Teaching Self-Sufficiency is Harder than Helping

Tying your 4 year old’s shoe is easier than teaching her how and listening to her cry with frustration each time she struggles with the task. But, do you want to be tying her shoes when she is 10?

Providing your 13 year old daughter with the 5 pairs of shoes she thinks she needs, as well as that warm winter coat, is easier than increasing her allowance, making her allocate a portion of it to needed clothing and then watching her go out in the cold without an adequate coat, because she chose to buy those 5 pairs of shoes instead of getting a warm coat. But, do you want to be providing her necessary clothes when she is 30?

Helping your twenty something son out when the payday loan people come to repossess his car is easier than letting him lose the car and watching him learn to walk or take the bus to work. But, do you want to be supporting his children (your grandchildren) when he is 40 and still so in debt that they would go hungry otherwise?

Parents aren’t being miserly or unjust if they refuse to help.

All parents know that it isn’t easy to be a parent. Often we are viewed as unjust and cruel, even by our peers (or we think we are) if we don’t bail our children out of bad situations of their own making. In fact, however, if your parent is refusing to let you continue to depend on them, you are actually being given a great gift – which hopefully someday you will realize.

What seems capricious may be sudden recognition.

Sometimes parents don’t even realize that their child has garnered an attitude of entitlement – that she sub-consciously or consciously is expecting and depending on you to come to her rescue. At first, helping out seems to be a one time issue, with which the parent is happy to assist. Tensions rise however as the adult offspring continues to come back to the till for more and more help. If the parents are tuned in, they realize that providing the money, the car, the shelter, the food is actually crippling their child – causing he or she to be dependent.

Siblings learn differently from the same self-sufficiency lessons provided.

Even children raised in the same family and the same environment and taught the same lessons can wildly diverge in their ability (or inclination) to be self-sufficient. When an older child launches successfully, parents sub-consciously assume that remaining children will develop into successful adults. If an older child starts having trouble, but the younger ones are fine on their own, parents tend to attribute the older child’s issues to special circumstances – helping them out until they finally see a pattern of dependency.

How does a parent draw the line?

The earlier a child learns the benefits of being self-sufficient and takes on it’s challenges, the less severe the consequences will be.

It’s much easier for a parent to put up with a screaming toddler in the grocery store (consequences of the parent refusing to buy what the child wants) than it is for a parent to deny her adult child grocery money to buy food for that adult child’s children. Who would want to see their grandchildren suffer?

Making the decision on when and how to deal with adult children dependency issues must be done on an individual case basis. If only your child will suffer, and the suffering is not life threatening then the answer will be different than when your child’s action or inaction will cause your grandchildren to suffer.

It’s much easier for a parent to decide to pull the plug on a young adult’s money requests if that child has shelter and food than if that child would otherwise become homeless and hungry.

In the end, each parent has to determine how their decision will affect their own life quality, as well as what effect their decision will have on their child.


I know of a couple whose young adult daughter suddenly started coming to them for money once every few weeks. She was a college graduate, living in an apartment, with a car the parents had provided and off and on employment. After bailing her out of money troubles several times, the parents realized they were enabling dependency and started refusing to help –giving a warning with the last handout that they would no longer do it.

I know of another couple whose young adult son took drugs and developed mental problems as a result of the drugs. The couple spent their entire retirement asset pool trying to help that son and to this day, even though the son is nearing 30, still provide weekly support. The siblings are wondering what they will do with him when the parents die – as none of them are able/willing to provide the support to which he now feels entitled.

I know of yet another couple whose married daughter was laid off during the recession. She and her spouse were supporting the spouse’s two half grown children. The spouse was working, but they were still struggling financially. The daughter had a history of needing and expecting help from the parents. Although the parents were severely tempted to provide some funding for the family during the time the daughter was out of a job, they realized that if they did, the daughter would not build the confidence in herself that she needed to be self-sufficient. They knew that their daughter would weather this crisis and if she did it on her own, would know that she could make it through anything.

It was difficult for those parents not to offer the help, when they could do it so easily, but they knew that in the end, it would be better for their offspring if they withheld the handout.

What does self sufficiency look like at different ages?

In Self-sufficiency: the best gift we can give our kids, Jennifer Miller gives us the following examples:

  • A toddler tying her own shoes
  • A five year old working to make his own lunch
  • A seven year old cleaning a bathroom
  • A nine year old walking into town to buy groceries for Mom
  • An eleven year old getting up and doing his school work & chores without being told
  • A thirteen year old who rakes the neighbor lady’s leaves along with his own without being asked
  • A fifteen year old who works a job, holds down a third of the home responsibilities and completes her school work without adult interaction.
  • A seventeen year old who, having graduated early, learns Spanish and stomps back into the Honduran bush, alone, on a humanitarian mission.

 Let her tie her own shoes!!!! Share a story about someone you know that didn’t learn self-sufficiency, or a parent that had to hold the line with an adult child’s entitlement attitude.

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