Sense & Centsibility Blog

Break the Financial Enabling Cycle with Your Adult Kids

If you have adult children chances are you've helped them out financially. That's not always a bad thing, but it can turn into a vicious cycle of enabling them if it becomes a pattern. If you feel like helping your children is creating emotional and financial stress for you, here are tips to break the cycle.

If you're helping out with your child's bills, you as the parent will need to put that responsibility back on your child.  Continuing to enable them (because that really is what you are doing) will prevent them from learning the skills they need to be truly independent. Think of it this way: if you weren’t around, could your son or daughter live on their own?  What skills can you teach your children to be financially independent?

Where do I begin?

Start by writing down a list of your terms.

Consider the fact that your adult child cannot live anywhere else for free, so s/he shouldn’t expect to live rent-free with you. However, if you opt not to charge rent, at the very least s/he should be paying their own bills.  And, with or without paying rent, it’s fair to expect help around the house.  Keep your list of terms simple and be specific; you need to set clear boundaries.  What will you pay for and what do you expect him/her to be responsible for (phone bill, food, internet, etc.)? Include on the list the responsibilities for each of you around the house. Not paying rent equals doing more work around the house. Divide the chores more evenly if your child is paying rent. 

Next steps

  • Parent and childIf you need it, enlist help in talking to your child about changes you expect. Do you have a spouse, partner, or other family member/friend that could be present when you meet?
  • Next plan a meeting. Approach the meeting from a positive standpoint and avoid placing blame. Remind your child you love him/her and talk about some of the positive things s/he may be doing, i.e. getting good grades in college or working full time. As far as where to meet, being in neutral territory may help. Can you meet at a coffee shop instead of your kitchen table?
  • Discuss ideas for your kids' help and assign tasks. For example, plan meals together for the week, make a grocery list together, and have your child do the shopping... and maybe even take over cooking a few nights a week.
  • Encourage your child to create a budget. This is a crucial task that must be learned to live on one's own. If your comfortable, you can always go over your budget and your child's budget together - especially if helping your child is holding you back financially. It might be eye-opening for them to see how you helping them financially is affecting your bottom line. In fact, this could be their wake-up call that they need to step up and be more independent.

Remember, it’s your house, and to live there your child needs to live by your rules.

What if they get mad?

This is one of those tough love situations. Think about the consequences if you don't make any changes, like your own financial hardship, stress/health issues, and not to mention the resentment that may grow if your child is draining you financially. If your child doesn’t like or refuses to follow your rules, then it's time to have a hard conversation about finding another place to live. Hopefully it won't come to that because I'm sure helping your child is really important to you. If s/he is willing to follow your list of terms to live with you, it could be mutually beneficial. They have a cheap place to live and you get assistance around the house, and maybe even a little financial help.

This post is a spin off of our most popular blog post of all time, "When to Say No: A Parent's Guide to Giving Adult Children Money."

If credit cards are holding you or your child back from financial freedom, a Debt Management Plan (DMP) can help. To see if a DMP is right for you, call us at 888.577.2227 or get started online for your free and confidential financial counseling session. 

Author Marjorie Klimek is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling and she specializes in budget, credit, and debt counseling.