Q: There seems to be a change in how long parents take care of their children. I grew up in the 1940s, so I am old, but I like to think wiser. I have three grown children who are all married with children of their own.
I love to be with my grandchildren, all seven of them. They are all growing up and range from 17 to 37 with a large age spread between the first and second child. My children are with the same partners, amazing in this day, own their own homes, and have good jobs. I like to think we did something right in parenting them.
My opening sentence is what concerns me about their parenting. When I was growing up, once we had part-time jobs, during high school, it was up to us to buy the things we needed, as much as possible. By the time I moved from my parent's house to an apartment, it was my responsibility to move myself and pay my bills. My parents would send food home with me on occasion, but I was an adult, I needed to take care of myself, and I was proud to be able to show them that I could.
We raised our children with the same principles; however we did help with college and weddings.
I see my grandchildren still receiving help in all forms well past high school with such things as car purchases, car insurance and rent, as well as major purchases. All of the grandkids are in college or have completed their education and are working. Is this typical today or are my children too indulgent of their kids?
It seems to me that everyone puts too much stock in making sure their children do not go without any of the comforts of life. I think it might be wise to let children struggle with managing their finances so they learn to live within their means. When I suggested this, it was met with an array of reasons why so and so needs this or that.
My concerns are for my grandkids to become self-reliant and my children to save for their retirement. I have noticed that other young families are doing much like my kids are doing with their children, so I wonder how this got started and whether other people are concerned about it like I am.
A: Thank you for writing. It gives me an arena for addressing a concern I have witnessed since I started raising my own children. My husband and I have had many conversations about how not to fall into the path of care-taking in areas that our children needed to find their own way through. It was often very challenging when many of the families we knew were doing so much of what you described, and at times some of them even challenged our way of parenting.
I have worked in some area of education since the early 1970s, and it seems to me that the pace of over indulgent parenting starting picking up around the end of the 1970s. In fact, I would say that two schools of thought evolved at this time, one being the over-indulgent parent and the other being not much parenting at all.
My take on this change in parenting is that there was also a huge increase in divorce and blended families, and, although this was not the only culprit, these two factors greatly changed parenting as you knew it and even as I knew it. Certainly divorce affects kids' sense of who they are and the security of knowing what to expect in their families. Blended families are a challenge for the healthiest couples.
More and more was being written and presented to the general public about kids and self-esteem, and thus began the changes you wrote about today. Kids' self-esteem does not improve because parents provide more and help further into adulthood, but that hasn't stopped parents from trying this route. Running parallel to this is a competition among some successful parents to load the kids up with "stuff" so their kids have more or better than others.
I have friends who are still financially supporting their adult children in one or more area, such as cars, insurance, rent and food. I also have acquaintances who provide vacations and luxury items for their adult, working kids.
I have had many people ask me the question: When do we stop supporting our kids? It seems the lines are blurred, and you need to start with your family.
It will be a challenge to change what is current behavior because it is difficult to stop a moving train. Invite just the parents over for a meal and announce that you would like to have a discussion about a concern you have. From here you want to present a question that will state the problem. For example: When I was growing up, the lines of parenting and kids being independent were clear. Once you had a job you were responsible for helping pay for your own things. That seems to be different today, and so I would like to discuss with all of you, 'When do kids today take care of themselves?'"
Having this discussion will allow everyone to have input and I am guessing that most if not all of them will not have a specific age or time. This is where the blurred boundaries come into play. At some point you will want to state that if it is this unclear to all of you, think how poorly this is communicated to the kids. If the parents don't know when the bank doors close, how do the kids know what the expectations are for them to be independent?
This will produce another wave of discussion and this might be the time you suggest that each family privately determine their situation and when the bank doors close. After all, the intent is not to have consensus but create awareness and spur decisions that might have been overlooked. Conclude this valuable meeting by stating that you are concerned for your grandchildren to become self-reliant and for your kids to save for retirement.
My parents are gone, sadly, but they remain my greatest teachers and mentors. I learned more about being a good parent from them than any book or class I have had. What I valued most about my father was that he never told me what to do about a problem or concern; he merely asked me what my options were and then he helped me problem solve.
Keep this in mind as you prepare to meet with your kids and challenge them to evaluate their parenting style. You are helping them look at what their options are and problem-solving what they might not have taken the time to do. Thank you for writing, and remember that you will be affecting two generations and probably more.