Dear Carolyn: My kids are 30, 28 and 25. All of them are out of college and on their own. We paid their tuitions, but room and board was on them, so they had some student loans.
My oldest son got married two years ago and his wife’s family is helping them out a lot, even though they both have professional jobs. When her grandmother died, her parents paid off all their student loans. They also handed down an almost brand new car because nobody else in the family wanted it. He just told me they are all taking a weeklong vacation out of the country next Christmas, hosted by his in-laws.
This level of support makes me uncomfortable. What ever happened to adults being adults and paying their own way? I brought this up to my best friend, and she said that as long as the parents could afford it and wanted to be generous, what’s the problem? It stumped me for a bit.
I know this isn’t directly my business. But it makes me uncomfortable that my son has so much of his life taken care of by other people when he is 30 with an education and a job. Do I need to just accept that this generation’s adults are not really adults?
Helping Adult Children
Really? One windfall and an entire generation earns your contempt? Wow.
By my count, at least two of the three financial boosts your son got are one-off opportunities: the student-loan-erasing inheritance and the hand-me-down car. I’m with your best friend on these. They could do it, so why not?
And while your son is an individual, not a stand-in for an entire generation – if I assume correctly that you’re a Baby Boomer, then you really don’t want to go there – the fact that your kids’ cohort is staggering under education debt unlike any generation prior makes his in-laws look like guardian angels.
As for the trip, I see why you’d balk. Their making a tradition of it would cut you out of Christmases with your son; their shifting these trips around the calendar would make your turns to host this couple seem plain by comparison; their chewing up his vacation days with irresistible opportunities would leave fewer days for you; these are valid concerns of many.
But I can – and do, in many other letters – also see that grown families tend to be scattered, tightly scheduled and financially taxed, especially the young adults. One way people counteract these family-dividing forces is to plan and (where possible) underwrite all-family trips.
It’s a luxury, yes, but a loving and unifying one. I’ll offer it to my kids if I’m able, and if their gratitude meters aren’t broken. And I’ll do it without fear of stunting them because the other 51 weeks of the year will still be theirs to navigate, bankroll and plan.
So please ask yourself, are your in-laws spoiling this couple, or just making their climb less steep? Does that hurt them? Does it hurt you?
Think hard on the last one. The in-laws as (or seeming like) “party parents” while you hold a firm line can feel a lot like a rebuke. Absent signs of spoilage, though, consider not seeing it as personal – and be glad they’ve welcomed your kid.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.