Dear Dr. Chloe,
We are a married couple whose adult child has been living with us due to financial problems related to credit card debt he is still paying off from his early 20s. While we want to help, we also notice he is making purchases we consider to be frivolous. We have tried to discuss our concerns with him, but he just gets angry and says we are being unsupportive.
He is 27 years old and has a decent job, though we don’t feel he is working (or earning) up to his full potential. This is okay with us, since we understand that not everyone necessarily wants to prioritize earning their maximum possible income. He has said that while he knows it’s important to have a job, he feels there’s also “more to life than money”, and he enjoys spending time with his friends. Our relationship is generally harmonious, except for the issue of him living with us.
We enjoy having him here, but we also had envisioned him being more independent by this point in his life. We don’t charge him rent because it would feel awkward to do that to our own child when he’s having financial problems, and because we don’t want to do anything that would encourage him to think of this as a normal landlord situation. We would love to see him determined to do whatever it takes to live in his own apartment (or at least with roommates) out of his own natural desire for independence.
What should we do?
Dear Loving Parents,
Thank you for sharing. You are clearly loving parents who want what’s best for your son.
Your son’s frivolous purchases are incongruous with the idea that he’s living with you to eliminate debt. His anger and accusation that you’re being “unsupportive” for discussing this seems irrational– you’re clearly being very supportive by allowing him free rent, and showing interest in his financial health.
You asked me what to do. Since I only have limited knowledge of your situation, I’ll offer advice with the caveat that you must use your own best judgment and seek counsel from a trusted source such as a family therapist or clergyperson if needed. With that said:
Tell your son that you love and respect him as an adult who can make his own choices. Explain that this includes honoring his choice not to prioritize making more money even if he is in debt, despite the fact that you would take a different approach. Affirm that you recognize he doesn’t need your approval to make unnecessary purchases despite his debt. The next part is where it gets delicate:
Remind him that your open room was intended to help him repair financial mistakes of the past, but that you’re concerned he doesn’t seem to prioritize this. Given what you’ve shared, he’ll likely get angry at this point. When he does, explain that your love and respect for him include a belief that he is strong enough to stand on his own if he feels he’s ready to manage his finances independently. Explain that he doesn’t have to do things your way, but that your offer of an open room is on the condition that he sees a debt counselor and abides by their suggestions, which will likely be to prioritize paying debts. Also explain that once he is debt-free, you’ll expect that he will live independently like the capable, nearly 30-year-old man he is.
If he insists that this is “unsupportive”, acknowledge that you are unwilling to financially “support” him in the way he desires– and explain that what you’re actually trying to support is an age-appropriate level of adult responsibility. Explain that you’re afraid of doing him a disservice by depriving him of the normal incentives that typically drive people to increase their income, such as being able to live in a comfortable house and purchase nice things– and that by literally enabling him to live rent-free while making unnecessary purchases despite carrying credit card debt, you’re afraid you could actually be “supporting” an unhealthy financial attitude.
If he remains angry and threatens to distance himself from you, tell him you love him and that closeness hinging on financial support isn’t really closeness– it’s financial and emotional blackmail, and you refuse to be controlled by it. Keep repeating that you love and respect him, and that he is free to handle this however he wishes– but that he is not entitled to free rent without conditions at his age and stage of life, and that providing it would actually be unsupportive in your view.
Wishing you all the best!
Dr. Chloe Carmichael is a clinical psychologist and USA Today bestselling author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety and Dr. Chloe’s Ten Commandments of Dating.
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