Learning to Say No to Your Kids
While channel-surfing on TV last week, I landed on a rerun of an Oprah show about "parents who can't say no to their kids." Curious about a topic that's in my bailiwick, I was soon absorbed in the tale of a mother who was being manipulated to a fare-thee-well by her three daughters.
The oldest, 23, was living with her husband and child in a house owned by her mother. The deal was that she would pay rent, but she had been in the house for four months without paying a dime.
The middle daughter, 17, had been given a car by Mom when she was 16, with the understanding that she would pay for gas. But she had never lived up to her end of the bargain and Mom continued to fill the tank.
At 15, the youngest daughter didn't even bother to ask her mother for the things she wanted. She merely left written lists (everything from shampoo to shoes) for her mother to fill.
Mom freely admitted she was unwilling to say no because she feared her daughters wouldn't love her.
The psychologists giving advice to this dysfunctional quartet said all the right things about how the mother needed more backbone and the kids should earn their own way instead of feeling entitled. But they were a little short on practical advice about what Mom should do to change the situation. I found myself talking back to the TV, and my monologue went like this:
"The next time your youngest daughter presents you with a list, Mom, either tear it up or go over it with her and let her know which things you're willing to buy (shampoo, for example) and which are her responsibility (shoes, for example). The first response may be more satisfying for you, but the second is more enlightening for your daughter, who at this age should know what her financial responsibilities are.
"As for the car, let it sit high, dry and empty in the driveway. Any 17-year-old should have a job to pay for her own gas.
"Tell the 23-year-old and her husband that either you'll help them set up an automatic debit from their checking account for the rent or they have, say, two months to find a new place and move out. Be prepared to change the locks or send in a moving van.
"Don't let your daughters think that Mom -- or anyone else -- will always be there to take care of them. The best thing you can give them (and yourself) is financial independence. P.S. They'll still love you."