By Rabbi Yitzie Ross
Question: I’ve been reading your e-mails for a few years, and most of them apply to younger children. Let’s expand your repertoire. My married son has come to me for the fifth time in two years to borrow money. At what time do we cut the cord? My parents never supported me and that gave me the impetus I needed to become self-reliant. Can I tell him “no”?
Answer: Thanks for helping me “expand my repertoire.” I actually do receive questions regarding married children, but many of them don’t apply to the general population. Your question is pretty common, though, so I’ll try to answer it.
Many years ago, a fellow I’m friendly with decided to do something unique. He saved up very large sum of money and gave it to his son right after his son got married. He was awfully confused when his son came to him six months later to borrow money.
It turns out that the young couple had rented an apartment for $5,500 a month and furnished it with many high-end items. They also leased two expensive cars and went on a few vacations. This fellow’s reaction was to involve himself in his son’s finances. He got him out of the apartment and downgraded to affordable car leases. After a few weeks, the budget went from $13,000 a month to under $3,500.
Although his son resented this intrusion, years later he admitted that it was the best thing that ever happened to him. Learning the value of money is very important and being able to maintain a budget is crucial. His son now has a few children and is, baruch Hashem, self-sufficient.
Without knowing the particulars, it’s obviously difficult to answer your question. It doesn’t sound like your son is borrowing money; it sounds like he’s taking money. The simple solution would be to do what this father did. Tell your son, “If I’m giving you money, I would like to be involved in your financials.” If he agrees, help him get his act together. If he says no, it’s time to cut the cord.
It’s not the assistance that’s the issue, it’s the enabling. Young couples need to understand the importance of a budget and the value of money. Obviously, if they need help buying food you should help, but in this case it sounds like it’s more than basic necessities.
If you’re worried it will cause your son to be upset with you, you’re correct. But that’s going to happen no matter what. At some point in time, you’re going to stop helping out, and that’s when he’s going to say you’re not being a good father.
The fact is that teaching children the value of money needs to be done when they’re much younger. I published a two-part article a while back that discussed some tips parents can use. It’s important to recognize that although every child is different, money smarts is a learned behavior.
There is a 12-year-old boy in the Five Towns who wanted a newer phone. His father gave him a few lemons, some sugar, ice, and cups, and told him to sell lemonade on the side of the road. The boy spent eight hours in the sun and made over $100. He came home exhausted and told his father, “Forget the phone. I want to save the money I earned.”
If your son is insistent that he desperately needs help and refuses to allow you to get involved with the exception of taking your money, there is one more option. You can agree to have his rav mediate. As parents, you need to show empathy whenever possible. Additionally, having his rav involved will remove some of the pressure from you to help with the necessities. If he refuses this offer, I think it’s time to cut the cord.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.