Buying Dependence

While none of us set out to raise our children to become entitled, unmotivated, irresponsible young adults, many of us treat our precious offspring as if that is exactly what we are trying to do.

Self-confidence and self-reliance go hand in hand.

Do you remember when your three year old pushed you aside and stated strongly “I can do it myself“?

When is the last time you heard that from your 23 year old?

Have you accidentally spent the last 20 years undoing your child’s in-born desire to be self-reliant?

Better for My Kids

We all want our kids to have it better then we had it. The problem lies in defining what better is. At first blush, many of us would say we want our kids to have it easier, to not have to struggle as we did when we were young, broke, and inexperienced.

Let us think about that for a minute. Who would you be without those times? How strong would your marriage be? Chances are, those early hard times taught you to depend on yourself and your spouse. You grew confidence and competence every time you worked hard to overcome your lack of money and experience. I bet some of your best stories come from those times. In fact, I would venture that those “hard times” were some of the best times of your life.

Do you really want to rob your children of that?

Warning Signs

Does your adult or near adult child call you first when they have a problem?  If so, are they just telling you what’s going on, asking for advice or expecting you to solve the problem?

Cindy wakes alone to find the kitchen standing 2 inches deep in water. She dials dad and in a panic and describes the mess.

When Nancy is in the same situation, she quickly tosses a hand full of towels on the floor and proceeds to investigate. Finding the source to be the water heater, she calls dad and calmly explains the situation and asks him what she should do.

Sherry’s response to the flooded kitchen involves finding the source of the leak, shutting off the water, using the wet vacuum to dry the mess and finally calling a plumber to replace the water heater. She tells dad a humor -filled story about the problem 5 days later.

Growing up, Sherry was required to be an active and helpful participate in all manner of household chores. She helped cut grass, paint rooms, fix squeaky hinges. Even though many chores took longer and were done with less perfection because the kids were involved, Sherry’s parents valued the competencies that their kids developed by participating.

Cindy’s dad, on the other hand, had worked hard from a very young age and was determined that his kids should be allowed to “be kids”. Often they stayed in bed all Saturday morning while he took care of the household chores alone.


Sooner or later, most people who have been handed too much start expecting it. The giver is often shocked and angered by the first display of entitlement. They suddenly feel used, not only in the current situation but they often lament of the many times they sacrificed to make the child happy. Have you ever heard a generous giver say something like, “I can’t believe he/she is no longer happy with that car we gave them, I would have been thrilled if someone gave me any car”. Well of course they would have been thrilled. That’s because having purchased all their own cars, they know what a huge gift it is. The receiver, on the other hand, having always been given everything has no real appreciation of the gift.

If you always refuse to allow your adult child to pick up a dinner tab or help with dishes, you have no room to be upset when they quit offering.

When to Give

When and how much to give to our children should be governed by the answers to these questions.

1)      Will this gift hurt my child?

We should measure our success as parents in the character of our children. Are they self-reliant, and resourceful? Do they take initiative? Do they take responsibility for their own actions and learn from their mistakes? Do they have compassion and empathy for others?

If your child is solid in these character traits, then most gifts will not harm them; just be cautious that you don’t rob them of life experiences of their age and income level.

If your child is lacking in any of these traits, you really need to stop and consider if this gift will continue to undermine their development. Continuously subsidizing or bailing out adult children only leads to more dependence and eventually an attitude of entitlement.

2)      Can I afford it?

In my experience, parents blow the family budget on the kids more then anything else. Living within your means requires that the kids live within your means as well. If you are not out of debt and saving, then the kids should not be wearing Ralph Lauren and driving BMW’s. Say whatever you want about being financially responsible, your children will learn from your actions not your words.

3)      Will the gift help them?

Education is a substantial gift that most children benefit from, but even this gift must be given with caution. Most children will take ownership and value their education much more if they must contribute in some significant way to its cost.

Large cash gifts in the form of a down payment for a first home or college savings are often better given in the form of matching funds to money that your child sets aside.

Sometimes you want to give your child something just because you can afford it. There is certainly nothing wrong with this; giving is great fun. Just remember to keep your substantial gifts unexpected and in line with your child’s current stage of character development.

Some of the greatest words you will ever hear from your child’s mouth, whether they are 3 or 33 are:

“I can do it myself.”

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