We've brought up our children to be independent. And many of them have grown up to be just that. Certainly, my friends Pam and Don have two such children. One of them--a daughter--lives in apartment near them. She's married with two small children. Pam and Don play an active part in their daughter's family life--picking the kids up from pre-school two days a week; babysitting on Friday evenings so the young parents can enjoy a date night. That's the kind of support they've been giving since the grandkids were born.
For the past year, though, support has turned financial as well. Their son-in-law lost his job last year; then their daughter did. Neither held high-paying positions but they were able to make ends meet on the two salaries. Though they are out of work, rent has to paid, food has to be purchased, the pre-schoolers need to be clothed and fed. Pam and Don have stepped up. Don had been a successful businessman and though he is now retired, there is a hefty nest egg in place. They can afford to use some of it to help their daughter and her family. Better now, they reason, then later when their daughter might have no need of a financial legacy.
They sat down with their daughter and son-in-law, figured out what they needed financially to get by on a no-frills budget, and Pam and Don started supporting them. "These are decent kids. They haven't done anything wrong," Don says. "They've worked hard, applied themselves. But they got hit by this downturn."
Both young parents have been job hunting for more than a year now and looking into entrepreneurial opportunities. But as the weeks and months tick by, Pam and Don are wondering when the joblessness will end, how much longer they can afford to do this and what they will do if it gets to the point where the drain on their resources will mean a change in their life style and a real threat to their financial well-being.
These are close friends, and we've gnawed over "the situation" with them and wondered what we would do in their place. They are, of course, fortunate that they can afford to help out right now and probably for another year. But should they suggest their daughter and family move into their home--the daughter's old room is still available as is the guest room/home office. Should they insist that their son-in-law, who spends his day on various aspects of job hunting, take a Starbucks-McDonald's type job just to bring in some cash. Or that their daughter do the same. Pam can't imagine what some of these choices would do to their relationship--the too-closeness of living together; the feeling that they were asking their daughter and SIL to throw in the towel on their future careers. "People talk about tough love," Pam says. "That may be something that applies when your kids are coming out of college, but when they've got a family and they're trying as hard as they can--well, it's different."
"The groping accident of life" Thomas Wolfe called it. There's so much risk out there--unexpected incidents that happen despite our best intentions and careful precautions. When our grown children are groping along the detritus of an accident, shouldn't we be there for them? Financial counselors will advise you, Don't pauperize yourself helping out your grown children. But sometimes they aren't the only ones in the accident.