Let’s make one thing clear: it’s OK to help your grownup kids. In fact, as every caring parent knows, the helping never stops. But there’s a big difference between offering sound support, and the kind of endless ‘giving’ that creates unhealthy, dependent relationships. How to know the difference, and how to pull back when it’s the best thing for you and your adult kids, is everything.
Knowing the difference
Young families (and individuals) all face occasional expensive and unexpected difficulties through no fault of their own – the hot water cylinder that suddenly gives up the ghost in the newly bought home, the much-loved pet that gets injured for a second time, the part-time job that disappears without warning … It’s times like this when parents are fortunate if they’re in a position to help out. But when ongoing difficulties are the result of your adult kids’ ongoing bad decisions, it’s a different story. When a new lounge suite is bought while the plumbing desperately needs attention, when your son buys the grandkids a spaniel when finances dictate a guinea pig is what’s actually affordable, when your daughter walks out of her job because the manager has an off-day – these are times when it pays to keep your wallet in your purse. It can be as simple as saying “I’m not in a position to help at the moment.” Which is a very good reason not to share details of your financial situation with your children.
Save your words
It’s not only your bank account that gets hammered when adult kids’ expectations get out of hand. Providing a listening ear to someone who continues to make the same mistakes over and over again, and brings the fallout to you to deal with, is not something you should be doing. Dealing with ongoing self-created emotional crises is time-consuming, draining, and pointless. And, what’s more, it indicates that it’s time your grownup child requires the help of a professional. Put your energies into helping them find that person, not into problem-solving or being an emotional crutch to them them yet again.
As a grandparent, you’ll usually want to see your grandchildren on a regular basis. Even more than that, you’ll want to help out your own kids by making yourself available for the odd stint of child-minding. But that doesn’t mean you should feel you have to be on call 24/7, and it doesn’t mean you should be taking the place of a paid childcarer – unless it’s to cover short-term in a crisis, or during a pre-arranged period such as school holidays. So just how do you know how much grandchild care is too much? It’s easy. Get yourself a diary and list in it your own weekly activities. When your adult children call to ask if you can mind the grandies, you can them tell them honestly if you’re going to be available, without having to feel awkward about it.
Same but different
If you’re in doubt about how to handle your grownup kids’ requests, remind yourself that parenting adults isn’t really so different to parenting young children. You need to be fair but firm. If you’re not, you’re creating a spoiled individual who values you for all the wrong reasons.