Financial Coaching for Families
How to stop giving money to your grown children and protect your own financial future.
Financially supporting adult children can often create a complex dynamic within families. While parents may feel a sense of obligation to provide assistance, it’s important to strike a balance between support and fostering financial independence. Let’s talk about why so many of us find ourselves compelled to financially support grown children, and what you might do instead.
There are many reasons we support our grown children
And not all of them can be boiled down to “they make bad choices” or “I feel responsible”. Life is too complex, beautiful, and messy to be simplified down to these simplistic explanations.
Here are some reasons my past and current clients have given for financially supporting their grown children:
- I feel guilty if I don’t help
- I feel pressured
- I want to make their lives better than my own
- I want them to be financially secure so they can take care of me when I need it
- I’m worried about my grandchildren having a harder life than they need to
- I gave my other child(ren) money so I felt I should even things up
- I’m concerned about how my child(ren)’s choices reflect on me
- My child(ren) have had a difficult time, and I’m just trying to help
- My parents helped me, so I feel the need to pay it forward
Let’s drill down deeply into common reasons we choose to financially support others.
Underlying reasons we financially support those we love
“I’m trying to protect…”
Wether you’re trying to protect yourself, your children, or your grandchildren, the impulse to protect is a beautiful one. And yes, it’s absolutely common that by giving or loaning money we are trying to protect EVERYONE.
If you find yourself in protection mode, what are you trying to protect against?
Sure, maybe they are trying to control you, but maybe you’re trying to control them too. Money is power in our society, and that means control. Letting go of control is, let’s be honest, terrifying. And we grasp harder for control when we feel our choices being taken away from us. Rebellion and resentment are a natural consequence of feeling like your control has been removed from you.
How often do you feel out of control around your financial support of your child(ren)? What kinds of things have you done to try to grab control back?
“I don’t have any other choice.”
Very often, when we are in a crisis situation our brains lose the ability to look for other choices, and options. Our freaked-out brains just grab the first thing that looks like it’s going to solve the problem. Another term for this is scarcity mindset, and it plagues our brains more often than we’d like to admit. If you can’t see other options, there is just no way you’ll be able to take advantage of them. I’d hazard a guess that you AND your grown child(ren) are suffering from scarcity mindset if you very often feel like you don’t have any other choice than giving them money.
How often have you heard your child(ren) say they don’t have any other choice? How often have you said that yourself?
What will the neighbors think?
Sure, we’d all like to say we don’t care what others think of us, but we do. We’re a social animal, after all. Being seen as part of the group or tribe is deeply important to our decision-making. Being part of the group means safety. Our animal brains know that if we are not seen as part of the group, we aren’t safe.
If your kid’s financial choices were suddenly made clear to your social group, how would you respond?
Guilt motivates us in unexpected and far-reaching ways. And frequently choices made from a place of guilt do not serve us long-term. It’s very rare that we consciously follow the cause and effect of “I had to say no to you when you were a child, and it broke my heart… the least I can do is make it up to you now.” But it isn’t just that we had to scrimp, save, and so no when the kids were little, it’s trying to even the “score” if you’ve given to another family member too. Another form of guilt that echoes down through the generations is using giving money as an indicator for care. If giving someone money is the same as caring for them and you aren’t able to give them money, the message we can get is that we don’t care.
Does money = love in your family?
Codependency can look like a lot of things in an adult parent-child relationship. Within codependent relationships we are overly reliant on another person for emotional or psychological safety. That person’s job is to make us feel ok, and is responsible if we don’t feel safe. Our very identities get wrapped up in that other person. The lie of codependency is that another person is responsible for your reactions, emotions, and outcomes. We tend to enable those we share a codependent relationship with. And just to be perfectly clear, this assumption that one person is responsible for another’s emotional and psychological safety goes BOTH directions in most cases. So your grown child could be holding you responsible for their emotional state, but you could be holding them responsible for yours.
Are you responsible for your child(ren) feeling safe? Are they responsible for your emotional safety?
Trying to keep the peace
How many more arguments, misunderstandings and hurt feelings can you put up with? Maybe you just cut a check to make this stop right now. It’s easier than everyone feeling hurt, right? And sure, in the short term, keeping the peace by giving money works. In the long, term, however, it only breeds more hurt and sets an uncomfortable precedent.
How often have you relented just to keep the peace?
Financial Enmeshment, also called Financial Incest (icky, I know) is the breakdown of the boundaries and roles between parent and child. It is closely related to codependency, and and another example of how generational traumas can sneakily undermine our best efforts at good parenting, even if our children are grown. Once the boundary between child responsibilities and adult responsibilites is broken down, it can get very murky as to who is responsible for what. If, as a child, you were expected to work to help the family survive and hand over your pay, there’s a good chance that financial enmeshment is impacting how you AND your child view your roles and responsibilities in your relationship.
Were you expected to have adult responsibilities as a child? Did you expect the same of your child(ren)?
I took care of you, you take care of me
We don’t like to think of our relationships with family as transactional, but we’ve all at least heard this expectation (closely related to filial piety). Perhaps you had to take care of your parents, as they did for their parents before them. If you were, in fact expected to take care of your elders, you didn’t have a choice in the matter. You might have been born specifically for that purpose.
Are you expecting your kids to care for you in your old age?
Wether it’s BIG T trauma, or little t trauma, we’ve all got it. Trauma informs almost every decision we make. It’s often invisible, and for many of us, it’s been with us since childhood. The things that we have done to protect ourselves from crisis, pain, and trauma are called trauma responses. We also know them as fight, flight, freeze, and fawn.
How often during a financial conversation with your child(ren) do you feel the need to run away, argue, shut down or try to make everyone happy?
Now that we’ve talked through a few (but certainly not all) of the ways we’ve been set up for failure when it comes to financially dependent relationships, let’s look at some possible risks.
What are the risks associated with financially supporting your grown child?
Sacrificing your future
For most of our adult lives we assume we can always make more money. Youth is wasted on the young, they say, and taking our earning potential for granted is part of that. But then we wake up one day and realize that not only is our body making choices for us, but there WILL be an end to our earning years. At that moment (and not a moment before) we truly understand how profoundly money is a resource. It’s not just a resource, in our modern economy it is THE resource. It hasn’t always been like that, of course. As recently as my grandparent’s generation, many goods were exchangable for other goods (also called fungibility), but now the most fungible thing we have is money. For our children’s generation it is an almost unlimited resource, for ours it is not.
You have to restrict yourself even more
You’ve likely already sacrificed something to be able to financially support your kids. Restriction is the first thing we do to try to “right the boat” financially, and it’s very often the only lever we know to pull. But restriction (related to “I don’t have any choice” above) does bad bad things to our decision making. It locks us into scarcity mindset, and tells us that we just need to restrict ourselves harder. And there is a top limit to how much we can cut back. There is not an unlimited amount of things you can give up.
You’re the bad guy
You can’t win. You either give that financially support at the risk to your own future, or you say no and you’re the bad guy. These toggling back between these two conditions is exhausting, and feels like no matter what we do, we’re wrong.
Rebellion and Resentment
Everyone has cause to feel resentful. You might feel resentful because you worked hard all your life for your money and now don’t have the lifestyle you feel like you’ve earned.
Your partner or spouse has reason to feel resentful if they see you being taken advantage of, and/or feel their resources and choices removed. Other family memebers and siblings may feel like they are being left out, and that all the financial support (care/love). They may interpret that as being punished for having their act together. As we talked about above, rebellion and resentment is normal when we feel our choices restricted. It also makes it almost impossible to navigate through this without feeling like a failure.
This isn’t sustainable
You can see that this can’t be kept up long-term, and I’m betting your kids know that too. There will be a reconning at some point, and everyone knows it’s going to be absolutely awful. Maybe this is the worst of the potential risks of financially supporting grown children… everyone knows it’s not sustainable but no one wants to think about it. Will this destroy your relationships? Will you run out of money and be destitute yourself?
champion? Compliance, force and punishment haven’t worked so far, so why not fold in a little curiosity. Even just asking “Tell me more about that” when finances come up can change a conversation. And when we’re focused on curiosity rather than correction, your kids have ownership over their own decision making, and you get a break from being the one who needs to fix everything.
Therapy for you
Particularly if the sections above on trauma, codependency, and guilt resonated with (or if you were mad at me for those sections), it might be time to talk to an EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) trained therapist.
This approach can help to improve:
- regulation (staying calm)
- connectedness and communication
- secure / healthy bonds
- setting and keeping good boundaries
Therapy for them
They may be resistant at first, and that makes sense, right? We’ve all gotten the message that if you go to therapy there’s something wrong with you. But nothing could be further from the truth. We’re all just trying to use the tools we’ve been given, and when it comes to money, the tools we’ve very often been given are not effective.
Of course I’d still recommend EFT for them, but sometimes just talking to a counselor or therapist helps, regardless of that therapist’s specialty.
Coaching for you
Full disclosure, every service here at yourworthcoch.com is client-centered, holistic, and trauma-informed. So of course I’m going to recommend finding a client-centered, holistic, trauma-informed financial coach for yourself.
Coaching this way is designed to teach you tools to communciate your own financial needs, get clarity on your own financial status, and plan for the future all without restriction or feeling like you’re having to stop living your life.
Coaching for them
You may consider paying for some or all coaching sessions for your grown kids. Very often this is less expensive than continuing to write checks with no end in sight. When we coach your loved ones we’ll be working towards:
- Them trusting themselves with their money
- Developing their own adaptive, personalized budgeting system
- Drilling down on things like procrastination and avoidance
- Learning new problem solving/ decision-making tools
Coaching for both of you
In rare circumstances it might be best for both generations to sit down together with a holistic, trauma-informed financial coach who can teach as well as mediate. This is for fairly extreme situations and not for everyone.
What would your financial life look like if you and your grown kids could have healthy, safe conversations around money where everyone is respected, understood, and protected?
Call or text now! (503) 908-3425.
Download a free one-page worksheet here: