Rodney and Carol retired in their early sixties. A few years later their youngest child, Greg, lost his graphic arts job and decided to start a small manufacturing business. To start the company, he got his parents to invest $50,000. They wanted to help their son succeed in his dream, so they made the investment. But it wasn’t long before they were asked for another $50,000, then another and another. More than $250,000 additional dollars later the business tanked and Rodney and Carol have depleted a sizeable portion of their retirement account. Consequently, Rodney, now in his seventies, is working as a consultant just to make ends meet.  And, he is doing so at a time in his life when he should be enjoying his financial independence.

Rodney and Carol literally sacrificed their own happiness and financial well-being for their son.

When Gloria retired from her job as a kindergarten teacher, one of the things she looked forward to most was spending more time with her grandchildren.  She offered to help out with occasional childcare. Her daughter-in-law wanted to return to work and leaped at Gloria’s offer, and she soon found herself enlisted as a full-time free nanny.

Her grandchildren, a boy and a girl aged four and two, were active, healthy and rambunctious. Riding herd on them took all of Gloria’s energy and she found herself resenting the assumption that she’s always available.

“I messed up. I offered – and gave – way too much. Now I’m in a place where I feel guilty trying to back out. I don’t want to hurt our relationship.”

Gloria needs to tell her daughter-in-law that she can help with the kids some days, but not all days.  It’s too much for her watching them every day.

Shelley and Andrew were ready to sell their 4-bedroom home and retire to the Maritimes where Andrew had inherited some property. Their plans were put on hold when their 34-year old son, Mark, lost his job and asked to move in with them until he secured another position – bringing with him his wife and two toddlers.

It’s been over a year now and Mark has been unable to find suitable employment.

“A few months later we would have been living in our retirement home and it wouldn’t have been possible for them to move in with us.”

Parents helping adult children

It’s tough to say no

Parents learn to say no fairly quickly when their toddler begins to explore the world – to protect the child, to teach right from wrong, and to help him or her emerge as an independent adult.

Why is it that it becomes a big challenge for new, and soon-to-be, retirees to say “no” to their adult children?

Parents often find it difficult to tell their adult children no even when they want to. You might worry about hurting their feelings or creating conflict in your relationship.

You may be concerned about your child’s financial well-being. You may not want your child to struggle financially, especially if you once did.

These are all good reasons. But, how does an adult child learn to be self-sufficient or learn to live within a budget if the parents are always willing to hand over money? And, if your children are used to you saying yes all the time they may find it hard to accept a negative response.

If your adult children are asking for something, whether it’s babysitting services, money, or something else and you need to say no, say it clearly. Don’t hint around that you’re busy or you’ve had a lot of expenses lately. Just say “No, I can’t help you with that.” Provide a brief explanation if you want to, but you don’t need to justify your decision.

Related: Kids bailing out parents

Learn to say no with the same enthusiasm as the average two-year-old.

Think about it. Have you experienced setbacks, disappointments and hardships? Did you deal with the challenge and then get on with your life? Contrary to what you believe, your child can, and will, figure it out too.

Initial considerations

Can you really afford to help your child?

Why does your child need money? Is it a short-term crisis, or a chronic problem?

You are not doing your children any favours if they’re always coming to you with their problems and bad luck stories.

If you have children who have moved back home be crystal clear about your expectations for their eventual financial independence that works for both of you.

You have the right to decide what to do with your time. If you are always available to babysit your grandchildren or take care of the family pet, you may be creating an expectation you will not always be able to maintain.

Final thoughts

I’m not suggesting that you should never help your child. If they are typically financially responsible, but have fallen on hard times, of course you’re going to want to be there for them. But they shouldn’t be relying on you as a cash machine whenever a money problem comes along.

It’s natural to want to help, and you may be able to afford to. But, the reality is that you are not doing your kids any favours by always bailing them out. Always coming to the rescue can jeopardize both your child’s initiative and coping skills, and your own retirement security. You have less time and resources to prepare for your own retirement when you always put your child’s needs before your own.

Give financially to your adult children if you choose, but remember it’s a gift, not an obligation or reason to put your own plans on the back burner. Parents do not owe their children the lifestyle they may have become accustomed to. Instead, you can give emotional support and financial mentoring, and help them find alternative solutions.

One day you’re not going to be around anymore. Do you want your kids to have to learn to deal with their problems when they’re 60?

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