The BIG conversation you’ve been avoiding about money with your boomerang, and a success story

You are a parent, possibly with younger kids still at home, and one day, you get that dreaded call from one of your 20-something adult children, whether they have been out in the workplace or are nearing the end of their college years: “Mom, I can’t afford to live on my own. I need to move back home.”

Welcome to the boomerang generation-the young adult children between 18-35 who are returning home for a variety of reasons in large numbers.

Now what? Do you say no, that you are having a tough time making ends meet? Do you say yes, wondering how the relationships and finances will work out?

Some of you moms may be thinking that you would be thrilled to have your children back home, that you missed them tremendously, and they can come home and stay as long as they want. That is well and good, but for the most part, it is healthier for your children to move out into the world with all the skills, abilities, and behaviors you have nurtured and all the lessons you have taught.

There are considerations to ponder when the fledgling asks to return to the nest. There are the questions of rules and responsibilities, of possibly new and different expectations for your child, of substantive changes in your relationship, since the children are now adults, and finally, any and all of the physical and emotional baggage that returns with them, as they, too, struggle with the fact that they have had to move back home. Yes, I know it may be a leap for some of you dear readers, and that you may chuckle at the idea of anyone considering your child as an adult when they still can’t get their clothes off the floor and into the washer, when they don’t know how to boil water, and they don’t have a job, but the fact is that they are indeed adults.

Although some of these kids want to get back out into the world as soon as possible, too many take advantage of the situation. It is just soooo nice to have all the comforts of home at their fingertips again, minus those nasty things like rent and bills. You provide comforts they could not afford on their own, things like a nice home that is fully furnished,  a stocked refrigerator,  a plethora of electronics, and a soft bed which keeps them warm and comfy every day, until they decide to greet the morning…around noontime.

How do you handle the latter sort, who just seems to have settled in for the long haul, because it is just easier to live off with mom and dad than to make their own financial way?

Well, I know a single mom-we’ll call her C.-who experienced this very phenomenon this past year, and I wanted to share her story of success with you.

She had shared with me her frustration at her boomerang child, “I told her she could move home when she asked to, and I told her she wouldn’t have to pay anything, but she would need to be saving a small nest egg from her part-time job so she could move back out. Not only is she not saving, but she keeps asking me for money, she sleeps most of the day and then goes out with her friends at night doing things I can’t afford to do, and she gives me a tough time about helping around the house. I am so frustrated I just don’t know what to do.”

I asked permission to give her some advice (always a good idea and good manners to ask permission, especially when it’s your children), since we had experienced a similar situation. She was all for it.

I explained that I was a facilitator for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and I had learned there about better ways to handle family members’ requests for money and help.

As the parent, you need to sit down with your young adult, and have the BIG conversation about money, responsibility and enabling. You may not recognize what you are doing is enabling your dear little boomerang, but you are, and that is an integral part of the problem. As Ramsey writes in his book Financial Peace Revisited, “So when you help someone in a way that reinforces his stupid behavior rather than causes him to grow away from it you are codependent.” Ramsey continues, quoting Dr. Henry Cloud, author of Boundaries, “Codependents are not doing good; they are allowing evil because they are afraid.”

Oh, yes. He hit that on the head. The idea of having this conversation generally scares parents to death, as it did this mom, but you must move beyond your fear to move onto the wholesome, respectful, friendly relationship that is possible. Yes, friendly, as in friends, with your adult children.

Take a few steps away and view your situation from a different perspective: Although your intent is to help your child, you are actually enabling them. Your intention is to say, this is how I show you I love you, by caring for you. However, what you are really saying, by giving them money, by allowing them to sleep and play and not help around the house, that they are just not capable.

Just. Not. Capable.

They don’t possess enough talent to get a decent job. Therefore you must support them.

They are useless around the house. Therefore you must clean the house.

You don’t value or trust their help, so you don’t require it of them. Therefore you must run the errands and take care of the important stuff.

Your message, loud and clear, dear readers, is that your child is not capable.

Are you startled by this point of view? Do you disagree strongly? Most parents do. But, I gently invite you to see that the reality is that by allowing your offspring to just take from the household without contributing when they are capable, well, the message you are sending is loud and clear.

After sharing this perspective with C., I then explained the conversation that needed to be held. (Note that I am only addressing the financial issue here. The “you need to help around the house” is a completely different, but equally important conversation.)

Sit down at a quiet time with your child, when no one else is around. You both need the security of privacy, especially from the prying eyes and ears of siblings. Following is the conversation that I crafted from my experiences, and recommended to C. to use with her daughter.

I know things have been tough for you. I know you moved home because you weren’t able to make ends meet, and you had hoped to get back on your feet soon, and then move back out. That has not happened. It has been a stress on the household and it has taken a toll on our relationship. I would like to help you, and I especially would like to regain our close relationship.

So, one of two things has to happen. The first choice is for you to create a cash flow plan-a budget-and I will be your accountability partner, helping you to oversee your finances and show you how to tell your money where to go so that you have a plan, work your plan, and manage wisely so that you have the wherewithal to move out on your own and be independent again, which I know you miss.

The other choice is to not create a plan and not have me be your accountability partner. If this is your choice, I will respect that. You will need to move out soon and find a full time job. I can’t continue to enable you. I can’t continue to just give you money and allow you not to be the responsible, productive person I know you are capable of being. I have been wrong in treating you as though you are not capable, and for that I am sorry.

Which choice will work for you?

(At this point you sit quietly, respectfully, lovingly and expectantly, and await the answer. Sit. Stay. Ignore the urge to bolt, or to take back everything you just said. Just. wait.)

C.’s response to this was visceral. She literally wrapped her arms around her stomach, bent over, and said in a pained voice, “Oh, my gosh! I can’t imagine having that conversation with her. It makes my stomach hurt! Oh my gosh!”

I think she envisioned it going terribly awry, with her daughter stomping off in anger, screaming “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!”. That certainly is a possibility, since guilt is a powerful weapon that children can wield with surgical precision. However, the opposite is possible as well, that C.’s daughter would come to grips with the reality of her situation. I know. You are thinking, “Right. And pigs will fly, too.”

A few weeks passed, and when I saw C. again, she reminded me of our conversation, and happily reported that she had taken the ball and had run with it, in spite of her desire to just run and hide. She held the conversation with her daughter, and her daughter chose to move out very soon after. She found a better job, although the pay was still fairly low, but the daughter held her own, and their relationship was just about back to the closeness they had had previously. C. was most grateful for the advice, and said she was so glad she had taken steps to halt the enabling.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled that the situation had turned out well.

But, that is not the end of the story. A few months later, I saw C. again, and she updated me on her daughter. Her daughter’s employer was so impressed with her work that they upgraded her responsibilities and pay, so that now she is making a very healthy wage. Not only is the quality of the mother/daughter relationship strong, not only is daughter living successfully and  independently, but she is now paying her mom back for money she had previously borrowed.

Needless to say, mom is thrilled, as is the daughter, and I am so humbled to have been able to help.

Remember that you spend you child’s first eighteen years preparing them to be good, kind, thoughtful, responsible, ethical, productive problem-solving adults. When it is time for your child to take flight, help them launch with those very wings you have helped them to craft!

Please share with us how you have handled similar situations in your family.

Read my follow-up post here on A Boomerang Responds

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  1. Amen from me! We had the problem with our son, before we had taught FPU. But my wise husband made STAYING more uncomfortable than GOING by charging rent comparable to what he’d pay for an apartment with a roommate, so he went. The relationship was immediately restored; we helped him set up in the new place. My husband told him– “You know I love you. But this is not your home anymore.” And now our son at 26 is doing very well, and will tell you that that’s what it took. That he was lazy!
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