"Why haven't our kids been able to get ahead in their careers?" a friend mutters. Her son is a filmmaker; her friend's son is a food photographer. Both men are in their 40s. Both men are being supported all or in part by their parents. Both parents wonder whether they should be paying the bills for their sons and their sons' families (one is married with children; the other is divorced with a child to support). Tough Love or a Helping Hand--or somewhere in between?
The old answers don't seem to apply. In these harsh economic times--a jobless recovery and other hurdles--recent college grads in their 20s have had a tough time. Too many of them haven't been able to gain traction for an entry-level career job. Those in their 30s and 40s--and even older--have been losing their jobs or struggling to keep their enterprises going. And here we sit in or near retirement wondering whether to tap--or keep tapping--our slightly diminished nest egg to help them out. Do we sit back and let them struggle to move forward or do we give them a little cushion while they try to get going.
No one wants to be an enabler--letting their smart and talented child get away with being lazy and content to feed off their parents. But where's the lazy line? My friends with the filmmaker son say he has been willing to take jobs that are beneath his skill level--wedding photography gigs and the like. His father worries that his son is giving up on his dream of film making.The son, he says, is uncomfortable taking his parents money and is doing what he can to get closer to standing on his own--even at the cost of his dream. The father adds this argument for his continuing to offer a Helping Hand: His son is his only child. He's going to get it all anyway, so why not help him out now? It gives the father a deep pleasure to underwrite his son's pursuit of his dream.
Their friend's son, also in an artistic profession, is not as willing to take odd jobs--it's a professional photo shoot or nothing. He has a non-working wife, child and another child on the way; not an inexpensive household. Here is a case, my friend says, where a little Tough Love should apply. If he's not willing to take other jobs, his parents should not enable that behavior.
Continued support for adult children is a tricky subject. It's not like the drifting 20-something who has yet to find his or her calling. That may call for Tough Love. These adults have put time and money into becoming professionals, but they haven't been able to make their calling pay off. When does a parent say: Stop. Enough. For my friends, it seems almost more painful for them to admit the son should give up on his dream than it is for the son. Are they just enablers? Or, when the economy picks up, will their son's dream take off?