Your kids. They’re your everything. You give your all to them in the hopes they have a joyful and fulfilled life.
The sacrifices parents make for their kids is almost a badge of honor amongst parents, especially moms. “That’s just what you do for you kids” is a refrain repeated over and over by parents everywhere. It’s even said about adult children.
It’s a noble refrain. What’s more important than taking care of your children? It’s pure. There’s no quid pro quo when you give to your children. It’s all about them.
Which is why it’s one of the more abused phrases in the parental lexicon.
“That’s just what you do for your kids” has become a catch-all phrase to justify even the most over-the-top financial decisions. It’s used as justification for buying things we can’t afford and taking on the financial burdens of our adult children. And it’s become a scourge to a growing number of would-be retirees as they struggle under the weight of their adult children’s financial issues.
What Are We Teaching Our Kids By Giving Them Everything?
Kids need limits. We know this. And yet, when it comes to money, we often fail to set appropriate boundaries. We bend over backwards for our kids to pay for the expensive private school, to get them the car they want versus the car they need, so they can play club sports.
We do this even if it means they aren’t saving enough for our own needs. We retire later or live on less, carry thousands of dollars in credit card debt, deprive ourselves of the things that bring us joy and fulfillment.
Why do we do this?
Queue the refrain – “That’s just what you do for your kids.”
There is so much that is wrong with this way of thinking.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be doing as much as we can for our children but we have to be realistic given our financial situation.
There’s a big difference between overpaying when you can afford and overpaying when you can’t.
While I question the wisdom of overpaying because “that’s just what you do,” I understand it IF you can afford it.
But, for those who can’t afford to overpay, it’s an absolutely devastating practice. Putting your retirement, health, and well-being in jeopardy to indulge your children is a terrible idea.
Indulging our children only makes sense if you can afford it – and even then it’s debatable. The problem is we rarely see our “indulgences” as “indulgences.” We see them as “responsible parenting.”
Private schools. Overly expensive first cars. Club sports. Rent for adult children.
It’s easy to justify these expenses. Private schools tout their track record versus public schools to justify the high price tag. Car dealers beat you over the head with safety statistics and visions of your girls waiting on the side of the road for the tow truck to arrive. Coaches talk up your girls’ talents and how they just need a little something extra to get them over the hump.
Faced with these arguments, would you feel like you’re overindulging your kids or just being a good parent, affordability be damned?
Let’s face it, no mom (or dad) wants to think of herself as a bad mom so there is a strong bias to do more than less. Because “that’s just what you do for your kids.”
Guilt is a powerful motivator.
Where to Draw the Line
One of the problems is parents often engage in dichotomous thinking.
Dichotomous thinking is the tendency to think in terms of polar opposites. Things are either good or bad; it fails to accept the myriad of options that lie between the two extremes.
Parents often view their support decisions through this “all or nothing” lens. Private schools are good, public schools are bad. A new car is good, a used car is bad. Good parents take care of their children even if they’re adults, bad parents don’t.
Real-life is far more nuanced than that. Which means it’s gonna get messy.
Sometimes, private school is the best option because the public schools in your community aren’t safe or don’t foster a positive learning environment. Sometimes, not always.
There are pros and cons to paying for club sports even if you can afford it.
Buying a new or expensive car for first-time drivers is almost never a wise thing to do. Sorry. I see no good reason to buy an expensive car for a first-time driver.
Not paying for your adult children’s expenses doesn’t make you a bad parent. Paying for them doesn’t make you a good parent. In some instances, it’s actually bad parenting.
The point is life is messy and we need to guard against our tendency for all or nothing thinking.
3 Ways to Guard Against Doing Too Much
- Throw all of your preconceived notions out the window. For example, don’t assume private schools trump public schools. Research both options thoroughly and then make your decision. Weigh the pros and cons of each school and the costs associated with each option. The private school may have a slight edge overall but with a price tag of $10,000 per year, perhaps those dollars are better spent on college or retirement. You have to determine how much bang you’re getting for your buck.
- Buy (very) used cars for first-time drivers. They cost far less, insurance is cheaper, and a “safe” used car is still “safe.” Repairs are cheaper and dents in used cars, which teenagers are prone to, often go unfixed. Lastly, get them a AAA membership and let them make the call if the car ever breaks down. Even newer cars get flat tires. Better to deal with these things under the watchful eye of their parents than when they’re off to college and have to fend for themselves.
- Stop supporting your adult children. This is a serious problem. For them and for you. Kids, even adult kids, will take as much as you will give them. If you keep giving, they will keep taking; it’s not supernatural. Instead, start setting specific boundaries. For example, set up a schedule that reduces your support by 25% every three months. After one year, you will not provide any financial support at all. Your support should be a life line, not a way of life.
Let Go of the Guilt
Kids are expensive. There’s no denying that. Even if you’re just providing the basics, they’re expensive. And if all you can afford to do is provide the basics, that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s awesome. You’re doing everything a parent should be doing for their children.
Anything beyond the basics is gravy. They’re “nice to-dos,” not “must-dos.”
Free yourself from the pressure, anxiety, and guilt that comes with feeling like you’re not doing enough for your children.
It’s time we stop saying “that’s just what you do for your kids” as justification for making bad financial decisions or for taking on an adult child’s financial burden.
So, what do you think? Have you ever fallen down this mental trapdoor? Have you seen others struggling with doing too much for their children? Please share this blog or share a comment below!