Yet another gem from the past Yated. It sounds like the father-in-law is trying to give his son-in-law a hint. But the son-in-law, never having managed money, can't really pick up the hint. And, it probably isn't reasonable to expect him to pick up the hint because he really has no concept of how money works. In another publication I read the words of a prominent Rav who mentioned that "support" should not be given with strings or guilt trips attached. Those who read my blog are no doubt aware that there are parents who do use money as a mean to control and/or keep their children "close."
It might come as a surprise to some of my readers, but I am not opposed to parents with the means to provide financial help to their children. But, I do believe there are better and worse ways to provide that help, and I think whatever financial help a family undertakes should be done with a great deal of thought.
I believe the worst way to provide help is through a monthly check. Somehow, those receiving a monthly check end up in a master-subject relationship, not unlike those on various welfare programs who wonder if pursuing a career will hurt more than it could help. Those who receive financial help through the means of a monthly check, or combination of checks, appear to lose a great amount of confidence in their own abilities, especially as the funds are being used to prop them up in the present, not to help them build an independent future.
CHECK - WITH A DRASHA
How do I write this brief letter without sounding like a kafui tov? I don’t know, but I will try. Let me first say that I am exceedingly grateful to my in-laws for providing financial support to my wife and me since we got married just under two years ago. With one beautiful child and another on the way, and the myriad expenses, their support is vital and immensely appreciated. I make it a point to express my thanks to my father-in-law each and every time he gives us or mails us a check.
However, each time he gives us a check, I hear a lengthy drasha about how difficult the economy is and how the future looks bleak. Now, as far as we know, and from observing everything going on in the life of my in-laws, there is no reason to believe that my father-in-law is experiencing any economic hardships. He is quite a successful fellow, and the $1,000 a month that he is so kind to give to my wife and me should not be affecting his bottom line in the slightest.
So why the drasha? Why make my wife and me feel like nebach cases? We thank you a million times for your help. We are kind, considerate and thoughtful. We even told you that we don’t take your support for granted and that if the economy is takeh so bad, we do not want to cause any hardships on you and would figure out a way to live without the support if we needed to. We only want to bring nachas, not hardship or disappointment.
So please, to anyone out there, if you are so kind to provide support to someone, whether they are a young couple or a family of married children, don’t make the people feel like shleppers. Don’t tell the people how hard it is for you. It often makes them feel so awful that they’d rather subsist on water and bread than have to take the check given in such a manner or accompanied by such a speech. In our case, we’d rather live in a shack than continue taking support in such a manner, but we know that expressing that would create an even more uncomfortable situation.
I’d like to conclude by saying that we realize that things could be worse for us and that this should be the worst thing in the world. We are indeed blessed. But if people would be a tad more aware of what they say or do, it would go a long way to making life more pleasant for others.
And yes, we are aware that in next week’s Yated, every shver and shvigger this side of the Atlantic is going to write in about how we are young, spoiled and lacking any hakoras hatov. We figured we’d write the letter anyway.
A Young Couple Trying to Do What’s Right
Few parents enter into a monthly check arrangement with a formal agreement (that they are ready and willing to enforce) stipulating how much and for how long. Not doing so is to the detriment of everyone involved. Fluid arrangements make it very hard for the provider to turn off the valve, even when the leak is causing havoc, and the receiver has little urgency to get to a certain level of independence by a particular point in time. In Orthodox families that are growing quickly, parents often feel that they can no longer turn off the valve, or in the words of a friend of mine who would like to actually close the value, "what? And my grandchildren should starve!"
Another problem with the monthly check is that it feeds into a lifestyle. Many parents, not wanting to see their kids live anything less than a middle class lifestyle, provide money for certain upgrades. Whether it be a yearly vacation, camp, smachot, or a larger apartment. Chazal tell us just how hard it is to change a "middah" and financial experts talk about how difficult it is to change a "lifestyle."
Another form of support that can be problematic is when parents take on certain bills for their children, such as auto insurance. I think parents might be better off gifting a certain amount yearly (with a firm cut off date), rather than picking up the tab for a particular bill, especially one that strips the receiver of involvement and choice and potentially inflates a lifestyle. It isn't healthy to be uninvolved with certain finances. Learning to budget and having the ability to make choices about each major area is important in the life of an adult (e.g. should I drive an older car to save on insurance? should I bother with a car at all for the time being?).
Working backwards, "better" help would include help that:
- does not make the receiver dependent on the giver
- does not rope the receiver into an inflated lifestyle
- allows the receiver to exercise independence and make decisions (additionally, allows the receiver to make mistakes and suffer the consequences)
- allows the receiver to use the funds for the future, not just the present
Loans/gifts to start a business, funds to help a student graduate from college debt free, help with a down payment on a home for which the mortgage is in current reach, or a one time lump sum are methods that I find to be less problematic than the monthly check. These scenarios mostly share a theme: the money given is being used not just in the present, but as an investment in the future.
And a final note, parents who extend support, but do not take care of their own needs, I believe do no favors for their children or themselves. I think an argument can be made that this is a form of deception. The receiver imagines the giver to be well-off, and ultimately the receiver learns the truth, perhaps to his detriment.
Your thoughts please.
Also: on a related note, see ProfK's recent post Overlook Us At Your Peril.