Does helping someone actually hinder them in the long run? This is a question I have been assessing for many years.
I am the child of two immigrant, hardworking individuals who came to Canada with very little. When I was growing up, the primary item of importance in our household was getting an education. My parents introduced us to the concept of post-secondary education very early in life — so early that I never even truly realized that there was even an option of not going to college. In my mind, it was a life requirement to become university educated.
I received a lot of positive encouragement for obtaining an education, and I also received a lot of fiscal support. For the first quarter century of my life, I had no concept of what it took to manage a household, budget properly for a household, save money from each paycheck, or live within your means. I had no real concept of how much it cost my parents to put me through school, plus everything else they supported me with.
My academic fees were paid for by my parents. I lived rent free. I drove more than my fair share of vehicles where the vehicle, insurance, and gas were paid for by my parents. I never paid for groceries. I would go so far as to say that I probably did not purchase one notebook, highlighter, or pen on my own. I even had a Visa paid by my parents: I put as many purchases as I could possibly justify on that card before exploiting my privilege to such a point that they canceled it. Were they helping me? Was I abusing their support?
The funny thing is that I always did work while I was a student, but my money went to going out with friends, clothes, and travel. I never once considered contributing to my academic fees because it was always something my parents promised to pay for, and I sure as hell kept them accountable to that agreement. They also never asked or expected me to contribute; they would occasionally complain about costs, but they never asked me for money, even when they saw me frivolously spending my own.
My parents did a lot for me financially, and I was never appreciative. Rather, I expected it because of how I was raised. I felt that their financial support was endless and never considered the sacrifices they may have been making to support my education.
Where is the line between helping, enabling, and disabling your child? I think of it as a safety net: I no longer have a parental safety net, and that has changed how I spend, save, and view money. I know for a fact that if I called my parents today because I lost my job or was in extreme debt, they would do nothing to financially support me, and I am glad that they have finally found their voice to say "no." I would not expect them to, either; I am an adult and shame on me if I do not have my life together.
However, the day that this awakening occurred was pretty jarring. That's when I realized I was fully on my own. It was like walking on a tightrope, looking down and watching the netting vanish beneath you. It was scary but necessary because it made me into a stronger person. It made me realize the importance of saving and investing in the future. It taught me the value of long-term needs versus short-term wants. I now see how difficult it is to attain, save, and not spend money, so I am now careful and smart with my spending.
What would have happened if I had not had a safety net for so long? What would I be like if I still had that safety net?
The next time you "help" your child, especially your adult child, ask yourself if you are:
- Helping them?
- Hindering them?
- Ensuring your need to feel wanted?
- Ensuring their dependency on you?
- Exhausted and do not want to fight with them, so you are simply giving into their wants?
It is a tough conversation to have, but when I look back at my youth and early adult life, the fact that I expected all this of two people who had already given me so much was wrong, even if I was taught to think that way.
It is really easy to read this article and think that the child was to blame for always taking, but the other side of the coin must also be observed. If you are always giving, what is your contribution to the problem? You are not absolved of your responsibility as the giver, nor is the taker in their (selfish) actions, because both actions must occur for the transaction to take place.
Sometimes the best form of supporting your child is to say "no" — but don’t tell your kids I said that.
This post was written by Aman Litt and originally appeared on Medium.com.