When I was a kid, my mom, Carol, was an expert at saying “no” when we asked for money. With four kids and little income, she often found it hard to pay for food and rent, let alone luxuries such as the electronic games and designer clothes my brothers and sister and I constantly begged for.
But as we grew into adults, something odd happened. My mom suddenly found it difficult to refuse when her kids came to her with their financial problems, whether she had the cash to spare or not.
Over the years, I’ve chided her for constantly dipping into her own savings to help my family members out, asking: “How are they going to learn to manage money if you’re forever bailing them out?”
I spoke from hard experience. In college I piled up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, auto loans and credit-card debt. When I left school, I found my entry-level salary barely able to keep up with my debt payments, and the temptation to turn to my parents for a handout was strong. But at the time my mom and dad were getting divorced, and dealing with their own emotional and financial issues. The last thing I wanted to do was add to their burdens, so I resolved to handle my debt on my own. In doing so, I learned how to budget and came to understand the real cost of accumulating debt.
Having learned my lesson, I’d urged my mom to consider the harm she was doing by not allowing other family members to do the same. And I’d point out that she really didn’t have the money to spare. Mom would reply that helping her children helped her, because it pained her to see her kids suffer. Then she’d assure me with a smile: “When you’re a mom, you’ll understand.”