’s our contract. My contract with you is I will match you dollar for dollar as you pay out the payday lender. But if you break your word, the checks are over forever.”

I think you’re on track. The other thing you can do is if it’s not a match, you can just encourage any positive behavior. In other words, something like, “If you’ll go to Financial Peace University at your local church and go through the nine classes and have the coordinator send me an email each night that you attend the class and you have 100% attendance, I’ll do this: X or Y.” Put him in an environment where he has peer pressure to do positive things instead of hanging out with his idiot roommates.

It’s very painful to watch your children do stupid. I think it may be the hardest phase of parenting. When they’re little, you’re a god and you can just tell them what to do. It’s a lot easier. Their needs are fairly basic. It’s poop and food. Then they move up to a few more emotional and spiritual needs, and then they move into a few other things, but then letting them do their own thing and do it wrong is—wow! That’s tough. I think that’s why we have so many parents in America who have become enablers when we find out that a huge percentage of 27-year-old males still live in their mom’s basement. We’ve lost a generation of manhood doing that.

It’s just not against the law to be stupid. We wouldn’t have enough jails. It’s hard to watch. I think you’re on the right track. I think you’re being very kind and very strong, and you so far have been able to endure the pain that you feel watching him do this. I will give you Financial Peace University for him to go through, but I want you to use it on him as a part of a weapon for his own benefit—not a manipulative weapon. In other words, “I’ll do this if you pay off this card or if you work this extra job or if you don’t make this bad decision. If you go through this class, I’ll do something else for you.” We’re rewarding good behaviors, and we are starving out by not funding the bad behaviors. Write the checks directly to whatever you’re paying for so that it doesn’t accidentally go to partying or other things you don’t want it to go to.