How to React When Your Adult Child Asks for Help

When you’re a parent, you don’t want to see your children suffer in any way, whether it’s from a boo-boo when they fall off their tricycle, or because they can’t pay their bills after a job loss. But as parents, we also know that we can’t protect them from everything and sometimes those bumps and bruises are needed to teach us things in life.

How to React When Your Adult Child Asks for Help

I have two adult children, a daughter in her thirties and a son in his twenties, and while I don’t hear from them as often as I’d like, my daughter recently called me. She was looking for money to pay some of her bills, and this wasn’t the first time. When your adult child asks for help, as a parent your first instinct is to protect them, but before your heart hits send on that money transfer, there are some questions your head should ask:

Is this an occasional request, or a habitual problem?

There are a couple of factors you may want to consider. Is your child newly out on their own trying to navigate adulthood for the first time, or are they in their mid-forties and unwilling to act responsibly? Did something truly unexpected happen that they couldn’t plan for? Or do you get a request for help every month or so? We all have problems crop up but if your child is old enough to know better and simply acting without responsibility, it may be time for some tough love.

What are the circumstances and potential consequences?

Another consideration is how they got into their current situation. Perhaps they lost their job…but were they laid off suddenly or did they quit their job without another one lined up just because they didn’t like their boss? And also think about what might happen if you don’t assist them. Are they eligible for government and charitable programs? Or will they suffer serious consequences because they were unable to take medication they need? Will they lose their residence and become homeless? Sometimes the consequences aren’t easy to see. Like if they can’t repair their car, they may end up losing their job.

Do I know the whole story?

Before you can evaluate if it’s in your child’s best interest to bail them out, you’ll need to know some details of the situation. This can become very complicated if your child has been known to omit the truth or outright lie. It’s especially difficult if there is a history of addiction or mental health issues. You may need to verify some of the details of the situation if your child’s word is not reliable.

Will they be responsible with the money I give them?

Again, responsibility and trust are important elements. If their irresponsibility got them into the situation, will they be responsible enough to use the money for what they say? Can you trust them to do the right thing with the help you give? If the answer is no, there may be another option: you can pay their bills directly rather than give them the money.

Can I afford to help?

This may be the most important question of all. If your budget and savings are limited, you may not be in a position to help financially. It’s a bad idea to deplete your own emergency savings or risk your retirement, but if this is a one time request and the consequences are dire, you may decide to do that anyway. Be sure to consider what will happen if their situation gets worse or you have your own emergency before you are able to save up again.

Also be sure to consult your spouse or significant other if you share finances, whether they are the parent or stepparent in this situation. They should have some say in the decision when it involves their money.

Is this a gift or a loan?

If you decide to help financially, you’ll need to decide whether the money is a gift or if you expect to be paid back. If it is a loan, be sure to get it in writing, including the fact that it is a loan, the amount of money involved, when you expect it to be repaid, and their signature. Remember that you should not loan money you cannot afford to lose, but if your treat it seriously, hopefully your child will do the same. If not, your document can serve as evidence if you ever need to bring the matter to court.

Is there non-financial help I can offer instead?

Even if your child is asking for money, there may be other things you can offer them instead. You can help connect them to resources in their community. You can give them financial advice, but this is only worthwhile if they’re in a mindset to really listen. You can offer to loan them your car…assuming they have a valid driver’s license, are a good driver, and would be covered by insurance. Or you can offer to let them move back home. If you decide on this option, be sure to make the terms clear up front—how long they are welcome to stay, whether they are expected to contribute in any way, and any other house rules that are important.

 

It’s never easy to watch your child struggle, no matter how old they are. But after asking myself these questions, I had to turn my daughter down. With all the fatherly guilt, it was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make. But I know it was the right thing to do for me, and more importantly, for my daughter and her future. Tough love is just as tough on the giver as the receiver.

Have you ever had an adult child ask for help? What about another family member?

Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire at gratisography.com (with changes)

brokeGIRLrich

20 Comments

  1. A tough call for sure Gary, but I believe the right one. I have three children myself, all still at home, but if faced with a similar situation I would hope I would say “no” too. We want them to learn how to be prepared to handle these events on their own. I have not had anyone ask for money directly, but have seen it occur within my extended family and it’s caused such pain when money isn’t paid back and promises are broken.

  2. I can imagine how hard this decision was for you Gary. It sounds like you asked yourself all the right questions though. We asked for help from my husband’s parents when we were really in trouble with money (both in our thirties during that time). They made it clear that we had to pay them back and now finally, we have. Lessons have been learned and this will never happen to us again. We hope our daughter never has to ask – we want to teach her all about financial responsibility, but knowing how life is unpredictable, I guess we’ll just have to see.

    1. I know that there are some reasons why someone would ask for money in a real emergency. The problem is that sometimes a person thinks that there’s an emergency when there are other ways they can solve the problem. My life experience has been that there are things that a person can do, in some cases, that can relieve the pressure on their finances. Things like asking for extended payment terms, a reduction in interest rate, refinancing terms of a loan, getting a second job, etc. that can allow a person the ability to solve their own problem and not put a parent in this situation. Imperative, of course, is that whatever the outcome, that it will teach a lesson so it doesn’t happen again.

  3. Mel

    I never lend money to family unless I can just consider it a gift. And on the flip side, I consider myself super lucky that my parents don’t mind whenever I move back in with them from time to time. It makes a huge difference on my finances and my ability to save.

    1. A loan is a loan, and a gift is a gift. When you decide to make that gift, that’s a wonderful thing. But, when you make a loan to someone and you expect to be repaid, you should always put it in writing and get them to sign. You’re very lucky to have parents that can understand and help you when you are in need. I admire that.

  4. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    It’s a tough call. I got help from my parents along the way, and used the help to establish myself for a better, more independent future. So did one of my brothers. The other brother continues to ask for lots of help from our parents, and the situation has gotten emotionally complicated with competing ideas of what is fair, what is right and what is best. This brother’s situation is particularly problematic for my parents as he has children of his own.

    1. I think the pressures of the decisions made to help an adult child are complicated when it is chronic. At some point, and sooner rather than later, a tough decision may have to be made to encourage the adult child to look at themselves and find out what’s causing the real issue. It’s especially tough for a parent to know that their decisions will affect the grandchildren as well.

  5. Tre

    My parents were never in a financial position to help us, but they let us know that if we ever needed a place to sleep or food their home was open. It probably helped us become more responsible because we couldn’t call mom & dad when we get in a financial bind. We had to sort it out ourselves.

  6. My siblilngs and I all financed our first (and a couple of them did subsequent) cars through the first national bank of parents. We all got help when we moved out and we all got through college without debt. I’m hoping to be able to help my kids in the same way. I’m trying to teach my kids to be financially responsible; hopefully it works.

  7. A tough decision indeed. hope your daughter understands is for her own good.

    I loaned a friend some money years back but got my money back. As you rightly said, it better to loan what you can afford to lose. My painful experience did teach me that lesson. It is a pity I learnt the hard way.

  8. My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but we have already discussed how we will raise our children in regards to how we teach them about money. These are some brilliant questions to ask, akin to what we have already agreed. My parents were extremely open about finances when I was a child – I knew their debts and I knew the effort it took to make more money. It has taught me so much now and I am extremely thankful for those lessons.

  9. Jack

    Good on you for making the tough call.

    I’m in the roof and food camp, but even that would have restrictions and obligations. Or children are still very young, but I hope to be able to instill in them the skills to survive on their own.

    It’s always easier to say than to do, so time will tell if I’ll succeed with that, or with the tough love when needed…

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