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Financial assistance for children by elderly parents

Author: Nechama Jesselson
Does parental financial assistance reflect their concern for their adult children? When does the obligation of parents to financially support their children end? Are parents obligated to put their children’s needs at the expense of taking care of themselves? These questions and more we will try to answer in this article

Parent-child relationship

The initial contact between a child and his parents is characterized by total dependence. The human being has no chance of surviving without a parent who takes care of all his needs from the very beginning. At this stage, a total commitment is required from the parent in order to ensure the physical and spiritual well-being of the child.

As the child grows, the parent is required to recognize and accept the fact of the child’s separation from him as an independent personality, and to allow him a degree of freedom and self-expression according to his changing age, up to the stage of complete independence.

Giving to it and a thorn in it

The act of giving of parents goes through different incarnations throughout life. From a state of necessary dependence, in which the parent is the sole decider on the nature and scope of the giving, both parent and child move to a stage where giving is sometimes a matter of negotiation. The giving of various consumer goods or the financing of leisure activities such as classes, trips, types of recreation, become a subject of pressure from children, with parents often having difficulty resisting them. Children learn very quickly to identify their parents’ “weak points” and exploit them to achieve various things.

One of the weak points is feelings of guilt stemming from a variety of reasons: lack of time spent with children, personal history of financial distress, shaky relationships within the family, disability or illness of the child or parent, and more.

Thus, as in a vicious circle, the phenomenon of pressure that the child exerts on the parent is maintained and maintained. The child who “deserves it” and the parent whose self-image as the “good parent” is put to the test cooperate with each other over time.

However, education for financial independence can begin long before the child is on his own. Children learn from a relatively young age that they can earn money by doing various jobs, such as babysitting and cleaning stairwells. Such experiences, beyond the economic aspect, can balance the sense of “I deserve it” directed at parents from a very young age, and which is so characteristic of the consumer society in which we live.

Parenting styles andfinancial aid for adult children

Reality shows that many children see their parents as a source of support and financial assistance over many years, even when they themselves have families.

The children assume, based on their past experience, that this is the natural role of the parents, and that the parents, whose financial situation is usually more established than that of the children, view helping children in a similar way.

Parents are interested in helping their children both out of a desire to make things easier for them, and out of a well-founded feeling that this is what is expected of them. The question is what are the limits of giving and its conditions.

It can be assumed that parents’ financial conduct vis-à-vis their adult children is a result of their past parenting style. Parents who found it difficult to set boundaries for their children while they were young will find it difficult to disappoint their adult children, even if their demands seem exaggerated.

On the other hand, children who have been raised to live within a system of boundaries and delayed gratification will also later understand that money is something to work for, and that parental assistance is not necessarily something to be taken for granted. These parents will consider the assistance they give their adult children matter-of-factly, and not out of succumbing to hidden or overt pressures.

Financial assistance as anexpression of the desire to connect with children

Like any gift, the money given to adult children is not just money. It represents the parents’ desire to connect with their children who have grown up, and who in fact no longer need the kind of care and maintenance they received at a young age. Sometimes parents tend to provide financial assistance in order to maintain their children’s dependence on them or to strengthen the relationship with their grandchildren.

The relationship between parents and their adult children is not symmetrical: while the relationship on the part of the parents is characterized by “unconditional acceptance,” that is, it is not necessarily contingent on the extent to which offspring fulfill the parents’ expectations, the relationship on the part of the children may include residues from the past that cloud the relationship.

Hence the necessity of an explicit commandment, which requires children to respect their parents: “Honor your father and mother for the sake of lengthening your days” (Exodus 20:12)

When assistance becomes the problemof the

At some point, giving may turn from a rewarding and joyful reality for both sides to a problematic issue, when circumstances change.

The reasons for the change may be varied:

  • The children’s economic situation changes due to family growth, unemployment, divorce, illness, and more.
  • Parents’ retirement and a decrease in their income.
  • Health problems in parents, which require additional resources (assistance at home, foreign worker).
  • Death of one of the parents, which requires assessments adapted to the new situation (transition to assisted living).
  • Cognitive decline of aging parents, which requires transferring the handling of their financial affairs to the children.

In a relationship where there is an open and direct dialogue between parents and their children, it will be possible to talk about the changes openly and make joint decisions. If, on the other hand, parents and children live in a reality of mutual expectations, without clear boundaries and without a framework of open dialogue, the situation may develop into a real problem.

Parents who are afraid to spend money they might need themselves find it hard not to meet their children’s expectations, while children in financial distress may see parents as a lifeline for solving problems.

In extreme situations, things can deteriorate into financial blackmail, threats of withholding contact with grandchildren or children, and exploitation by children, especially when parents are no longer able to manage their own financial affairs. Such a system is often characterized by the prevention of contact with grandchildren on the part of children, such as:

“If you don’t give money, you won’t see the grandchildren.”

“If you don’t pay, you’ll be left alone on Shabbat.”

And other “sanctions” of this kind, which hurt the “soft underbelly” of parents, and therefore often succeed in achieving their goal.

So how do you cope?

  • First of all, relax: you’re not alone. This is a problem shared by many families.
  • A united front: Parents must reach unanimity among themselves regarding the manner and extent of assistance to their children, in order to avoid pressure on one parent, against the wishes of the other.
  • Align expectations: Take initiative. Bring the kids into a conversation to set expectations. Keep in mind that these types of conversations can trigger anger and even threats from children.
  • Family discourse: Schedule regular meetings with children to discuss practical ways to arrange assistance and report on declining income or other changes in the situation.

Targeted assistance: Don’t cover the new deficit of children. It is a bottomless pit. Instead, it is advisable to allocate the assistance for specific and predefined purposes, such as: education, dental care, extracurricular activities, etc. It is worth monitoring that the money was indeed used for the defined needs.

In conclusion, parental financial assistance reflects parents’ concern for their children, but does not mean that parents should stop taking care of themselves.

We invite you to take part in a retirement preparation course, where, among other things, we will also deal with this topic.

For details on the course “Preparing for Retirement”

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