Monday, June 08, 2009

Better and Worse Ways to Help Adult Children

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.

Dear Editor,
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

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.

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.


Unknown said...

That letter leaves me speechless. Such a lack of self awareness, sensitivity and trying to deflect criticism with that last line. This is a "frum" Jew? How truly truly pathetic.

It's not even a question of depending or not on help anymore. This person is so far from attitudinal change it's scary.

If this is what the whole kollel community looks like, it's truly a lost cause.

I agree with you about gifting a lump sum and teaching budgeting skills. That's probably the sanest and most helpful financial gift possible.

But i doubt that will become the standard any time in this lifetime.


Anonymous said...

I think SL is right, in that the father in law is trying to make a point that the son in law is too dense to pick up. The FIL may need to change tactics. This family needs to have a talk about the couple's future. The parents don't have to cut off support right away if they don't want to, but the children should be advised to get some job training while gradually reducing their lifestyle and the degree to which they're dependent on the parents.

About 10 years ago I knew of a young couple that was dedicated to kollel learning, even though they may not have had much outside support. The wife became pregnant with twins shortly after marriage, and the husband quickly got a certificate from some sort of technology program and was able to get a job. (In a different economy, true). Not as great as a college degree, but at least he knew what he had to do and he did it.

Anonymous said...

SL---if the kids cannot save up the downpayment for a house, who says they will be able to afford the mortgage, insurance, real-estate taxes, utility bills, and all the "surprises" of a house without a monthly check?

Anonymous said...

What's missing from the letter is how old the writer and his wife are and how old were they when they got married. Are the parents supporting children who are now in their mid-20's or older and should be taking care of themselves? Are these 20 or 22 year olds whose parents encouraged them to marry and start a family at 18-20? There also is no mention of whether this couple works, are in school? How to respond depends on a lot of these factors.

M2B said...

Like you said, there's a right way way and a wrong way. Monthly check could work if done right. I got married as a college student and both sets of parents decided to go the monthly check route with the caveat that the amount was to be scaled back as we got jobs, moved up in the pay scale, etc. At this point, we are still receiving, but it's significantly less than when we first started out.
The other caveat was that we were not getting bailed out for our own stupidity. When I begged my mom for $250 to cover a ticket (after arguing in traffic court), she told me in no uncertain terms that I was old enough to think of creative ways to fit this "item" into this month's budget, and to drive more carefully. I haven't gotten a ticket since, and I'm sure I would have had she bailed me out then.
One more thing- our FIL shows "no signs" of being affected by the recession? Puh-leez! Just because an outsider can't tell, doesn't mean there are no problems. Kind of like how the couples that seem the happiest and most perfect are always the first to divorce; oftentimes the people walking around like there's no recession are the ones in the biggest financial trouble.

Ariella's blog said...

I had the same reaction Abbi did. The letter comes across as a satiric parody to me. But I don't think the Yated goes in for satire to make a point -- the audience wouldn't get it. Therefore, I must conclude the letter is written in earnest. That is not a reassuring.
Not only have people lost the sense of shame for na'ama deskisufad (unearned bread that makes the recipient feel ashamed of the hanodut) but they go further and demand the free bread come free of any demands or even lectures mean for their benefit.

Anonymous said...

Unless parents are wealthy enough to help support their children for the long-term, I don't think that they are doing their children a favor by giving children enough to maintain a comfortable middle class life-style while they are in school or are young marrieds. This risks breeding a generation that does not know how to economize, sacrifice and priortize. They will not be in great shape to deal with economic crises in the future, and may not be able to empathize with and understand the less fortunate. Could you imagine this generation making do like was done during the depression and WWII years with rationing and victory gardens?

Anonymous said...

Anonoynous 8:26 - It may be that the income is sufficient for a mortgaage and other expenses of ownership, but they do not want to wait the 5 or so years it might take to save for a downpayment while continuing to pay rent.

gavra@work said...

SL: As far as your friend, she should drop off 14 boxes of pasta & a brick of American cheese every week (if she is really worried about starvation). Another option is to have them over for meals during the week, and order in Pizza or make Pasta (still cheaper than supporting, and the parents will get tired of it fast).

The letter writer is either a joke (something similar happened once in the Yated) or is clueless and may be without full mental capacity/socially inadequate, which in that case he may not be able to hold a job.

The parents in this case (if the above is not true) have to learn to say NO (as our parents told us after our SET time of Kollel was up), instead of trying to shame them into not taking. It will only do their children good.

DAG said...

"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."

What does that mean? How would asking that the checks stop create an even more uncomfortable situation?

Lion of Zion said...


"It may be that the income is sufficient for a mortgaage and other expenses of ownership, but they do not want to wait the 5 or so years it might take to save for a downpayment while continuing to pay rent."


Anonymous said...

If they gift a lump sum, then the "adult" children would not be eligible for medicaid, food stamps, etc. The article does not say if these "adult" children are also relying on government benefits. I believe they are also required to report all monthly gifts, but some people do not.

JS said...

I just wanted to add a different perspective, the monthly check phenomenon is not unique to kollel families. I am MO and live in a MO community in an apartment building and amongst newly weds it's almost the rule that the couple receives a stipend from one or both sets of parents.

Usually it's due to some combination of one or both spouses still being in school and not working or one or both spouses earning very little. Additionally, many couples wait only a minimal amount of time before having children and then have tremendous bills such as full-time day care in addition to food, diapers, etc. In this respect, MO is definitely sliding to the right - getting married very young, having kids immediately, and not getting high earning jobs.

What's amazing to me, is that many couples are completely shameless about receiving help - they tell everyone! They always go for the larger apartments instead of making due with a smaller one. They lease newer or fancier cars than necessary. They buy tons of food and have elaborate shabbos meals often. They make no effort to really save money, there's no appreciation for the fact that with a little extra effort and some skimping they could pocket a few thousand a year. I suppose this is because they see no reason to really save, the parents are expected to help on a down payment also as it would take "forever" to save enough by themselves.

Generally those who receive money have little appreciation for the value of it. One couple I know bought a sofa shortly after getting married, decided they didn't like it and had their parents by them a bigger, fancier one and thought the most prudent thing to do would be to throw the basically new sofa out on the curb. Another got a minor dent on a bumper and asked their parents to pony up a few hundred to fix it as it was embarrassing. I could go on.

Dave said...

I think it may be too easy to blame the letter writer in this instance. I'm willing to dan l'chaf zchut that he is following his cultural cues, social training and community expectations, that gifts should be given without strings, acknowledged gratefully and then move on.
The dissonance of course, is that this is not a gift, this is welfare. And it comes, as all ongoing, undeserved welfare does, with kvetching on the part of the contributor. But I don't think the existing communal norms in this fellow's life parse the assistance from his shver in those terms.
Where the blame does lie on the writer is in lamenting his condition to Yated instead of taking action on the situation. "Don’t tell the people how hard it is for you." is not a solution. If both sides are unsatisfied with the status quo, sit down like grown-ups and hash out an alternative arrangement that acknowledges the FIL's circumstance and the SIL's plans.
Too much to ask?

Anonymous said...

I'm perplexed. Yesterday's post on development discussed the need to fundraise outside of the community, etc. and so many posts are aimed at the current tuition/school situation being unsustainable. Then in JS's comment and elsewhere, we read about an excess of money. Why in the world should non-frummiess want to support frum schools when there seems to be plenty of money going toward luxuries in the frum community and when the proposed larger donor pool worked and waited to start families until they could support them and by and large did not have new cars, fancy apartments and new furniture and lavish meals when they were in their 20's (unless they were living at home). Sure there are also plenty of indulged reform and conservative and unaffiated jews, but not very many among the boomer generation who now has the money the OJ community wants to tap into.

JLan said...

"I believe they are also required to report all monthly gifts, but some people do not."

Gift reporting (and taxes on gifts, BY THE GIVER, not the receiver) are required if they pass the exclusion threshold. However, that amount was $12,000 last year and is $13,000 this year, so $1k/month wouldn't surpass that amount (also note that this is per person to another person, so a set of parents giving to a couple could give a total of 4x the exclusion if done right- $48,000 last year and $52,000 this year).

Anonymous said...

Jlan: It sounds like you are thinking of reporting for tax purposes. There are different reporting requirements of assets and resources for someone getting government benefits. I don't think you can have mom and dad giving you $100,000/year and still get government benefits.

Anonymous said...

a pro-charadi blog

'not brisker yeshivish'


Anonymous said...

Does paying my adult children's graduate school and college meet with your approval? Does providing them with a car and paying their rent meet with your approval if they are in medical school or professional school?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I think your point is well taken. Kollel studies can be viewed as Judaic graduate studies, and many parents pay for their children's graduate school education and help support them at that time. (Although many graduate students receive a stipend and are required to teach).

So what's the difference? Well, what's the difference between a PhD in medieval art history and a degree from law or medical school? The art history degree has less future earning power. The kollel "degree" has less future earning power, as well. I would not indulge my child in just any graduate program because they felt like doing it. I would expect that if my child wanted an expensive degree with low earning power badly enough, he or she would be prepared to work to contribute substantially to the costs.

I have heard that rebbes, when all is said and done, earn a nice salary, pay reduced tuition, earn extra from tutoring, and get their Pesach meat from a gemach. They probably claim parsonage too. They're probably doing better than many professionals! But the problem I see is there is a glut. Everyone wants to learn in kollel, and every kollel boy can't be a high earning rebbe -- there's just not enough demand. If you work in a field where there are too many applicants and not enough jobs, you get job retraining and you try to enter another field. The problem is that no kollel boy wants to be the one to give up the Judaic education field.

(I just used art history as a random example -- if you are an art historian, or if this is a bad example of a field with low remuneration, please indulge my error).

Leah Goodman said...

I don't see the writer of the letter the way some of your readers do. I think that he is just not getting the point. If the father-in-law wants him to get a job, get a better job, stop eating steak twice a week, be more careful about spending, etc, then he needs to come out and say it!

Talking in general terms about the economy is not a clear enough message (I'm not sure what he's saying)

conservative scifi said...

I think that Leah is right that the father in law needs to communicate a clear message. If he cannot or does not wish to continue supporting his kids, he should provide them with some amount of notice.

However, I also agree with Tesyaa. When I went to graduate school (in a scientific field), I lived in a very very cheap apartment in a very cheap southern city, within walking distance of school, so that I could live on solely on my minimum wage level stipend. After I was married, we stayed in the cheap apartment for years, until I graduated.

Besides nominal birthday and hanukah gifts, my parents would purchase meat and send it occasionally (since there was no kosher meat in my city).

It was very nice being totally independent right out of college. And once my wife was working (and earning lots more than me), we were able to save money.

There is no reason why these

ProfK said...

Without more information we have no idea what really has gone on in the they said/we said conversations between the kids and the parents. Sometimes parents give and let the kids know every second just how much they are costing them. A young couple many years back was being supported by the parents while he was in law school and she finished college. Her mom went shopping with her to buy a fixture for the dining area. In the store the mother picked out a fixture. The daughter really didn't like it. The mother said "I'm paying, I choose." Yup, there are parents like that too. Some people give but the multiple strings attached can strangle the recipient.

Anonymous said...

the person in medical or law school who is being supported will one day be able to support themselves. residency, btw pays a reasonbalbe salary nowadays,
but when they are done, assuming obama doenst impose universal health care, will be able to support themsevles and their childrne and pay full tuitiion, unlike the permanent kollel or chinuch individual

Orthonomics said...

Does paying my adult children's graduate school and college meet with your approval?

Why wouldn't it? I wrote above that a better way to provide support is to give kids a debt free start. The key word is "start." Is the money being spent now going to help make the student able to provide for his family so this process can be repeated?

I intend to give our own kids a debt free start, although they aren't going to be able to do anything they please. They will have to pitch in by living very frugally through college or vocational training. I expect that they will use their start to give their own kids a start.

The problem we see is that one generation is paying for two, and the third generation. . . . . . . . . . .

Does providing them with a car and paying their rent meet with your approval if they are in medical school or professional school?

If rent and a car are necessary, than I don't see why it would be a problem, so long as the student is not living it up, but living like a student. The idea is to make sure that the money being provided is an investment in the future, rather than being used to pay for a lifestyle in the present.

I think it is better not to micromanage. Let the student know what the budget is, and they can allocate. That is my (hopefully educated) opinion on the subject.

Anonymous said...

Today's Entitlement Post from the FTS list:

a boy in the neighborhood is becoming bar mitzva and both parents are out of
work. he has 3 older brothers and they had very nice bar mitvahs. He is the last
child left and we feel bad that he should lose out.
I would like to help them make a nice affair and was wondering if anyone knows
any gemachs that could enhance the simcha ie: table cloths, flower arrangements
sweet table stuff. benchers.
its a big mitvah.

Thanks so much in advance.

Anonymous said...

The typical person in medical school or law school or other professional programs also often has loans. They know they need to be frugal and to apply themselves. The most law schools and med schools also have high standards. They are very competitive to get into and you have to keep passing tests and clinical programs to stay. There are national agencies that certify the schools and impose certain standards. It's not clear to me if the Kollel system has the same rigour.

ora said...

Apparently it's just me, but I didn't see the son-in-law who wrote this as so insensitive. He's told his father in law that they are willing to do without his help if necessary, and that they don't want to cause hardship.

IMO, if the couple has made it clear that they appreciate the money but don't need it to live + would be happy to do without, then it's not support, it's a gift. And a gift really should be given graciously. If you can't give a gift without rubbing someone's face in it, it's better not to give at all.

Of course, if the SIL doesn't want his face rubbed in it, he should just give the check back next time, or refuse to cash it. Let the FIL really understand that they mean what they say.

Because it sounds to me like it's the FIL who isn't hearing the message. Of course we're only hearing a very small part of the story, but it sounds to me like he doesn't really believe the couple can support themselves (and maybe he's justified in not believing that, maybe SIL is saying "don't worry we'll find a way to take care of it" with no real plan), or he doesn't want his daughter/grandchildren to have to give up their current lifestyle... IOW on some level he either doesn't trust the son in law or else HE is the one who doesn't agree to let the young couple sacrifice. (I've seen this happen more than a few times -- it's the parents who don't want their kids to cut back, not the kids who aren't willing. Like your friend, sephardilady -- what are the odds that her grandchildren would actually STARVE without her help? I'm guessing zero to none -- the problem is her feeling of obligation + her lack of faith in her children, and not necessarily her kids' actual ability/inability to live without her help (because if they needed to go without, I'm sure they could, even without knowing them. people do what they have to do)).

SuMMy said...

This is a simple communication problem.

By showing appreciation the SIL thinks he's done enough to accept his FIL's money. But the FIL is saying I don't want your thanks I want you to become self-sufficient (or at least try) so I don't have to sacrifice.

The SIL's says "we would figure out a way to live without the support if we needed to". The FIL hears we'll try to manage not to starve but we have no plan.

THE SOLUTION IS SIMPLE the SIL must come up with a plan to reduce the reliance gradually. cut $50 out of the budget today and tell the FIL "we will make do with $950. We have a plan that in the coming period we'll keep reducing our needs for $ from you until we'll be completely self sufficient."

If the SIL is willing to make the sacrifices the FIL is making then the FIL will not feel the need to lecture- they'll be on the same page.

megapixel said...

I live in Lakewood, so although nobody every gave me a monthly check, I am kind of used to the concept of parents supporting learning children. LEt me just say, that a while back I was redding a shidduch to a MO cousin, who very delicately told me that her son is looking for money. I was kind of puzzled because her son is college educated and has been working for quite a while, (surely must have saved a nice amounnt of $$) so why would he need to marry a girl with a rich father? I asked my cousin, and she said young couples need help. HMMM. Clearly this issue doesnt only exist in kollel circles. here is a working guy who has no intentions of trying to be self sufficient.

Orthonomics said...

He's told his father in law that they are willing to do without his help if necessary, and that they don't want to cause hardship.

Actually this is what the SIL writes: " 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."

what are the odds that her grandchildren would actually STARVE without her help?

Hard to say. His degree, if he finished is 20 years old and he hasn't held a job (been in learning). The wife has only done a little bit of kodesh tutoring. My friend, his mother, pays their expenses. Her parents don't have much. I imagine the Israeli government pays some sort of kollel stipend. There are a lot of unflexed muscles and lack of initiative. Nice people, but not movers and shakers. Hard to know what would happen, but a recession is not a great time to have a number of men with no job history left to their own devices, although it must be done.

ora said...

Sephardilady, I was referring to this line:
"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."

As for kollel guys in Israel, there are always the jobs that don't require a degree -- cleaning, building, etc. They don't bring in a lot of money by any means, but a person could earn enough for an overcrowded apartment and basic food items. The government does provide welfare, and has programs for food and housing, although housing programs are very overfull and there's a long wait list. So extreme poverty is a definite risk, homelessness is less of a risk but could happen (if they have no ability at all to hold any job, eg. no Hebrew skills and a physical disability to boot), but starvation -- no.

SuMMy, I like your idea and I think you're right. The best way is to cut back + to show a concrete plan. I can see why a parent wouldn't be reassured by "we would figure out a way to live without if we needed to," it doesn't really imply an actual means of support.

Anonymous said...

Something's missing here. It's every FILs duty to support their SILs in learning at a reasonable standard for as long as the SIL learns. How can a FIL even mention ecnoomic troubles, the need to "have a plan" (kochi ve-otzam yadi!) etc.? He's saying look, Hashem isn't providing, so stop learning. I hope all his daughters are married off, because otherwise they won't have a chance.

Orthonomics said...

Perhaps the daughters can get themselves high paying positions to support the learning. Why must the burden fall to the father-in-law?