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Supporting adult children—after you’ve retired
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Posted by Shelly Eweka on August 28, 2018 9:00:00 AM
Although you may be retired from your job—you can never retire from being a mom
Watching your kids grow up and gain independence can be a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, you miss them. On the other, you finally get to focus on your needs, spend money on your wants—and also watch with pride as they make their way in the world.
However, some twist of fate may cause your child to return to the nest—or continue to rely on you for financial support—long after you’ve retired.
More adult children are living at home
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. census data, 15% of 25- to 35-year-olds lived with their parents as of 2016. That’s a 5% jump in the number of adults in this age range who were living in their parents’ home in 2000.1
In fact, young adults today are more likely to live with mom and dad than with romantic partners. And on average, those young people are staying at home for longer.
Generally, parents want to help their kids no matter what. But in the interests of encouraging your children to achieve autonomy—and protecting a nest egg that was only ever meant to support you and/or your spouse—you have to create some boundaries, and try to separate emotion from the situation.
4 tips to help them regain financial independence
If you find yourself retired—but not yet retired from financially supporting your child(ren)—here are 4 tips to help get through it:
- Open up your doors—and lines of communication. Offering open-ended assistance for an indeterminate time can change a temporary situation into a permanent one, and turn your goodwill sour. A stay of a few weeks somehow ends up lasting months—even years. As the saying goes, guests, like fish, go bad after three days. However, when the guests are your children, it takes a bit longer than that to overstay their welcome. But there is an expiration date all the same.
- Set up timelines. If your child is capable of supporting herself and is just going through a rough patch—maybe job loss or a divorce—you’re not doing him or her any favors by prolonging their financial dependence a day longer than is necessary. Encourage them to get back on their feet again by putting a cap on your financial support. Your love may be unconditional, but your financial support shouldn’t be. Don’t be shy about writing an actual contract that states the length of time your child can stay. And that doesn’t mean you’re going to kick them out on an exact end date. The point is working together towards the end goal of financial independence. So don’t be afraid to put an actual amount on it because that will give your grown-up son or daughter something to work towards. For example: “I am going to loan you $1,000, which I expect you to pay me back in monthly installments of $100.” Or: “You can move back home until you find a job, but then you’ll start paying me rent until you find a place of your own.”
- Any job is better than none. Kids who have just graduated from college and are mired in debt should take any job. They may have to readjust their expectations, but as long as they’re working someplace where there’s opportunity for progression, they can be gainfully employed while continuing to search for their ideal role. Having an ideal is crucial, since it gives them something to aim for, but they also have to be flexible enough to take a job that falls short of that ideal in order to move ahead.
- State (what may not be) the obvious. Fact: If you’re supporting an adult child as well as yourself, you are more likely to deplete your retirement savings. Most likely, you supported your child for their first 18 years, and even to a 38-year-old, that give-and-take dynamic feels natural and familiar. However, that same adult child needs to understand you are no longer of working age, that your roles have been reversed, and that even though your net worth is larger, it’s an amount that is decumulating rather than accumulating. Make sure your child really understands that your resources are finite—and how running out of money would affect not only you but them as well—especially since they may end up supporting you one day.
Bottom line: Helping each other out in times of need is what families are all about. Having your adult children move back in for a while can strengthen your bond and deepen your relationship. Just make sure that your financial support has clearly defined boundaries. Otherwise, you may be jeopardizing your financial future, and that isn’t good for either you or your kids.
1 Pew Research Center, “It’s becoming more common for young adults to live at home—and for longer stretches ,” Pewresearch.org (May 2017),
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