It was mahj night at Carol’s when her daughter walked in with two huge bags and announced, “Here is our laundry.” Carol looked embarrassed and immediately made an excuse: “The kids work so hard.” We looked at each other, and after full confessions were over, we realized we are all somewhat responsible for not allowing our kids to take responsibility for their own lives. We laughed and blew it off, but I’m not sure this is funny. Is this typical or are the four of us just total patsies?
Dear Overindulgent Parents,
You are not alone. It seems that more and more parents feel it’s okay to step into their children’s lives and “help.” If your kids are old enough to be out on their own, you must support their independence. Empower them by allowing them to prioritize – pay their own bills, do their own laundry, buy their own groceries, get their own car repairs, etc. I promise you they will not go to work with dirty clothes, they will not starve, their electricity will not get cut off.
If you are really honest with yourselves, you will admit that you are not doing these things because you don’t have confidence in your children. Carol is doing her daughter’s laundry because it’s an excuse to see her. “Helping” is a way to stay connected and not give up total control.
It’s not the kids having problems, it’s the parents not being able to let go. It’s a passive way to lure your kids home, and it makes you feel useful. You can tell yourself you are not doing any harm, but you are giving your kids a warped sense of what it means to stand on their own two feet. Stop keeping them dependent on you.
They know you love them and you will never let harm come to them, but are you really helping? Will they have enough life experience to make important decisions without you? Will you let them do this without interfering?
Allow them to stumble and fix their own problems: they will feel accomplished and empowered because they were able to work out a solution all on their own. Let them be responsible for their own time management, household budgets and chores. It’s a good start.
Shift your relationship into the next gear. If you want to see them, invite them over for dinner, sans laundry. Leave your chequebook locked away and those extra few dollars in your pocket and enjoy a nice, adult evening with your kids.
My friend Barb’s husband passed away a few months ago and she is like a lost sheep. Allen took care of all the bills, repairs, cars, insurance, investments – everything. Barb was never involved, and now that some time has passed, she is dealing with the reality of not knowing how to run her life.
I want to help her, but this was a wake-up call for me too, as my husband also handles everything. What can I do to help her and myself?
Dear Financial Responsibility,
Losing a partner is like losing a big piece of yourself. There is no getting around that! Barb has to allow herself the time to find her new “normal.”
The practical part of finances can be an overwhelming burden, especially while someone is grieving. If possible, Barb should hire a financial adviser to educate her and organize her financial obligations.
Another alternative would be to have a relative or close friend help and teach Barb about banking, paying bills, changing billing names and finding out which bills are paid automatically, online or by cheque.
There are many documents that need to be gathered besides the bills, such as bank statements, insurance policies, tax returns, loans or mortgages, car info and investment info, just to name a few.
Life is complicated, but death can be more complicated, especially if you have not dealt with day-to-day responsibilities. It’s too late for Barb, but it’s not too late for you. Learn how to run your own financial affairs now. It’s much easier when it’s your choice rather than when it’s forced on you.