APSGO Parenting Blog

Dear Sue,

Our son lives at home rent-free. His father and I pay for his car and insurance, and although he has a full-time job, he squanders every cent he makes. He’s also borrowed money from us, but whenever we ask about repayment, all we get is excuses. Is there some course in managing finances that he could take? What about counselling?

Wits’ End

Dear Wits’ End:

Let’s start at the beginning. When our children are young, it’s our job to provide for them and protect them. But the other part of our job is to prepare them to live in the world and to make clear to them what we will do for them and what they’ll have to do for themselves.

William Glasser talks about the difference between doing to (lecturing, criticizing, threatening, punishing), doing for (rescuing – doing for them what they’re capable of doing for themselves), and doing with (playing a game, helping them learn to read, cooking together). And doing with is always the most effective.

Finance courses or counselling won’t be any help to your son. (And, really, he’s not the one with the problem. He’s thinks he’s doing just fine!) What will help him, though, is the opportunity to manage his own life – no matter how uncomfortable that is for you.

It sounds like your son hasn’t been allowed to experience the real-life consequences of his actions. And ‘consequences’ is not a euphemism for ‘punishment’. Consequences are what logically follows from what we do or don’t do. If your son doesn’t put gas in his car, it won’t run. If he doesn’t show up for work, he won’t have a job. If he doesn’t pay his rent, he won’t have a place to live. And if he overspends, he won’t have money for the things he needs.

It’s not your job to “do for” your son: to bail him out, to rescue him, to lend him money, to allow him to live rent-free, or to cover his expenses for him. Those are all his job, and when you take those on, you deprive him of the opportunity to learn. “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

So how can you help? Instead of nagging or lecturing, just have a conversation about something you’re both interested in. Ask his opinion – and listen, not to correct, but just to understand. Share your stories with him.

Allow him to experience the consequences of his actions – without judgment. This is the hardest part for parents. We insist that we rescue our teens for their sake, but in fact we do it for ourselves because not doing it is so painful or uncomfortable for us. By three years of age, he’d already mastered the two most difficult things he’ll ever learn: walking and talking. So just trust that you’ve been teaching him by example for his whole life, and that he’s capable of figuring this out, too. You can help him problem solve – but can’t solve his problems for him.

Want to know more about Choice Theory? My PDF booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries are now available for download on my website at www.sanerparenting.com/downloads/. And if you want to email me at sue@sanerparenting.com, I always welcome your comments and questions!


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