This time of year, you can spend hours — days — weeks — looking for the perfect gift for those you love. What if you could give them the best present in the world…and not spend much, if anything?
Give them the gift of independence.
*Begin with those beloved products of genetics and adoption that have gladdened your heart for years. Decades, even.** Your children.*
*Start young* by requiring them to help out with chores, even if it’s just setting the table for meals, or feeding the dog. Teach them swim, how to ride a bike — and write a thank-you note. Give them an allowance — preferably one connected with doing their chores, so it’s rescinded if they don’t work. Encourage them to use that money for their own expenses, and suggest they pick up extra jobs around the neighborhood for more. Emphasize that saving part of that money is important. *(My own parents had a formula: 50% for college, 10% for a tithe, and 40% for personal stuff. Not much was leftover, but it did largely pay for my first year of college.)*
Keep their presents modest. Only buy what you can afford. Talk to them about how you handle money, and save ahead for emergencies, special trips and retirement. (Hopefully, you’re doing it wisely.) *Your kids are teenagers?* Encourage them to get involved with school activities…and be there to watch. If their grades are good enough,* let them get a part-time job*. Remind them that it’s their responsibility to get themselves to and from work on time — they may make arrangements with you, but that privilege should be negotiated. You were not put on earth to jump to or satisfy their every whim. (Our family mantra while our daughters were growing up: “I am
not your personal slave.”)
Of course, chores still apply. (After all, they’re not paying rent.) and they should be expected to contribute in other ways, too, by attending family functions, speaking politely to others, and following the house rules.
They’re watching you, too. Your act should be cleaned up, as well. *Finally, they’re adults!* College looms for many. Practice saying (enthusiastically), “You want to go to —-? That’s a very interesting
idea! How are* you* going to do it?” And especially, “How are you going to pay for it?” You should not be the one applying for scholarships and financial aid — if they want it badly enough, they’ll do it themselves. If you want to help out with college costs, *consider waiting at least a semester, or a year.* See if they’re really serious about it.
*They’re on their own — but they still live at home*. First and foremost: *charge rent.* It doesn’t matter how much or how little — they should be helping contribute to supporting themselves. (You can always save the money, and present it back to them when they do leave home.) *Practice
saying “no” to requests for money — if they need it, they can work.*(Yes, I know these both sound hardhearted. But after watching two sets of friends whose twentysomething kids took full advantage of their generosity — and did it for years, before their parents finally wised up — I honestly believe it’s smart to use this tactic from the beginning. You have to pay to live — they should, too.)
Offer loans, but only with appropriate paperwork. Require payments be made — or get ready to forgive the whole thing as a gift. Either could happen, depending on the child. *Do not co-sign*. We made this mistake once with a daughter…and are still paying on that loan some three years later. (Yes, she defaulted on it. That didn’t stop the loan people from going after us, instead.)
*Repeat this process for grandchildren.* Especially for those whose parents had trouble supporting themselves.
*Next on the list:** siblings, cousins and all sorts of relatives.* *(This category also includes friends that are ‘closer than a brother.’)* See comments on loans in the kids section. Why would this be any different for your cousin, uncle or friend? Refuse to let them blackmail you by mentioning their children, age, your mom is their sister, “and that’s what she would do,” etc. etc.
As a good friend and family member, you have the responsibility to listen to what they have to say. In fact, that’s all many people really want or need– someone to listen to them. You do not, however, have to agree with everything you hear. *Listening is just that.* If you agree, feel free to say it. If not, saying little or nothing is okay — provided they‘re not spouting off on something illegal, immoral or bigoted. When that happens, choose your battles carefully. Yelling back rarely solves
Comfort and encourage…but don’t coddle. *Like your kids, these people are responsible for their own actions.*
*And finally,* *the Parents. **A lot of what we’ve already discussed applies to dealing with them, too…with an extra dollop of respect. After all, unless they weren’t doing their job (and some of us had crappy childhoods in this respect), your parents took care of you for decades. (Maybe they still are. If so, you need the gift of independence for yourself, as well!) *
If they can, most elderly people value living on their own. Make it easier for them by stocking their freezer, arranging for a housecleaner (or doing it yourself, or hiring a relative), and paying for mowing their lawn or shoveling sno w from their driveways. Basic needs like this are easier to delegate than you think! Even daily wellness checks can be arranged through home health care.
Pay attention to what they say about their health. Most of the time, they just need you to listen to details about their colon…but sometimes you can take preemptive action, and head off more serious issues. Drive them to the doctor…or at least ask questions.
Like the others, your parents are still responsible for their actions and decisions. But it does wonders for their feeling of well-being to get an occasional small check. (I call it “have-fun money,” and try to send one monthly to my mom.) Make a visit. Spend some time with them, and ask plenty of questions. Even better, ask their advice about something. Take them with you while you’re on business…or on a trip. These can all remind them that while you’re a responsible, breathing adult on your own, their opinions and well-beingare still important to you.
* Practice the following phrases:*
“What do you think about… ?”
“We just can’t pay for this — but you can, if you work hard.”
“I am confident that you can do this. In fact, so much so, that I’m going to let you take care of it yourself. Have you thought about how?” (Then listen.)
“You come from good stock: a long line of smart, resourceful people.”
And finally: “We’re proud of you for trying.”
* Finally, don’t forget your own actions*. Sometimes modeling independence can be one of the best inspirations of all.