Parent In Debt: The Challenge of NOT Financially Rescuing Daughter

DH = Dear Husband
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter


                One of my sisters has extreme empathy. I remember once, expecting my first child and still experiencing morning sickness, I was in her kitchen and had to dash off to deal with a wave of nausea.  When I came back to the kitchen, she wasn’t there. I waited for a while, and eventually she appeared, walking slowly and unsteadily, bent over, face drawn, and holding her stomach. She was having sympathy nausea, and it wasn’t leaving in a hurry. Her little son toddled around with a big smile on his face, thoroughly enjoying the moment, emitting deep burping sounds as his aunt and mother recovered.
I like empathetic people – those who not only perceive what others are feeling, but who feel it too. When you tell your own good news to empathetic people they light up and really share in your happiness. When you confide your suffering to empathetic people, they literally suffer with you. My nephew, now a grown man, has learned over the years that it’s actually best not to tell his mother when things aren’t going well because she will feel his pain more intensely and for a longer period of time than he does. Perhaps there is such a thing as too much empathy.

Asserting Financial Boundaries With Children

DH and I are nearing the second anniversary of our journey out of debt, and by this point, it’s clear to me that money issues are not just a matter of surface mathematics. Money issues run deep, and it takes some reflection to identify root causes. One of my own pitfalls when it comes to personal finances is my uncertain sense of boundaries when it comes to our daughters. I’m sure I’m not the only parent out there who, in making efforts to get out of debt, has recognized a need to say “No” to beloved offspring. And although it has gone against the grain, I’ve made great strides in this area. I know it’s not only necessary for our debt-reduction; it’s good for our children. That doesn’t make it easy though.

DD2’s Challenge

DD2 finished her university semester four weeks ago, and she had an unpaid tuition bill. Until it is taken care of, she won’t be able to register for her fall semester courses. This is a situation about which DH and I had cautioned her for over a year in advance as we saw her spend her way towards it. A combination of our savings for her post-secondary education, her savings from part-time jobs, athletic bursaries, and grants have not been equal to her lifestyle, and the consequence has hit home. It took everything I had to say, “No, we won’t pay the tuition bill.”
DD2 has stepped up. She asked the right questions of the right people and found out about an athletic bursary for which she was eligible. She made the phone calls, set up the appointments, filled in the paper work and got it. Over half of the tuition bill taken care of. She also decided to say “No” to a great opportunity to train and compete – one that involved travel, which she loves. Instead, she’s been pounding the pavement in search of a summer job. It’s a tricky undertaking for an athlete who has to devote every afternoon to training and several week-ends to competition. She needs a morning shift, and she has applied for dozens of postings. Everything she is doing is testifying to the wisdom of not “rescuing” your children. She’s doing what is necessary to rescue herself, and it’s so heartening. Except for the fact that she doesn’t have a job yet. And time is ticking.
                DD2 is experiencing the stress of unemployment and unmet financial obligations, as well as the humbling recognition that it didn’t have to be this way. I applaud her effort; I share in her disappointment; I am beyond proud of her resolution to be positive and keep trying, taking it day by day; and I suffer in her doubt. Like my sister all those years ago, I feel it in my gut. Is there a time for parents to come to the rescue? When is it? I don’t know. And I still hope that I won’t have to figure it out. I look so forward to the phone call or the text message or the shining eyes that say, “Mom! I got a job!” Until then, I have to keep steady and wait. I have to trust that this is a lesson for me as much as for her. I have to foster her resilience by allowing her to face this challenge. I know this. All the same, I’m holding my stomach.

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  1. Wow…just, wow. I honestly don’t know how I’d react to this…..wait, yes I do. I would start out exactly like you have and assert to my child that they got into this mess, and they have to get themselves out. I would watch (as you are) proudly as they work their tails off trying to correct the situation. Then, as time ticked on I would think about how them missing a semester of college could affect them the rest of their lives – being thrown off schedule with college, the potential (maybe being a little overly dramatic) of them never returning, etc. Then I would cave. I would cave faster and harder than an avalanche off the side of a mountain. But they would be paying me back….every. single. penny. AND it would be known that it would be a one time deal, and the bailout gives me the right to completely go off on them if I see them heading in the same direction again. Of course, that’s assuming I had the money to bail them out….

  2. Thanks for your comment and your honesty, Travis. I’m pretty sure there will be an intense debate between me and my husband if it comes to the possibility of her missing a semester. I would be for bailing her out (with the understanding of being paid back) and he would be for letting her miss it – which would mean missing her sport as well as her studies. Again, I truly hope that we won’t have to make this decision or have this debate. I’m hoping and praying that a great job is just around the corner for her.

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