When Kids Don’t Leave Home

Jessica Lanning

Just when it seems like my clients have a fighting chance at retirement, something else comes around the bend.  The NYT Magazine did an article a few weeks back about a possible new “life stage” called early adulthood, in which children in their early 20s remain on the apron and purse strings of their parents.  This happens at a time when those parents thought they were done raising their kids.  They paid for food, clothing, shelter and tuition.  Time for the kid to leave the nest.  That’s the deal, right?  That’s what the parents did when they were in their 20s, right?

Preparing for Dependent (but shouldn’t be?) Children

Whether it’s children or aging parents or the water heater that broke three years too early or the vacation that’s too good to pass up, or the job loss that reduces income for a year or more, there are life events coming around the bend that we can’t predict.  As the saying goes, if I had the gift of predicting the future, I would be doing something else for a living.

My job is to help clients make sure they are financially responsible and conservative—that is, they have enough money to weather any financial storm or take advantage of any opportunity that comes along.  How we spend money is a reflection of our values, and sometimes we have to make hard choices along the way.  To the extent that financial support reflects how much we love our children, we’re in real trouble if we can’t afford to support children in their early 20s who haven’t found themselves yet. A re-evaluation of what loves means and how it is shown can be challenging on the psyche.

I don’t have any specific suggestions about this new “life stage,” only guidance about how my clients might handle it in a way that aligns with their values.  Maybe it’s charging rent to a child moving back home or making that child take on additional household responsibilities.  Maybe it is making a loan to that child. Maybe it’s giving that child a limited time—one year, or so—to be financial independent.  Maybe it’s tough love and letting that child sink or swim.  These are decisions that are made emotionally, financially, spiritually, and psychologically.

People often get a kick out of some my parenting strategies, so I’ll share one with you that seems pertinent here.  One of my favorite lines to my kids is, “The law says that I’m responsible for you until you’re 18, and that’s it!”  It works for everything.  Why do you have to brush your teeth?  “Because the law says I’m responsible for you until you’re 18, and I want you to have clean and healthy teeth and gums.”  Why do I have to do my homework?  “Because the law says I’m responsible for you until you’re 18, and that’s it, so you better learn something and figure out a plan because you’re going to need to go to college or get a job.”  My older child has come up with this response now, “Well, fine!  When I’m 18, I’m going to moving in with Grandpop!”  To which I say, “That’s a plan!”

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