In just a couple of weeks, my wife, Kelly, and I will be helping our youngest, Josh, move into his dormitory at Baylor University. At about the same time our daughter, Megan, will start her junior year at Elon University in North Carolina. Our nest will be empty.
I’m told that being an empty nester is great. I can sort of see that. Last summer, both kids were gone for over a month, and we had a blast. It is a lot easier to travel when there are only two people involved. No lengthy debates about where to eat. It’s a lot cheaper, too.
Our primary anxiety at the moment comes simply from the separation. We will miss them. When Megan left for her freshman year, it took several days for me to stop going to her room to make sure she was up, as I was used to doing every morning.
Another anxiety is growing. While we have some concern about how we will handle life without them at home, I think we are getting more concerned about our nest not staying empty.
We have several clients who have one or more of their adult kids living with them. The child’s degree hangs on the wall of the same bedroom the child occupied before college. The lifestyle and financial implications of an unemployed boarder can be significant.
Instead of those easier travel experiences and increased savings for retirement, the couple find themselves in a time warp. What is a parent to do?
I know of one family whose patriarch changed the locks on the doors to the house when his children graduated high school to emphasize that the children were now obligated to do well in school, get a job and be self-sufficient. Most parents won’t do that, and even if expectations are set in a strong manner, kids may still come back because they have few options.
The simple answer is to tell the kids to get a job and support themselves, but it is often far from that easy. For many recent graduates, job prospects simply are not strong. In many cases, the compromise seems to be the child gets a job, any job, and pays the parents some rent. That seems to keep the child’s aspirations up and helps ease the financial strain on the parents.
The more common issue with kids staying “on the payroll” is not with recent graduates. It is with the children of the elderly. These “kids” are typically in their mid-50s to 60s, have kids of their own and often have checkered working careers or bad financial habits. Most of the time, they do not live with their parents. The nest is physically empty but the “kid” is not financially independent.
One dynamic I see frequently is a retired couple in which the husband is the spouse that handles most financial matters. The couple appears successful to outsiders. Then, Dad dies.
Just as some new grads don’t mean to cause issues, many of these older kids don’t even realize what effect their actions have on their parents. Everyone assumes that Mom has plenty of money, so when a kid wishes they had some extra cash, they may hit up Mom.
Mom is generous and likes to see her children enjoy her gifts. Mom feels it is part of her job to care for her children and this is one way of doing that even if they are geographically separated. The kid assumes Mom has enough. Mom feels that if the kid needs money, she should make personal sacrifices to help. Next thing you know, Mom’s secure retirement is weakened.
Another one I have encountered somewhat frequently is the child who comes across an opportunity to start a business. Often, the child has had a tough time putting together a “career” and this is presented as their big break.