Helping Adult Children Fly

Ron has a grown son he's supported financially over the years, but he wants to get his son to support himself now. Dave has a plan to help.

QUESTION: Ron in Kansas City has a grown son whom he has supported financially over the years, but he wants to get his son to support himself now. The son’s wife is ashamed of how they’ve run their home after receiving the support and doesn’t talk to Ron. Dave senses a couple of things are going on and details each to Ron, along with a plan to help.

ANSWER: He's in a dysfunctional marriage. You can't fix that, and you can only make it worse by taking her on. She is ashamed, and just you walking in the house makes her feel guilty. She has a weird way of showing it, but all of her defensiveness comes from the fact that she knows she's not measuring up on anything, and when you come around, you're the yardstick. It's not against you and you haven't done anything wrong, but just by living your life in control and with some discipline—and then they're not—when you walk into their presence, they feel out of hand.

There are three or four things going on here. One is the way they handle money. Two is the way they're handling their home. Three is their marriage. I would offer to help them if they're willing to help themselves, but I'm not going to do for them anymore when they won't even do for themselves because you're not helping them then. You're just giving a drunk a drink.

What I would do is pull them aside, and don't talk about how they never appreciated you. You're not allowed to whine. Don't talk about how much you gave them in the past. I don't want to hear about any of that crap. You did all of that because you're a father and you love them. That's all in the past. Just shovel it under the bed and forget it. Then sit down and say, "You know I've helped you. I'm willing to help you some more, but in the future, I'm going to help you in a different way. I'm only going to match your behavior. If you want to pay off your car and you want to get a ride to work, you're going to have to figure out a way to do part of that, and then I'll do part of it. For every $100 you pay on the car, I'll pay $100 on the car. If you want to save up and get a $1,000 car to drive to work—because I'm not driving over here and taking you to work anymore—I'll put $500 towards it if you put $500 towards it. If you want some help getting your home in order, we'll come over and help you clean. Or I'll pay for the maid to work with you while you work on it to clean it and then keep it clean. If you want to work on your marriage, I'll pay for half of your marriage counseling, but I'm through giving 100% o anything when you give nothing as of today."

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