Advice on money matters with our almost 22 yr old college grad

Hi all,

This may not be a "failure to launch" but I am the parent of an almost 22 yr old daughter who recently graduated college with a major in Political Science at a private University.  She also has ADD, anxiety and dysthymia (mild low levels of depression) and suffers from low self esteem.  She has a therapist and Psychiatrist and is generally doing well on low dose meds.  I am paying mostly out of pocket for her to get Cognitive behavior therapy while she is home for the summer.  

Both her dad and I are scientists, are well established, and I'd be lying if I said anything other that we are doing extremely well financially.  I have tried my best to teach my children the value of money and not just throw money at them like it has no value.  We funded her college education 100%.  She is leaving college debt free.  

My daughter was a confused high schooler and did not know what she wanted to do.  She was good at math (tested aptitudes as well as in classes), and after doing an internship in high school, we suggested to her that she major in Computer science.  She agreed and that was our biggest mistake.  She did not cope well with some of the classes although she did manage others including a passing grade in an Electrical engineering class.  By the end of her sophomore year, she was on academic probation; we encouraged her to switch majors and she ended up doing so.  She graduated in 4 yrs despite all this.  She now tells us she wants to become a writer; we told her she could do whatever she wanted, but she had to support herself somehow.  So she signed up for a year of Post grad service where she is given housing, a stipend ($600/month).  She supposedly wants to take classes and network and we are standing by.  

Our fear is that she will never "fly the coup".  If it were not for me, she would have wasted this summer doing nothing but I insisted that she at the very least find a part time job which she did.  When she moves away from home again, we are giving her the car she used as a college senior, and paying insurance.  My big question is this:

She is suggesting that we help her with payments for a few of her needs (personal) while has a bank balance of ~11K (past summer internships and jobs).  She knows that we can continue to support her but the better part of me feels like it is time to "cut the cord".  I am torn about this stance knowing her problems.  But my other fear is that our generosity is not going to propel her forward and keep her motivated to become independent.  Is that the right thing to do? 

We have told her that if she decides to do a masters, we would help her (she knows that her 529 account has a substantial balance but we are not giving her the option of taking that money out for herself, at least not for the foreseeable future).    

Our younger child, a son is very secure, confident, doing well and has a head on his shoulders.  Part of the issue is that she compares herself to him and I can't say that inadvertently and subconsciously, we have too.  

Please only advice, no judgements.  I am wrought with guilt already so don't need anyone's harsh words.  

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

I think you are asking the right questions-- encouraging her to understand the financial implications of her choices needs to happen now...we always covered health insurance, but expected independence for rent and living expenses after college.  When each child spent time back home post college, we charged modest "rent" which we held on to, then let them use it for deposit/last month rent on their own place (but it helped them learn to budget their income)

you note personality/academic approach differences between your two children--we also had those, but the less academically "successful" is much more conservative and attentive to budgetting; his brother with the high paying tech job never met a dollar he couldn't spend, and has had difficulty building/keeping an emergency fund.  So understanding and working with each child's financial strengths and challenges may be important.

I suspect your daughter needs your encouragement and faith in HER as she explores what she wants to do with her life, more than she needs your dollars... 


You have nothing to feel guilty about! Plenty of kids don’t know what major to pick, change majors during college, and graduate without clear job plans. I was one of them! I went to the peace corps, then I wanted to be a writer but needed to get a paying job and I figured it out. And I flew the coop. 

You are being very generous to give her a car & insurance. My parents did the same & I think it was the right thing. 

If she is irresponsible with money, then I’d suggest that you say you won’t give her a further stipend, and she should use her savings to supplement what the service gig gives her. (Americorps volunteers typically qualify for food stamps & other govt aid since the pay is so low.)  When the service gig ends, she can stay with you until she gets a job. Or give her first months rent/deposit on an apartment. And then she’s launched! 

No guilt! 

I’m so sorry you are feeling guilty about anything. Given the challenges that your daughter has to confront every day, her her graduation from college in 4 years, it sounds like she and you are doing wonderfully with difficult circumstances. Congratulations to all of you! 

   About supporting your daughter, this is her first year out of college. She has a service job lined up to do productive work this coming year - which is great! She can’t live on $600/mo, and you will not suffer in helping her financially. I encourage you to help her. Poverty is not the only motivator to grow and become independent. And it could be an overwhelming worry/experience for your daughter when she is first venturing into the work world. With her ADD, anxiety, etc, she may be much more successful in ‘launching’ from a position of safety and support than from fear and deprivation. If her need for support doesn’t decrease over the next couple of years, you’d need to have a conversation. California is a very difficult and expensive place to get started. Your daughter will find her way, with your support.  Life teaches unavoidable harsh lessons. I just don’t think that, in some artificial way, we have to pile on. You’re all doing great! 

It's a lot of pressure having very successful academically accomplished parents. Your daughter is very young and it is common to flounder for a while after college, or at least not to know immediately what you want to do - especially if your parents have been supporting you and you did not have a specific passion or career goal. She needs time to find out who she is and what she wants to do. You don't describe the nature of the post grad service but that seems a good opportunity exp. given the cost of housing right now. Paying for her therapy and health needs aside, I don't see why you would continue to support her if she has housing, a $600 a month stipend plus money in the bank! I don't think you should push her to go to grad school until she has spent some time working and supporting herself or mostly supporting herself and is sure what she wants to study. I doubt it is all that common these days to go straight through from college to grad school.

I have a 21 year old who is in her final year of college, suffers from depression, three (3) different forms of anxiety is on lots of meds, etc..  So on that level I understand what you are going through.  She lives at home, goes to therapy.  We also have paid for her education so again, I get it.  While my family is not as financially well off as it sound as you might be, we love our child and give her the best we can.  However, we put ground rules in place about what she wants and desires.  She is required to have employment and does some simple chores in order live in our house.  We want to teach her to value money and what it takes to earn money.  My best suggestion to you is to cut her off past paying for her education and car insurance, health insurance.  If she remains a full time student, she can be on your work insurance until she is 26.  She must have a job to pay for her personal needs.  If you continue to pay for her, she will never learn to survive on her own.  If you do decide to keep paying for her personal needs, you should have her provide you proof that she is taking classes.   I would also suggest some family therapy for you, dad and her to discuss your concerns.   I know you love her and you are a good mom, now you have to find courage to push her to the edge of nest so she can fly.  Last, comparing two kids does not get anyone anywhere.  Kids are different even raised in the same home.  Mine were and there is a vast age difference between them.  Best of luck and take care.  

My son is young so this comes from introspection of my youth rather than experience as a parent: I would write her a letter explicitly defining how your roles have changed now that she has graduated. You as a parent will treat her as a peer and responsible adult capable of making her own decisions. You won’t nag her or try to control her life or express disappointment in her decisions. She as an adult will pay her own way and wont assume that you will bail her out or pay for her daily living expenses. 

I would also encourage her to take a gap year either traveling or peace Corp or volunteering in another part of the USA or other country. Get out and see the world and find herself when she is on her own. Encourage her to write about her experiences and see if she does in fact love writing as a career. $11k is enough money to do so. When she comes back she can find a “regular” job that pays her rent and pursue whatever direction she likes but I definitely get the sense that she needs some time on her own. This is what I did at that age (with much less money and no family money as a backup) and it really helped me transition into adulthood with more sense of myself. 

I think supporting her mental health is great. She is fortunate to have some financial backup. I think you should help her learn to take care of herself by making her be responsible for everything except healthcare until she has a job that can support her in that too. As long as you pay, she will rely on it and not learn, then she will think you think she can't do it. Learned helplessness would be a detriment to her self esteem. Good luck. ( I grew up very poor and know what it is like to not have money for food or to do laundry, etc. and I am a responsible money manager as a result.)

I'm sorry you are feeling so distraught and guilty! It sounds to me llke you have been a responsive parent, helping a child whose path hasn't been clear and who has some real challenges with her mental health. She sounds like she has some resilience too, graduating college in four years, finding the internship and finding a job for the summer and going to therapy, even if it's with your support are all real accomplishments! Since you can afford it why not get some therapy/counseling yourself to alleviate your guilt and figure out a plan that feels right for your family? I have done that while parenting an anxious and depressed child and found it very helpful. It's stressful to parent a more complicated kid (my other one is much more secure like yours). There really is no one right way or magic perfect thing to do to create a happy, independent adult. You sound like a loving mom who is putting too much pressure on herself. I'm rooting for you!

I'm so sorry for all of you as this is a multi-layered and complicated issue.  My gut feeling is that she should use her savings because it gives her a "buy in" and incentive to earn money.  We also paid for our son's education and I regret not having required him to earn $4-5000. total for his education as a buy in.    My 25 y/o son has launched but, for example, we subsidize specific items such as gym membership (which I see as part of mental and physical healthcare), therapy, and the cost of a montly card for public transportation. (He lives abroad right now).   I think she will feel proud of herself if she's paying for certain things like rent and food.   I want to encourage you to see a therapist to help you through this without judgement!   my sympathies; parenting can be so challenging.  

You have my sympathies.

My recommendation is that whatever help you give her must be completely defined: exactly what you will pay for and for how long. Include parameters: we will pay for x for this amount of time; after that, we expect you to take care of it. And then: make good on that! If you keep letting the deadline slip, you will reinforce the message that it's not a solid requirement. 

You are absolutely correct: you are not helping her become independent if you give indefinite support, AND you are giving her the message that you don't believe she is capable of supporting herself. I have sat by and watched a tremendous amount of enabling done by some of my family members towards their adult children; it is clear that it does not help the child, and it devastates the parents.

Best of luck.

I say you should be very proud of your daughter, and actually feel blessed that you both had had so many opportunities. Obviously you love your daughter and she respect you and listen to your advices. The US culture is really hard on family and this fascination with independence. It is cultural, I'm 57 years old, lived with my parents until I was 27, had free education ( public school in my country ) My parents help me so much including helping with a down payment for a home.It is all good, I'm a successful independent women. Thank you to my Dad I'm in a better situation than other friends. I did not abused my parents, they help me and I appreciated it. Now, actually is my turn to help them out :) 

Just be there for your daughter, help her, help her invest her money, help her grow, trust in her. She is privilege, and so are you. Maybe do something together to help the people around you. If she says she needs a little extra money and you have it, why not? She is doing the right thing, why make her life more difficult? You will "cut the cord" meantime, give her a break.

My son suffers similarly with ADD, anxiety, depression and low self esteem. For him this means that he is emotionally immature and a couple of years behind his peers. He keeps up academically but often cannot cope emotionally. Your daughter might need extra time to mature. There is nothing wrong with this. Just because some kids are independent upon finishing college doesn’t mean they all are. 

It sounds to me like you have provided her an appropriate amount of scaffolding and support and are fortunate enough to be able to afford to do so. I hear what you’re saying about wanting her to take responsibility. Perhaps you can carve out areas for her to take responsibility while still providing a safety net. But maybe you are being too hard on yourself and on her for the help you have given her. My advice is to keep guiding here and gently encouraging her to take on more responsibility. It will happen in time. 

I am personally against the idea of withdrawing financial support based on the idea that this teaches independence. It feels cruel and unnecessary. I'm from a cultural background where it's not unusual for young adults to depend on family to get by. The idea of "launching" or "cutting the cord" at 18 or at the end of college graduation isn't as common, and parents help out the child if/when they can without the child being labeled as a failure. What I will tell my son when he is older is "I will help you do anything, but I will not help you do nothing". If he has a plan, even if it's hair-brained, I'll do my best to be supportive. Good luck to you.

Hello! I'm an adult with ADHD. 25 years ago I easily could have been your daughter. I'm a very successful commercial artist but have learned much the hard way. Here's what I've learned about myself, my parents and money. Use what's useful. :D

I thrive with budgets, plans and structure around money and finances. Anyone who can help me with this is greatly appreciated. And it sounds like your daughter already knows this about herself which is remarkable. (It took me years of running out of money to figure out that I have a hard time, in my head, of keeping track of bank accounts etc.) I WISH my parents hadn't taken such a hard line around financial help earlier in my adult life but instead offered to help with budgeting, investing etc. (Not giving me money per se, but instead offering to help with planning, book keeping etc.) This is a higher level organizing issue on my part, not a lack of interest in success.

I have always been much more successful at work than at school. I found it liberating to go to work every day instead of class. I like work and I'm hard working. AND having said that, transitions are hard (ie looking for a job) and staying organized (I was always terrible at jobs that didn't have a set schedule as I could never remember when I needed to get to work.) It took me years to figure this out. Now I'm almost OCD about my paper planner and my routine. And again, anyone who can help me with this is greatly appreciated and again, this is a higher level organizing issue, not a lack of interest.

Doing something creative every day is essential to my mental health. There's a relationship for me between time in my creative flow and depression. My mind physically needs to get lost in creating. The good news is that I'm very productive in my work and can therefore support myself doing it. When I was younger (and less tired!) I would work for hours and hours, in my flow, and nothing really made me happier. (It's still this way but with family, kids etc, I have to carve out specific time to do creative work.)

Over the years my relationship with my parents have been best when they are able to help me with organization and planning, and knowing they have my back, without judgement, when my ADHD takes over. (Especially with my kids, but that's another story.) It's been the most tested when they've taken a hard line, hoping I'll learn a lesson, etc. I know they've done a bunch of their own therapy and while I can't speak to what's happened in that therapy, my perception is that it really helped them understand my mind a bit more and take a more supportive role.

Finally, my 20's were incredibly hard. I wasn't diagnosed with ADHD until I was 31 and I made so many mistakes, looking back. Your daughter is so lucky that you already know about the ADD and have supports around it. Writing can be a remarkable career for someone with ADD, as it offers commercial copywriting work as well as a creative outlet.

Hope that helps!

I'm not sure why you are feeling "wrought with guilt"? You are trying to help your daughter become independent, financially and emotionally. You've supported her through college, getting her the psych help she needs. Nothing wrong with having encouraged her to pursue college majors with good job prospects. She found out these did not work for her, she made changes and graduated. You are continuing to encourage her to find out what she can do for herself. She has some ideas; hard to know if those will allow her to become financially independent right away. Luckily she has resources, saved money, a supportive family. Sounds like she has options for pursuing a post grad service, which may work out for her.

My advice would be to offer a tiered approach and taper her financial dependence as she has success with her career. Be very clear of your goals, acceptable timeline, how much you expect her to contribute. It's easy to be worried that it won't work out because you may not see the motivation you hope, have to push her, and since she didn't get the STEM degree, there is uncertainty whether a future career will offer the same financial security. When I was growing up with depression era parents in the '70s, there was definitely an attitude of "cutting the cord", and sink or swim. If parents don't have resources, then they need to draw the line. But if parents have financial resources, then I think it is reasonable to help your kids as long as they are showing independence over time.

I could have written your story from my own family 45 years ago. I was the secure, confident younger child who pursued a STEM degree at my parents recommendation, but also because I was good at it. I had a secure job right after college, never again lived at home, and did quite well financially. However, my older sister, who was not academically focused, dropped out of college, worked lower paying jobs, lived at home with my parents for years before getting married. It was very hard for my PhD physicist father and biochem mom to accept. It was almost as though I absorbed all the complaints and worry they had of my sister and made them about me and so followed their advice. Eventually my sister started a business doing something she loved, was financially sable and happy. Even though my parents pushed her, they enjoyed her company while she lived at home, especially as they got older. She had a more loving relationship with them than I ever did. My parents are long gone, but I still have issues with feeling that their approval of me was based on whether I was successful by their standards (academically & financially). My sister said she never felt that way. I remained angry, had a "I'll show 'em" attitude and moved across the country and rarely visited because I was too busy pursuing with my career and life.

I have kids who are still in high school and college. In a few years I will probably be facing this same dilemma with them, helping them become successful, happy, independent people, hopefully while maintaining a good relationship and without making them feel question their self worth based on their academic success and financial prospects.

I get a really good impression of your daughter from the information you provided. She finished college in four years in spite of setbacks. You told her to get a summer job and she did. You told her she had to support herself and she found a way to support herself while pursuing her goals. All good! Now, she is a bit worried about money and asking for help. You are thinking she has enough money. Since you are financially secure, I suggest you give a yearly gift to both of your kids Ask them to save it. Maybe it is an emergency fund. Or to buy a house someday. You can set parameters. That way they will not be depending on you, but you are still helping. Of course, once you gift the money, they can spend it however they like, but they seem to do as you ask, so it seems like a good bet. 

I have two kids in their early 30's and a third who is just starting college, so I have been in your place. It's expensive to live in the Bay Area.  Gone are the days when a recent college grad could get a small apartment with a low-paying starter job and get by just fine. Even kids coming out of college now with an engineering degree are struggling to afford the basics that an English major in the 1970's had no problem affording. I recently met a young doctor who moved to Reno because she could not afford to live in the Bay Area and have kids and a house. A doctor!  

I want to reassure you that most parents of 20-somethings and 30-somethings here in the Bay Area are in the exact same situation that you are. My kids grew up in Berkeley. They and all their friends, now in their early 30', had and continue to have, some sort of financial support from their parents over the years. My friends and I have paid rent stipends, gifted used cars, paid for phones and the health insurance, paid the therapist bills. We've funded trips for job interviews and paid for interview clothes, covered living expenses for low-pay or no-pay internships in another state, and now that these kids are in their 30's and getting married and having babies, they are helping their young adults with down payments on a house, or adding cottages to the backyard for their adult kids to live in. The kids who couldn't get financial help from their parents have mostly moved out of state to more affordable areas. I don't want my kids to leave!  I like having them around!

Your daughter sounds like she is doing great - she finished college and has goals. Not every parent of a 20-something can say that!   I urge you to help her in whatever way you can, and support her to the extent you can. Rich families have always done this - provided their kids with jobs in the family business, bought houses for them, trust funds, etc. Now we middle class parents are figuring out how to do that for our kids. Personally I really like the idea of a multi-generational family situation and I'm figuring out how to make my house bigger so my kids will move back in when they have kids!

We are in different financial circumstances, which our daughter, a recent grad, knows. We did help her get through college debt-free. She also wants to work in the arts, and is unclear about what her long-term work will be. We pay for a few things like cell-phone and health insurance. She's mostly self-supporting in terms of her day-to-day expenses, doing various "gig" type jobs. The good thing about this year of difficulty finding steady work is she sees the need to return to grad school for a better way to support herself. Given your daughter's mental-health needs, I would advise patience, and maybe some compromises about what she pays and what you pay. Friends who have more income than we do, often seem to be paying for rent while their children do unpaid or poorly paid internships. (One way the economy has radically changed is that entry-level jobs in the arts that my generation did, are now internships.)

I have a college student child and am also the stepparent to several kids in their mid to late 30s.  They all had quite a bit of financial support at your daughter's age, and while the two oldest are now fully financially independent; the youngest still gets some support.  If your daughter is responsible with money, and working (whether paid or unpaid) or in school, I don't see any danger in continuing to help her.  I tend to think it's better to pay rent, or pay cell phone bills, and/or car insurance, than give an "allowance," because cash can be spent on anything and I think people naturally tend to get more dependent on a monthly payment.  If you are paying the rent, the cell phone, and the car expenses, that leaves plenty for her to worry about - food, entertainment, clothing.  She'll get there.  The fact that she has a sizeable bank balance at such a young age shows she is responsible.  It will be OK.