Color of Money: Here's when giving financial support to an adult child crosses into coddling

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- As parents, my husband and I have struggled with finding the right balance between protecting our children and letting them learn things the hard way.

To raise children to become responsible adults, you have to be supportive and encouraging. You also have to set limits -- and you have to let them fail. It's through those stumbles that they experience the natural consequences of bad decision-making.

There also comes a time when you have to back away financially so that your children can learn to become self-sufficient. But knowing when to withdraw your support can be hard.

A recent survey by found that 51 percent of Americans are sacrificing their retirement savings to free up money to assist their adult children.

It's understandable that parents want to continue to protect their children as they enter adulthood because starting out can be a struggle.

As I've pointed out before, I think millennials are unfairly labeled as financially irresponsible. When compared with baby boomers at the same age, millennials have more financial pressure.


"Boomers earned higher incomes, amassed greater assets, were more likely to own homes, and had greater net wealth when they were young adults than today's young people," according to 2017 findings by the advocacy group Young Invincibles. "A young adult without a college degree in 1989 earned roughly the same income as a college graduate with student debt today."

Each generation hopes the next will do better. But millennials are tracking against this goal.

"The American dream promises that the next generation will fare better than the previous one. However, young Americans today may be on track for lower lifetime earnings than their parents," the Young Invincibles report concluded.

A reader recently shared this about support for an adult child: "We have made major sacrifices in our financial health for our son and his family as an investment in their financial well-being. With stagnating wages, housing costs through the roof and student debt that was not going away on its own we gave them a down payment on a home, paid off massive student debt, and established generous savings accounts for our grandchildren. We do not see this is as an umbilical cord, we see it as a lifeline, an investment in their future so they might one day have even the little we have."


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