As parents, it’s tough to see your children struggle. Watching them suffer in sickness or pain tugs at your heart strings. You want to relieve their suffering or take their place.
It’s easy to see how the parental love that compels us to rescue and save our children would extend to other areas of hardship.
With an estimated 70% of college graduate dealing with student loan debt, many parents are watching their adult children deal with rough financial times. Naturally, they want to do what they can to help.
While the instinctive reaction of parents might be to pay off their children’s debts and give them a fresh start, that might not actually be the most helpful in many cases. I won’t go into all of the reasons here, but it often does more harm than good to bail your adult children out of their financial problems.
Also, many parents simply don’t have the means to help their adult children out financially.
Whether it’s a lack of means, or just on principle, there are plenty of ways that you can help your adult children with their debt without actually paying off their debt.
How can you help your adult children financially without helping them financially?
How can you help your adult children with their financial troubles without simply throwing money at their problems? That’s a question that forces us to think outside of the box and be a little creative.
Here are some ideas that you can apply individually to your situation:
Support their efforts
Once of the biggest ways that parents can help their adult children with debt is to support their children’s own efforts to pay down their debt. For example, a grandparent could help with childcare while the parents work extra hours to pay off debt. This helps your adult children to help themselves. In our situation, my in-laws allow us to live in their basement rent-free while we’re paying off debt. The options will vary by circumstance and you might have to think creatively to find a way to help your children help themselves.
Share your experience
If you’ve been in a similar situation, share your experience. The details won’t be the same, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s just nice to know someone who has been where you are and survived. Focus on feelings, rather than solutions. Don’t claim to have all the answers because you’ve been there and don’t tell them you know how they feel, but share how you felt in a similar situation and let them relate it to how they are feeling under the burden of debt.
You might be a listening ear for frustration and being overwhelmed, but you can respond with positivity and encouragement. Respond to hopelessness with hope. Paying off debt and changing habits can be a long, hard road. Your support and encouragement will boost their confidence in their ability. Commiserating and pity parties don’t motivate people to success.
Share your skills
Do you have useful skills that you could teach to impact their finances? Of course you do! Skills like cooking from scratch, mending clothes, growing a garden, budgeting or changing the oil in the car can make a difference financially. Many frugal life skills are lost on my generation and the generation after me.
Being judgmental (or coming across as judgmental) will shut down communication and squash trust. If you really want to show that you’re on their side, don’t be critical of their decisions, past or present. This may take some tongue-biting, but not being critical or judgmental is the best way to open up your adult children to the wisdom you have to share with them. If they don’t feel judged, your children are much more likely to come to you for advice and support.
Share your wisdom
Depending on your current relationship, this may go over like a lead balloon or be wildly successful. If your kids respect your advice, then offer it gently a little at a time. You’ll know you’re successful if they start asking for more. If your adult children are more private about financial matters, you might consider sharing ideas more generally. You can even put an offer out to let them know you’re available to talk and share ideas about __ if they’re interested. Then the ball’s in their court, but you’ve made yourself available as a resource. If you already have a rough relationship, then focus on showing love and improving your relationship first.
Some words of caution
Every family is different. What worked well for your neighbor or you child’s roommate’s parents, won’t necessarily be the best for you. Even when the financial situations look similar, the personalities, preferences, and relationships may be vastly different.
Be only as invested as they are. You might be stressed to the max about your son’s six figure debt from dental school, but until he is ready to take it seriously, you’re only going to frustrate yourself (and your relationship) by taking matters into your own hands.
Prioritize the relationship. When it comes down to it, money is just money. Don’t let money get in the way of your relationship. Love them no matter what and show it.
Before taking out your wallet to solve your children’s problems, consider alternative ways that you can help your adult children face their debts. While it will take more work to support them through their own payoff rather than rescue them, their character, finances, self-worth, and relationships may benefit in the long run.
How about you?
- Parents–How can you help your adult children deal with debt (without paying it for them)?
- Adult children– What could your parents do to help you with your debt?