Musings from George

Responsibility and family
February 16, 2007, 12:33 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve had a few conversations recently that have unsettled me. Two good friends have said that they are basically going to have to work a few extra years because they spent a small fortune on their children — not for college, but to help them struggle through very self-destructive behaviors. It seems that the rehab processes that our celebrities are running to cost up to $10K per month, and when a parent has to send a kid to these types of programs the costs add up quickly.

So what do we owe our families by way of monetary support? Being in the sandwich generation phase of my life, I help my mother monetarily and our kids are very much in the expense column (and will be for years to come). Our parents saved money for our college educations, but we were expected to make up the shortfall between what was saved and what our education actually cost (scholarships, work, and borrowing). I intend to make that same sacrifice for our kids. But how much should you spend on your 18+ year old child who continues to make self-destructive decisions? If they really may end up dead, is the right decision to spend every penny you have to help them? What do poor families do in the same circumstance?

Our father kicked our brother out of the family (cut off contact and support) because he disagreed with several decisions my brother made, and our father believed that my brother had lied to him about some critical things. That made life pretty tough for my brother, but he persevered and has been very successful and he deserves every grain of credit due him for that. He & his wife have made many sacrifices for their children (they have raised four to adulthood!), and are unstinting in their love & support. So faced with a child that wants to destroy his/her life, is the right answer to pour money into professional help or is it to put your life on hold and tackle that issue directly — invite them to live in your house, eat your food, live your daily life with you. Eliminate the possibility that they are meeting with bad people, or skipping their job, or skipping school?

I believe that I would be able to spend a month backpacking with either of our kids if they were really in trouble, and that the nonstop companionship and conversation would heal whatever wounds they had inflicted (or that I had inflicted). Love = time, in my book — if you really care about someone, you go out of your way to see them. You call them when you can’t see them. And you listen to them.

When my grandmother was in convalescent care, and later in hospice care, I tried very hard to visit her. She had a new world, and was excited to share it with family. Not once in her very long life did I hear her complain, but I know she was disappointed in her final years that some family members did not make much effort to come visit. She had spent her life caring for a very large extended family, and needed nothing more than conversation in her last few years, and was disappointed that others were too busy. Not a case of “the Cat’s in the Cradle” (Harry Chapin), more an instance of paying into a system that doesn’t always give very high returns.

In my experience, people who want to borrow money are generally doing so because they aren’t very good at managing money. Why would you expect that to change? I have loaned people money a number of times, and have determined that the lender has to write off the money up front so that any repayment is a “feel-good” moment; almost always, the problems that created the need to borrow won’t go away. So when I lend people money to help them out (avoid bankruptcy, escape 18% interest rates) I actually gift it to them in my head, and everything works out better that way.

So, if my son is a crack addict when he is 18, do I:

1. Take him hiking;

2. Kick him out of the house;

3. Help the police arrest him?