A Father-Daughter Duo Answers Your Questions: Accepting Financial Assistance From Parents as an Adult
Dear Meghan and her Dad,
My parents grew up impoverished and enjoy spending money on their children in meaningful ways (college education, summer vacations, grad school…). Possibly as a result of not wanting for money, my brother and I gravitated towards “do gooder” professions that are not going to put us in the same income bracket as our parents. I have always felt conflicted about my financial relationship with my parents, although also very grateful, as I believe it has allowed me time to explore my interests in a profound way.
Yet as I near 30 and plan to move in with a partner who is similarly low-income to me, and we think about having a home, starting a family, etc, I become confused about where to draw the line of receiving help from my parents. Should we accept money for a home? A wedding ceremony? Our children’s college funds? The idea of continuing to accept money makes me feel as though I’m in a relationship with my parents, rather than building a life with my partner. It is hard to feel proud of my independent financial accomplishments (of which I do have some), and it is at times hard to feel like a real adult. On the other hand, I get panicky when I think through how unlikely I will be to fund many of these things on my own in the coming years … help?
Meghan’s dad says:
Those of you who are faithful readers (or perhaps faithless readers based on the response to our last attempt to dispense wisdom of a modest order) will recall a similar question from a few weeks ago and might be wondering why we have chosen to take this one on. There is, however, an important difference between the questions. The question from several weeks back related to concerns about the writer’s relationship with her father, and whether his checkbook was all that connected them. The current question has much broader application; indeed, it is question of importance for what would appear to be the age demographic of The Billfold readership (based on my completely unscientific assessment—20 to 40—and excluding those mostly well-aged relatives and friends of mine upon whom I foist these columns).
For much of the past century, a time marked by steady economic growth in much of the Western world (with a couple of noticeable hiccups), and certainly since the end of the World War II, there has been a widespread belief that children have a better than even chance to exceed, in financial terms, the achievements of their parents. Offspring of parents who didn’t complete high school found themselves clutching diplomas and entering a growth driven job market in the ’50s. Their children, with university degrees in hand, fell (often times, quite by chance) into well paying jobs in the ’70s and ’80s and in probably more than 50 percent of the cases, found their net worth exceeding, sometimes significantly, that of their successful parents. I’m a case in point, even having been born into a family of initially extremely modest means but having a brilliant father who parlayed his admirable skills into a extremely successful career that put him at the top of a bank (sadly, for him, at a time when bank presidents were paid relatively modestly by today’s standards). And now the children of those of my generation, having listened to these tales of financial success, and with undergraduate and graduate degrees bulging out of their pockets, are bouncing out into what we will call “real life,” and finding it shockingly hard to find real and satisfying jobs that pay well. The Western world is, if not in retreat, at least slowing down and its run as the economic engine of the world is losing steam as other parts of the globe rev up.
None of this is news, but it bears repeating—this world and its job market is a very different place than the one I entered 35 or so years ago. There are amazing opportunities out there but they are not as evenly distributed as they once were.
It is in this context that I offer my views on this writer’s issue and from my perspective, she should accept almost any financial assistance that might be offered. I believe that her parents, if they have the means to share, should share. I believe that this intergenerational passing of wealth is extremely important. The current young generation, while having many advantages over the previous generation in terms of health and science and mobility and communication, does not possess the simple damn luck to have been dropped into a hungry economic machine desperate for talent and growth. My generation was, and if we can, we should share.
That doesn’t obviate the need or the responsibility of the current younger generation to work their butts off to provide for themselves and their families and contribute to society as a whole. Life ain’t no gravy train. But those of us who have the ability to share should do so, and those in a position to benefit from the sharing should receive it with grace and thanks.
Oh, Dad. I love you.