Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Closing Bank of Mom and Dad without manipulating daughter
Boston: My 23-year-old daughter, "Jessica," is in grad school. She works part time, but my husband and I still help a lot with her rent and expenses (which we don't mind doing as long as she's in school).
Jessica's lease expires next month, and she plans to move in with her boyfriend, who lives in a bigger, more expensive apartment. There are three problems with this: (1) Her half of the rent would be twice what she's paying now, (2) the boyfriend is in his late 30s, which we consider too old for Jessica, and (3) my husband and I are not thrilled about the idea of cohabitation before marriage under any circumstances.
We don't want to manipulate Jessica with our money, but truly, I can't in good conscience bankroll a move I don't believe in. If we have always supported Jessica financially, do we have the right to refuse to do so now, if she moves in with her new boyfriend? (For what it's worth, we are resigned to the fact that she will end up living with him one way or another.)
Carolyn: Of course you have the right to refuse. It's your money.
I could argue that would be arbitrary, though, since it would essentially say that your support of her studies — presumably the reason you're helping out — was secretly contingent upon her living her life on your terms.
You could walk the line morally and financially, and avoid the appearance of being punitive, by letting her know your support won't increase to absorb the rent increase. In other words, if she wants this, she bankrolls the costs herself. That's more than generous. Why should you have to pay for her indulgences, which this move would surely be?
If you haven't had a set amount you've given her, but instead have just given her gifts as needs arose, then you could also start giving her a modest, flat monthly amount, which she could then learn to budget — a graduate education unto itself.
Anonymous: Re: "Jessica": Okay, maybe I'm hopelessly old-fashioned, but if my daughter were moving in with her boyfriend, that would signify to me that they were adults . . . who could support themselves. I'd close the Bank of Mom and Dad immediately. Choices have consequences. Or does nobody teach that anymore?
Carolyn: That's actually a solid, nonjudgmental way to phrase it: "Your moving in with this man tells me you're both adults . . . who can support yourselves."
But I don't think the "Or does nobody teach that anymore?" was necessary; it's a judgmental slap at parents who may just want to be careful before making big statements.
Let's say, for sake of argument, Jessica wanted to move in with a boyfriend her age, for an equal or lower rent. The parents certainly can and should weigh whether they'd be as upset about that move, and whether they'd continue to "bankroll" Jessica on those very different terms.
Whatever these parents do will send Jessica a message. They need to be sure it's the message they intend — before they actually send it.