Updated on 01.31.07

Financial Independence Week: Should I Rescue My Children?

Trent Hamm

As a parent, there is a strong likelihood that at some point, your child will fail at their goals during young adulthood. Their situation may even become dire, and as a loving parent, you may feel a very strong desire to jump in and rescue your child. Before you do that, consider the following advice:

What will they learn from being rescued? A failure is first and foremost a learning experience. What will your child learn if you step in and provide immediate rescuing? Will they experience the needed pain that one needs to feel after a failure, a tempering that in the end makes one stronger? Even if you plan to offer support, it might be worthwhile to not jump in immediately with help.

First and foremost, offer counseling. Offer them an ear to talk to, not just cash to solve the problem. Rather than letting money fix things, help them to discover the resources they have inside themselves to solve their problems.

If you offer financial support, make it a one-time gift or a clearly delineated series of gifts. Never give the impression that they can get more at any time, or else they won’t learn how to pick themselves up and fix their own problems. As a parent, part of your job is to teach them life skills. Think of it this way: when they fell off of a bike when they were little, you didn’t offer to ride the bike for them. You picked them up, dusted them off, gave some encouragement, and put them back on the bike. The same principle applies here.

Offer nonfinancial assistance. You can also offer similar support as to what a nonparental friend or relative might offer: assistance in locating new work, connecting with potentially useful contacts, and so forth. This is the kind of assistance that is useful to any professional, and may be particularly useful in this case.

If the situation is truly apocalyptic, offer shelter and food. If your child has actually lost their home, you can again offer indirect aid such as housing and food, but this situation should be clearly defined as temporary, contingent on your child making continual effort to improve his or her situation and eventually fly on his or her own again. Indefinite relationships where children move back in after independence can be very, very uncomfortable for both the children and the parents.

Don’t force it. Some children are simply too fiercely independent to want to accept help, so don’t force help upon someone who does not wish to accept it. This is not an indication of a lack of appreciation or love, just a desire to be able to walk strongly on their own two feet, no matter what – an attribute that you should be proud to see in your child.

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  1. Mission Debt Freedom says:

    Like you did in a previous post, it would be nice to hear your arguments for/against children helping parents. Are the rules different? Some people may feel an obligation to help parents considering all they’ve done for their children.

  2. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I can’t think of a good reason for children not to help their parents if they can afford to.

  3. Susan says:

    I’m 43 years old, have been bailed out by my parents for the last 15 years. Over the last four years I have borrowed more than $300,000 and charged up my credit cards to more than $40,000, bought a car for much more than I could ever afford, have my fourth failed business, and have move in with them several times, sometimes for more than a year. All this being said, I have more than appreciated the assistance that my parents have given me and my disabled child, much more than they could really afford. I have impacted their retirement, and caused them to refinance their home three times. I always thought I would be helping them during their retirement, but now I realize that that will never happen, in fact I will be lucky to have anything for retirement. Had my parents directed me to use non-financial resources to get myself out of this situation, or if I had found this site years ago, I believe that I would have made better choices over these many years, been out of this situation long ago, and not repeated it over and over again. Be strong, show them how to find and use the resources that they need to become financially responsible, financially independent – teach your children to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime!

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