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Monday, February 19, 2007

Should Teenagers Contribute to Their Expenses?
My short answer: Absolutely

Rabbi Horowitz plans to address the hot, hot topic of Parents, Teenagers/Adult Children, and Money in next week's Parenting Coluum, among other issues presented by the questioner. I emailed Rabbi Horowitz for permission to post some of my thoughts in his comments section and he was kind enough to give me permission to do so. I'm really looking forward to his response this week and will be watching the comments section like a patient's pulse.

Below I am reproducing the question and my thoughts (I only addressed finances. I'm certainly not too qualified to address the other issues). I can only imagine that this topic is of great interest to many Ortho-parents, whether or not their children are "at risk" because of the great financial demands, many of them frivioulous, placed on Orthodox parents.

Below is the letter and my response (I only addressed finances). Your comments and thoughts? More to come on this topic because I have quite the story to tell. So stay tuned.

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
You mentioned that, “Your primary responsibility is to provide for the needs (and wants) of your children." [Note: See Shabbos Guests column for proper context]. Do you feel that this applies to grown children as well? When a child is over 20 and capable of earning a few hundred dollars a month, but it will take up much of his spare time, should the parents still be expected to fund the "wants"?

Our at-risk son is resentful because we aren't funding his wants. He is clothed, fed, and has all his medical needs taken care of. If he needs to see a doctor, my wife or I drop everything and run for him. He drops off his dry cleaning and gets it back all nice and paid for. But there are some things I just won't fund. (And I can't.) In the two years he was in Israel, we spent more than we can afford on his schooling, planes, health insurance, and monthly spending stipend of $120 – plus $50 towards his phone. (We are in debt about $10,000 right now.)

He feels resentful that we aren't paying for his wants and therefore he must spend leisure time to work to provide for his other leisure time. (He's said hurtful things such as why did you have me if weren't going to pay for me?) Therefore when he does come home for Shabbos, he will hardly lift a finger to help in the house.
I think that since we are broke, we should let him grow up and learn some restraint. Perhaps I should just tell him to drop the program he's in and work full time and do night school. But in the meantime, I also think he is wrong not to offer assistance when he is home.
Y'lamdeinu Rabbeinu...

My Thoughts:

I am sorry to hear about the challenges you are facing with your 20 year old son, and am even sadder to think about the challenges that he will face if the status quo continues, where all of his needs are taken care of and he is free to spend his money and his leisure time in pursuit of entertainment and consumer goods.

When we allow our children to live in a fantasy world regarding finances where all earnings are for spending as they please and a budget does not have to be adhered to, we do them a tremendous disservice, both materially and spiritually.

Eventually, our children will marry and start families of their own, and they will enter the “real world,” where money does not flow freely, where needs must be met before wants, and where whatever is leftover is often seriously limited. To allow them to spend their present earnings frivolously within a culture of consumerism, is sure to backfire in the future when they cannot support themselves at the level they have become accustomed to, often leaving them with a great deal of disappointment.

So long as a child is earning money of their own, but they are being supported by their parents, it is not only appropriate for the parents to exercise some type of control over their children’s earnings, but is in fact a kindness. When we teach our children to save for their future, delay gratification, and prioritize their needs and wants, we give them ownership in their life and provide them with the keys to become responsible for the future.

I am hesitant to present a formula for how the earnings that children which you are supporting should be divided up, for fear that the underlying principles will get lost in technicalities. Therefore, I would rather stop at this point and ask you to evaluate the status quo to determine if it is hindering your son’s growth.

If you agree with me that the status quo is hindering, I would suggest that you hammer out a plan to get your son’s spending habits on a different track through creating a budget that more clearly mirrors reality. His budget needs to be divided appropriately between living costs, spending money, savings, and tzedakah. He should be contributing to his college education or to another type of savings account for the future. He should be providing for most of his necessities (you probably will want to continue taking care of his health insurance until a later date when his budget is in order). And, I can almost guarantee you that after he is taking care of his present necessities and investing in his future that he will find the motivation he needs to work the extra hours for the spending money that he wants.

I’m sure if you institute a solid plan, you will see a more responsible young man emerge. May you have only nachas.


Ari Kinsberg said...

it is the not the son who has the problem here, it is the parents. how did it get to this point that a 20-year-old expects his parents to cover all his expenses?

2 free years in israel??

sitting down with him and talking to him will not work. he is clearly set in his immature ways. this baby needs to learn the hard way about being a man. send him to boot camp. there he will learn how to make his own way in life.

on a different note, you write that "Eventually, our children will marry and start families of their own, and they will enter the 'real world' . . ."

many newlyweds are still not living in the real world and they expect their parents to support them even though this is not realistic. this begins with the lavish wedding, which few parents can really afford. personally i think that couples should not be allowed to get married until they can afford to make their own weddings.

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Ever since I was a child my parents taught me that things were not free. Did I resent that at times? Certainly. But as I grew older I appreciated what I was taught, and learned to be careful with other people's money and eventually my own.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why one does not "enter the real world" until one is married. What magicly changes then? Why not enter the real world slowly, starting in childhood, with the final cut-off for parental assistance at the age of 18 or 22?

I received a weekly allowance from when I was 5 (50 cents) until I was 17 ($4), and I used that to pay for anything I wanted besides clothing (which was all hand-me-downs anyway). Stickers, markers, coloring books, and later, junk food, going to movies, books to read for fun? All from my allowance and, later, babysitting money.

When I was in Israel for the year, they paid my tuition and food costs, but all seforim, entertainment, phone bills, etc. were handled strictly by me, from savings accumulated babysitting during high school and some birthday/chanukah money I'd saved. No stipend.

When I was pursuing a BA, my parents paid for my food, housing, education, and healthcare. I paid for my own clothing, shoes, laundry, and everything I'd been paying for since I was a kid. When I got my BA at 23, I was entirely on my own. The only time my parents stepped in to help was during a 6-month period of unemployment after college when they helped with health insurance and rent. (During that 6-month period, I was sending out resumes regularly and had many interviews, but no job offers. I was also temping and babysitting and doing everything I could to earn money without a regular job. And I still ended up blowing through most of my substantial savings.)

Now I'm single and in my mid-20s, and I can't tell you how many dates I've gone on with late-20s and early-30s frum guys who don't have BAs and still live at home with their mothers, waiting for marriage to come along and thrust them into the "real world." One said that he didn't want to live on his own, despite having a BA and a job, because it was nicer to have his mother cook and clean for him! I've lived on my own, outside of my parents' house, for ten years now, and there's no way I'm touching that guy with a ten foot pole.

I sometimes wonder if this is just a cultural issue: NYC (them) vs. "out of town" (me); right-wing Orthodox (them) vs. Modern Orthodox (me). But I still don't see how that explains this kind of coddling behavior and the ridiculousness of fully functional, grown men (i.e., over the age of 25, far from adolesence) who have had their parents' support for many years who still haven't managed to get BAs or move out on their own.

SephardiLady said...

Ari-I agree with you that the parents are the ones with the real issue here. They could have and should have set limits according to common sense and according to their means. Unfortunately, in the Ortho-world many parents have a hard time saying we will not pay for this (even though every Chaim, Yaacov, and Avrumi is paying for such). It is no surprise to me that the father has these issues with his son because he has never asked him to contribute to his own wants, needs, or education.

I could not agree with you more about giving kids lavish weddings and, yes, the expectation of support unfortunately goes on and on and on. Children should start to enter the "real world" well before they are married IMO. But even when you are single, unless you are maintaining a budget and/or savings plan that mirrors a married person, you probably haven't entered that universe quite yet.

BTW-I am using a gentler approach so that what I know to be true might be accepted more readily, rather than thrown out with the trash.

IFT-My parents too.

Anonymous-I believe it is a cultural issue, but not limited to "in town" unfortunately. I don't care for it in the least if you can't tell! I could also tell some (horrific) dating stories and I think the coddling is producing less than manly men.

I am sure we will be hearing about the "parnasah crisis" sooner rather than later. To get a handle on it the culture will need to change.

Ora said...

Ari and SL:
I think that a lot of parents pay for their kids' weddings because they want to. Parents want to invite their distant relatives, work friends, shul buddies, and a bunch of other people that the kids don't particularly know to come share their nachas. And they want to have a nice dinner and decent hall, because they'd be embarrassed otherwise. When that's the case, and it often is, the parents should help pay. Kids shouldn't be expected to fund their parents' expectations.

What's the problem with choosing to live at home? The guy wasn't a bum, he has a degree and a job. I wasn't there, maybe he was clearly staying home out of pure laziness, but that's not always the case. If my husband hadn't married me before finishing the army, I assume he would have moved back in with his dad. He prefers living with the people he loves to living alone. It's a cultural thing as well; from what I've seen, it's unusual for children to move out before marriage in a lot of communities. As long as the guy helps around the house and isn't otherwise a lazy person, I see no reason to reject him so vehemently.

SephardiLady said...

Ora-Don't you agree that there is tremendous pressure on Orthodox parents to do things according to "the way they are done?" I've seen it and I'm sure you have too. In fact many people go into debt to make these weddings, which is a sign of the problem.

If parents want to fund a wedding within their own means, great. If they want to invite all of their friends, great. But you and I know that all too often a wedding includes a myriad of "required" engagement gifts, the vort, the wedding, and the support after the wedding. And it is putting a terrible toll on many a parent.

As for kids living at home: Also no problem there particularly. But the parents should not let them spend their money freely, nor should they allow the to "buy time" towards becoming an adult. I know exactly the type of guy anon has been out with. Went out with one of them myself and it wasn't impressive. Living at home, hadn't applied himself to a degree, parents paid for everything, not a penny in the bank. Don't ask why we went out. I still don't know.

And, I've had single guys at my table who are terribly unimpressed with the girls that live at home, work, and spend all their money.

My advice: if your kids are living at home on your buck, make them agre to an agressive savings plan.

Ora said...

Community expectations are pretty different here (torani/haredi leumi/whatever you wanna call it in Israel). No required gifts, no vort, no shame in holding your wedding in shul or even in a nice open field somewhere.

Still, I know what you mean about the pressure. My point is only that if parents can't withstand the pressure, they are the ones who should pay the price of living up to crazy expectations. If parents are prepared for their kids to have a low-budget wedding, then great, let the kids pay.

I'm not just talking about crazy expectations, though. There are some more standard things, like the ability to invite dozens or hundreds of family members and family friends and provide them with nice meals, that a lot of young couples can't afford. Most parents can afford that (it's about 10-20,000 shekels for a nice meal in a hall for 150-300 guests here in Israel), and if they want to, more power to them. I know that my in-laws preferred helping to fund the wedding to having to cut dozens of their friends off of the invite list.

Anonymous said...

I have been on my own since I was a teen due to unfortunate circumstances. Now that I am a parent of teens and twenty somethings I am not anxious for my kids to support themselves. I do not fund luxuries but going to yeshiva and college full time does not allow a student more than 10 hours per week of time to work. My high school kids leave for school before seven am and don't return home until seven. Sundays are taken with school work, music and sports. Summers my kids can earn no more than $150 per week and I don't think that is enough to fund much more than clothes.

SephardiLady said...

Anon-Like I said in my letter I am looking at underlying principals on consumerism, savings, and contributing. A student in college or a student in Yeshiva should not be expected to maintain the same budget as a full time working adults living at home.

More on the subject later.

Ari Kinsberg said...


"because they'd be embarrassed otherwise."

imho this is not a good reason to blow 50k in one night.

it is amazing what we do to avoid embarrasment, i.e., for social conformity or to keep up with the cohens. for example, we should all think about this before preparing fancy mishlo'ah manot next week.

Hila said...

As a college student myself, I can relate to the problem from a different perspective. The problem I have with all of this is that my parents did not teach me to save money when I was younger, and while I wasn't spoiled, I wasn't really aware of what things cost or how to save for anything. I also was not allowed to have a job during the school year, only in the summer, so that limited what I was able to pay for.

Now I am in college, and my parents still do not want me to work because they think it will interfere with my studies. I had a part time job that was only 10 hours a week for a couple of years, because it fit nicely into my schedule, but I am unable to do that job now. I would like to find a job somewhere on campus and work more hours a week, because I need the money. The thing that upsets me is that my parents get angry when they see what I spend money on (eating out/groceries/entertainment) and tell me to cut back, but it's MY MONEY. They are finally getting the picture, but for the longest time they would harp on me about spending "their money" when in reality, the money was mine--they are MY loans to pay back when I graduate!

Believe me, I don't think letting kids get away with spending excessive amounts of money is appropriate, but parents need to teach their children at a younger age how to save money. I got what I wanted all the way through high school because of good grades and good behavior, so luxury items were my rewards. I suppose you could say I "earned" them, but I never really understood what it would take to save the money to buy them on my own.

Ariella said...

The problem definitely stems from parents who foster dependence in their children rather than training them to stand on their own two feet. And it's not just for the young men who want to learn in kollel. I personally know 2 different young men who went to work before they were married, but still took from their parents. In one case, the man's father even bought into his company for the right to hire his son, so he would have a job with benefits. He cosinged his son's mortgage, as his son did not want to start out in a rented apartment but in a house. Once that son had kids, the grandparents were always called on to babysit, even to the extent that they travelled with the grandchildren and son and daughter-in-law on vacation to watch the kids when the young couple wanted to go out on their own. Of course, they have an open invitation for Shabbos and Yom Tov, and take nearly all Pesach meals there. Both the husband and wife here are now in their thirties and supposedly earn high salries, but the pattern continues. Now the grandfather even gets the kids ready for school and picks them up from there.
Another young man who was never in kollel, but proceeded from college to work before he married, received a house and furnishings (new) as a gift from his parents. They have also paid for cleaning services, hotel stays, and more. The daughter-in-law resents the control her mother-in-law has over her life. But she never says "no" to the money or gifts, and actually waits on purchases until her mother-in-law comes along, so she will foot the bill.

Jacob Da Jew said...

My parents always taught me the value of money. I had to clean the house in order to receive an allowance. When I was 13,I went to work in a supermarket in Ben-Yehuda.
I earned 6 shekel an hour.

Working is good. I always had cash in hand, and even though my friends lived at home and I had my own apartment, they borrowed money from me. They just did not know the value of money.

People talk about when they get older, they want to go learn.

I want to open a small business when I'm 70 and die while stocking my shelves. Thats the way to go!

Working makes me feel good, productive. As a result, I'm not too sympathetic towards people who spoil their children. Good post, SL.

Anonymous said...

Ora, I'm sorry, I did not mean to malign those who choose to live at home to save money or for other good reasons. And if the guy helped around the house, cooked, shopped, etc., I would think it was a fine setup. I might even be a little jealous.

My issue is with men who live at home and DON'T do these things, as the men I've been out on dates with don't. I have asked, "Have you thought about moving out on your own, living with roommates, etc.?" and the answers I've gotten include, "I've tried having roommates and I don't like living with other people" (what makes you think you can live with a wife?) or "My cousins did that and they ended up with...yech!...bugs in their kitchen" (did they clean regularly? keep their food in airtight containers?). I've also asked, "Do you know how to cook?" because I think cooking is an important skill to have, and the answer is, "No, my mother does all of the cooking." Also, they say they have "plenty of money" but want to live at home anyway, because they think the money will impress me, whereas I would be more impressed if they said that they were frugal and saving their money for later.

I also think that if both people in the relationship lived at home until marriage, then maybe they can figure domestic things out together and it will be fine. Likewise, if a woman *wants* to replace a man's mother in taking care of him, that's also okay. But since I'm not looking to replace a man's mother (I'm looking for more of a partnership), and I have been paying my own bills, making Shabbat meals for 8-10, and generally taking care of things around the house for a number of years, dating someone who hasn't done those things would be hard for me.

--(first) Anonymous from Feb. 20

Anonymous said...

Help! I come home from school at 7 leave the next morning at 6:30 and have at least two hours of homework a night and a lot more on weekends. Is it reasonable to expect me to work for . . . I also like to work out for a half hour a day as I have no gym. I spend about $50 a week on food and entertainment (books, newspapers, music lessons). I think it is reasonable to expect my parents to pay the bill as they send me to yeshiva which does not allow me time to lead a normal life. Why do you expect teens to pay the bill when our parents force this lifestyle on us? Are we allowed free time? Are we allowed time to work? Is your philosophy keep them so busy they can't get into trouble? I put away my own clothes and clean the kitchen at home and have no time for anything else!

Ann said...

Anon, I completely agree with you... If your parents are keeping you in this way, there is no time for you to work.

(And it's great that you're making time to go to the gym!)

However, I think the letter our bloghost posted is from the parents of an older boy, maybe in his early 20s. He's labeled "at risk" so he's probably not in yeshiva all day! The circumstances are a bit different.

SephardiLady said...

Anon 2:46PM-Are you the son of the man who wrote the letter to Rabbi Horowitz?

I personally do not think parents should force post-high school children into Yeshiva if they really don't want to be there, but I haven't raised kids to their adult years yet and ignored that subject for a reason.

As for your presentation, I must say that $50 a week (or $2600 a year/ over $200 a month) is a lot of money to ask from your parents, especially when they have 7 children.

I do think it is wonderful when parents can and do pick up music (or dance) lessons or sports team fees for their children and hope we can find enough money in our budget to do this for our children.

If you are interested, pen a little letter of your thoughts (well written please) and I will pen a letter back. I think it would make an interesting exchange and you would gain a lot of insight from other commenters. Thanks.

ALG said...

$50/week on food and entertainment does seem like a lot, but not if you include music lessons, which can be expensive.

I think it might be harder for teenage boys to make money doing this, but I used to babysit on Saturday nights and Sundays in high school for my "fun" money (books, movies, music, eating out). I definitely knew boys who babysat or who did yard work or snow shoveling for money. I think it might be different in communities with larger families, where there are built in "free" babysitters (older siblings) and in cities with fewer yards to rake or suburbs where professionals are hired these days. I know that it's hard to work when you're in school all day and into the night, followed by homework.