What Do You Owe Your Adult Child?

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As a historian of childhood, I’ve long wondered what purpose the family serves once the children leave home. Unlike multi-generational families of yore, we no longer live under one roof, till the fields side-by-side or even mind the store together. Still, there seems to be a residual sense of obligation that parents feel toward their grown offspring—even if there’s no consensus as to what that looks like. When I asked a number of parents what they thought they owed their adult children, I got back an array of answers ranging from “24/7 support’ to “zilch.” Here are some representative comments:

Parents feel they owe their kids financial support

       “Because my daughter got into a prestigious private college, I remortgaged my house to help pay the $250,000 bill. Like many Millenials, she can’t get a full-time job, so I’m still helping her out.”
      “I am able to afford it, so I help out with private schools, camps, and extracurricular activities for the grandchildren.  It makes me feel good to know that I’m making an impact on their lives. I also consider it an investment in their futures.”
      “My kids are really self-sufficient and never ask us for anything.”
      “After the kids are a certain age, everything a parent gives is discretionary. There are no ‘shoulds.’ And if you give more to one child than another because he has fewer resources, so be it. You can’t make everyone happy.”

 
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Parents feel the need to show up

      “My son and his wife work hard so I’m happy to make dinner for them once a week at their home and mind their little ones.”
       “I fly across the country every six weeks to be in my grandchildren’s lives.”  
       “My daughter finagled her husband to move across the country, leaving his own close family behind, so she could be closer to us when we become infirm. Until then I will do whatever I can do physically for her and her family because I see her commitment to me.”  
      “I moved several states away just to be near my daughter.”
      “If my kids needed me or my husband for emergency. I would gladly give up my activities for them.”
      “I went to every dance recital, soccer match, and school play when my kids were little. I’m doing the same thing for my grandchildren.”

Parents want to be emotionally supportive

      “I think it’s important to share my wisdom (even if I’m not asked for it very often) so that my children hear a viewpoint different from their own.”
      “I know my son doesn’t see it, but I feel I owe him the security of knowing that I will always be there for him.” “My two thirty-something daughters are my right and left arms; I’d do anything for them. This might be unhealthy and naïve, but I don’t understand boundaries where they are concerned.”  
      “Like a precious friend, I want to do whatever I can do to boost and empower my kids.”
      “I want to be available.”
      “I owe it to them to show an interest in their lives.”
      “I’m trying not to make life hard for them.”
      “I owe it to my children to be a role model and make them proud of me for being a hard worker and community volunteer.”

Parents don’t want to be an encumbrance

      “I don’t want to be a barnacle clinging for dear life to their raft.”  
      “I don’t want to be a burden to them.”
      “When I get old I don’t expect them to change my diapers.”
      “Their wives probably wouldn’t want to take me in, but since my sons are responsible human beings, they would make arrangements for my care.”

Looking back, looking ahead  

       “I want to leave my daughter a legacy of pretty things, like china, paintings and my best household goods. My mother walked out on our family when I was eight and left me nothing.”
      “After I’m gone I feel I owe my son a financial inheritance, which will be the proceeds from my house.”  
      “I owe my twenty-something daughters nothing. My job as a parent is done. I could move halfway around the world and they would be fine. I enjoy them, I send them love and emotional support, but I feel that when college is over they are on their own. I will divide my assets 50-50 upon my death. . . .which reminds me, I really need a will!”
     What do you feel are your obligations to your grown child? Please share your thoughts here. In a later post we’re going to look at the other side of the equation in, “What does your Adult Child Owe You?” Both topics would make for a great after-dinner discussion.

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