If you have adult children who frequently ask for favors or depend on you for help, it can take a toll on your marriage. It’s important to work together with your spouse on setting healthy boundaries for your marriage. There are some steps you can take safeguard your relationship, maintain your sanity and protect your bank account while helping an adult child.
Sometimes adult kids need a little helping hand. Perhaps your son wants to move in briefly after college until he lands his big job. Or maybe your thirty-five-year-old is going through a divorce and needs to borrow some cash to move into a new apartment.
At other times, however, it can become a chronic issue. If you have a daughter who treats you more like an ATM than a parent, it can get old fast. Or if your twenty-five-year-old asks to borrow money each month to pay the rent, yet he seems to always have enough money to go out with friends, it can lead to some family conflict if left unchecked.
Work Together as a Team
one of the most important things to remember is that you and your spouse need to work together as a team when responding to issues with adult children. When you don’t agree about how to respond, it can lead to a lot of anger, resentment and conflict if you don’t communicate about it.
Sometimes problems arise when the situation involves step-children. For example, a biological mother may want to help her child without consulting her husband, assuming that because he is the step-father, she doesn’t need his opinion. However, if you are married, it is essential that you put your marriage first and work as a team.
Presenting a united front about how to deal with issues is essential if you want to avoid conflict and set healthy boundaries for your marriage. And don’t even consider for a minute going behind your partner’s back to secretly loan money or offer assistance. This dishonesty will interfere with being able to have a healthy marriage.
Also, don’t undermine your partner’s authority. For example, don’t say to your kid, “I’d love to loan you that money but your mother says we can’t,” or “Your father says we shouldn’t buy you that car but I think I can get him to change his mind in time.” You’ll be setting your partner up for being the “bad guy” and it will inevitably lead to conflict.
Distinguish Support from Enabling
There’s a big difference between supporting an adult who has a problem and enabling them to stay stuck in their problems. Before agreeing to provide assistance to an adult child, make sure that you are helping and not enabling.
For example, if your child experiences a crisis, he may need some short-term help. An illness, divorce or job loss can create many financial issues. Some short-term assistance may be all he needs to get back on his feet again.
However, if your twenty-five-year-old needs help paying the rent every month or your daughter is always asking to move back in because she can’t seem to get caught up on her bills, it’s more of a chronic problem. If you provide assistance repeatedly to adult children with chronic problems, they aren’t likely to get any better.
As difficult as it can be to say “no,” sometimes it is the best thing a parent can do. Saying no can help them learn how to make changes so they can change their behavior and improve their situation permanently. It’s important to make sure they can take care of themselves when you’re not around.
Provide Help with Strings Attached
If you do decide to help, make sure you set some guidelines. Don’t get taken advantage of and don’t enable your adult child to remain dependent on you. If you loan money, allow a child to move back in, care for your grandkids, or help in any other way, set some rules.
For example, if your daughter asks to move back home because she can’t afford to pay her bills because she has made some poor financial decisions and you allow her to move in, tell her she can stay as long as she continues to have a steady job and is willing to sit down with you once a month to review her budget. If she doesn’t try to learn better spending habits, she won’t benefit from moving back home.
Keep Your Marriage Strong
Don’t let your generosity negatively impact your marriage. If you and your spouse are fighting more or are getting stressed out about helping an adult child, consider seeking professional help. It is important to address this issue as early as possible as resentment, anger and conflict about family issues can create deep rifts in a relationship if problems are not tended to.