Financial Lifeline? Seven Discernment Tips For Assisting Adult Children

We are a blended family with four children.  It was far from easy to deal with financial decisions as they grew up.  Now ensconced in their adult lives, it continues to be challenging to discern if, when and how to financially walk alongside them.  Can any of you relate?

A recent survey by Bankrate.com found that 51 percent of Americans are sacrificing their retirement savings to free up money to assist their adult children.  Right or wrong is not for me to decide.  I do know that any decision needs to be based on respect.  Respect for yourself and respect for your progeny.  To me, respect involves honoring a person’s life journey and providing a conducive environment for them to unfold their potential.  There is no set protocol for what this looks like in each person’s life.

Given my personal experience as well as over twenty three years of professionally guiding clients, here are seven points to ponder based on an acronym for RESPECT.


Airline attendants instruct to put our own oxygen mask on before assisting others.  We need to do the same with our financial resources.  A very personal question – Do you have enough to cover your needs and reasonable desires now and down the road?  This requires planning from both the quantitative element as well as basing the numbers on foundational values. What is your personal perspective on “enough”?


If you are financially assisting them – what are they using the money for?  We have a generation that was born into relative prosperity.  They have little perspective on the difference between a need and a want.  The media and the life of ease they see around them leaves them feeling entitled and “lacking”.   Making ends meet may not be “easy” today, but comparatively, we live in opportunistic, abundant times.    You may also need to look at your own ego.  Do you feel your adult children are a reflection on you?  Do you need to keep up appearances?


Assisting a child with a soul need could play out in helping them get a business off the ground after reviewing a well laid out business plan. It could be investing in their continued education, or supporting them while they do volunteer work.  There may be health circumstances or career choices to consider.  There is a fine line and it requires you to know your children well.  Are you providing rich soil to cultivate a vocation, or just tilling the fields of their vacation?


No parent enjoys watching our children struggle or experience pain in life.  However, we rob them of their financial integrity and growth opportunity when we don’t allow them to experience some financial trials.  How much financial pain is needed to facilitate positive growth?  Again, a very personal question around boundaries and tough love.  The struggle is necessary.  It is OK.  It develops character assets such as resiliency, resourcefulness, creativity, work ethic.  Like the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, or chick emerging from the shell, the struggle makes us stronger.


From my book – “The entitlement mindset starts as a small weed, but if untended, grows like Cheatgrass, consuming the beauty of relationships and wreaking havoc on lives.  It is a tenacious barrier to a healthy financial future, no matter where you lie on the spectrum of financial wherewithal.”

If you are assisting an adult child and you sense they feel they have the “right” or claim to your financial resources just because they were born to you, you are treading on thin ice.  Elder abuse is on the rise – sadly, by family members.  As you age, you want your kids to respect and protect you.


What are your motives in assisting your adult children?  Heed the wisdom of Warren Buffet – “I’ve seen people try to steer their children, and the worst thing you could do is use money to induce given behavior with kids. I told my kids they don’t have to do anything … finish college, become doctors or lawyers. … I told them to use their talents in whatever form they think will create the greatest net benefit to society.”  Search your heart and make sure you have the best interests of your children in mind.


Now or Later?  If you have the resources to share with your kids, do you want to invest in their lives now, or upon your demise?  Currently, you can give $15,000 a year to anyone you want.  A married couple could give $30,000 away.  Wisdom needs to precede creative implementation. How much is enough?  How are you preparing them?  How do you minimize entitlements and expectations mentioned previously?

The guideline of mutual respect is a starting point.  Getting financial counsel and wisdom based on your current and future circumstances can provide you with pieces to the puzzle too!

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