Someone's grown child wrote New York Times' Social Qs to complain. She's a medical student and so is her husband of three months. Both parents help with the tuition and, in varying ways, with day-to-day support. It's generous but also understandable. If parents can afford it, helping a child get through the high cost of medical school debt-free is a worthy investment. Her parents, she writes, send her a stipend every six months--no strings attached, though the understanding is that it will be used to pay for food, rent and the like. His parents, on the other hand, help out by paying his credit card bill. Her complaint: his parents scour the bill and raise questions about various expenditures, as in, "What did you buy at Banana Republic for $42?" She finds the queries intrusive and wants to know how to address the situation.
I have a friend who was on the receiving end of a similar situation. A few years ago, when her son and daughter-in-law were both in medical school, she not only paid her son's tuition, but, when the couple had their first child, she footed the bill for child care--the better to help the young couple make ends meet and not have to cut corners on day care options. One day her daughter-in-law dropped by to show her a dress she bought for a wedding she was going to. My friend saw the price tag and started stewing. It was nearly twice the amount she would ever spend for a dress. “Here I was paying for day care so they could make ends meet, and my daughter-in-law goes out and splurges on this dress,” she says. “I resented it.”
Marty Kurtz, who's president of the Financial Planning Association (and a personal financial adviser in Moline, Illinois), has an explanation for why we ask questions about the credit card bill and resent the price tag on the dress: “Control is a huge money-life issue,” he says. “It’s built into our psyche that money gives you control.” In effect, many of the supports we shower on our children are gifts, but gifts with strings—we want to be sure the money isn't spent on designer dresses or an extra set of tee shirts. We want it spent the way we intended it to be spent--even if we didn't exactly spell that out to begin with. Kurtz suggests we do the spelling out if how our children spend our gift is important to us.
Philip Galanes, who pens the Social Q column, had a brief but perfect answer, to the medical student's query: "I hate when people pay my bills, too. Such needless generosity!Try saying, 'Thank you'--often."
Is it piling on to say, Amen? And that "thank you" is the real string we'd like to attach.