This desire to give your children as much as possible is something Dr. Fran Walfish, a child and family psychologist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child,” sees often. She explains that the parent-child dynamic has changed even in the past generation or two. “ I think parents are inclined to put their children first because they’re so desperate today to have their kids like them; they cannot bear to have their children angry at them,” she says of the helicopter-parent generation. “Some parents are just generally selfless, but we are living in the generation of entitlement. Grown young adults have an expectation that they deserve and should be given to, and think they have the ability to convince their parents to give in.”
Dr. Walfish finds that kids whose parents can’t or won’t help them beyond a certain point take more responsibility for themselves. “I think that kids whose parents can’t afford to help them turn out O.K.,” she muses. “Those kids are forced to tap into their own resources—not just financial, but also emotional—to find ways of generating their own income. In the end it’s better for them.”
If you’re concerned about putting yourself first financially, Dr. Walfish points out that being a financial resource for your children is less critical than being an emotional resource. “Parents need to feel good about whatever they can give and not feel guilty about the limitations of what they cannot,” she says. “What they can always be generous with is their loving support and positive cheerleading. They can always be there to say, ‘Yes, you’re doing it on your own!’ That’s a great feeling for a kid—I think it means more than having the cash.”
To pull back on your contributions, she recommends simply being honest with your children. “Tell them, ‘I truly wish I could give you this money, but I have to earmark it in case something comes up. I’d rather you learn to be independent and financially autonomous now while I’m well and can enjoy watching you grow than spring a surprise burden on you later.’” She says that the main message, however you choose to convey it, should always be that giving them less money isn’t a punishment—it’s an opportunity for your children to grow.