Both children and parents should realize being on one's own should...

Both children and parents should realize being on one's own should not include frequent financial loans or paying a grown-up child's regular expenses. Credit: TNS/Uwe Bauch

It’s a hard thing to go from being dependent on parents to being independent. Many offspring never entirely get there.

Genuine dependency does not include creating a tradition of Sunday family dinners or having Mom do one’s laundry occasionally. But both children and parents should realize that being independent should not include frequent financial loans or paying a grown-up child’s regular expenses, such as rent or phone bills.

Many parents don’t know what to do when a son or daughter asks for too many "favors." The parents may feel stressed because they are asked for money too frequently, or are asked to co-sign for a car purchase. Co-signing for a large purchase, such as a mortgage on a house, is one area where the parents and child need to discuss this issue thoroughly. The parents have to carefully analyze whether co-signing anything for a grown-up child is a good idea.

Since money is often part of taking advantage of Mom and Dad, or just Mom or just Dad, there must be a recognition of whether that grown-up child is creditworthy. Has he or she "borrowed" previously and perhaps paid back part, but not all, of a loan? Has money been borrowed but never paid back? If so, then the "lending" of more money must be based on what parents can afford to lose, and the parents should first discuss this between themselves, then with their grown-up child.

If the child has been turned down for credit and is now asking Mom and Dad for the money, that’s a big warning sign. Parents need to ask why has this grown-up child been turned down for credit? Ask them to provide a credit report, and be open and transparent about it. If you are a parent in this position, can you afford to pay an ongoing extra expense like a mortgage or vehicle payment for your child?

Taking advantage of parents doesn’t only involve money, however.

Of course, you love your grandchild or grandchildren, but what happens when your own offspring parks the kid (or kids) at your home for days at a time, or for a large part of every weekday or weeknight? Is there a tiny twinge of resentment growing in your heart — because you can’t go out while watching those kids — but it’s something you’re afraid to confront?

I recommend the solution arranged by one family that brought closure to parents who felt that their grown-up child was taking advantage of them. It was their son, who had a full-time job and a new fiancee. The parents found themselves acting as free baby-sitters days at night on weekends and on several evenings during the week. The requests for baby-sitting increased, thus taking even more of the parents' time. They were afraid to bring the matter up because they feared their son would take offense.

The situation lasted and grew for nearly a year before the parents felt it needed to be addressed. First, Mom and Dad kept track of the hours spent as free baby-sitters. Even they were surprised at how many hours that time added up to. They wrote out a very neat summary of how much of their time was being taken up by babysitting a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, ages at which children require constant monitoring. Then they asked their son to come over with his fiancee.

They started the evening’s conversation by saying they loved their grown-up child and the grandchildren, but they felt watching them had become a full-life project. They mentioned several times that they would still love to watch their grandkids, but stated, “We need to agree on a reasonable time of how much free baby-sitting we can provide. Fifteen hours a week, sometimes even more, prevents us from living our own lives. So let’s agree on how many hours we need to provide this service.”

Their manner was calm and reasonable. They gave their grown-up child no hook on which to hang an attitude, though their son got a bit defensive at the beginning of the conversation. They let the younger couple know that if there was an issue, it might end up being no free baby-sitting at all. No one wanted that, and all agreed to how many hours a week would be reasonable.

If you feel your child is taking advantage of you, bringing it up in a friendly discussion is the best way to resolve the problem. 

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