The debate goes on: when it comes to money and time, should we offer a helping hand or impose tough love on our adult children? Of course, we all want our children to be independent adults who are able to make mature decisions about their lives. But does one approach best the other?
Posts and comments on this blog have explored the issue (most recently here and here) --some of us gratified by the pleasure it gives us to help our children (either monetarily by, say, helping with the down payment on a house, or time-wise by, say, babysitting the grandkids so both parents can work); others feel good about their hands-off approach and the way their kids have struggled but eventually overcome their financial or time issues.
A recent article by Dr. Cecilia M. Ford takes a slightly different tack. Noting that "the further a family is from their immigrant roots, the more likely they are to be steeped in the ideal that we must make it on our own, and as soon as possible, live apart from our parents," she raises questions about whether separation and financial independence are sign posts of maturity or rather a cultural signifier of the past half-century.
Here are some of her points:
History suggests inter-dependence. Cultures have always promoted inter-generational support--except in recent times. French economist Thomas Picketty's 2014 book Capital in the 21st Century points out that in the latter half of the 20th century, in which the middle class flourished and many of us were able to achieve economic success, was the anomaly and not the rule. For most of human history, wealth has been controlled by the 1% (or less) and the current swing back in that direction is more of a return to business as usual. Given that perspective, helping out our kids financially or with our time is not "a crazy new idea but returning to age-old customs."
The culture is shifting. We are in the midst of a cultural norm-shifting moment toward greater interfamilial connectedness. Our kids are working more hours than ever before and need us to be around more than we needed our parents. "People on the lower socioeconomic rungs of the ladder accept this out of need. Many children are raised with the help of extended family and resources are shared because they have to be. More and more of the rest of the population may be faced with similar needs."
To each his own home may no longer work.We may have to change the way we see ourselves in relation to others. "In the United States, the giving or receiving of help (“free stuff”) has a particularly bad reputation. There are times when it’s OK to get it, (when you inherit, for example) and times when it’s very much not OK. The norm that we have lived with, in middle-class America is that the ideal is for each family unit to have its own dwelling."
To help or not to help is a personal. While independence is a fine ideal, there is a thin line between independence and isolation. Parents need to judge when their help is useful and necessary versus a potential “crutch” that may lead to an unhealthy dependence.