Parents: Stop Letting Your Children Control Your Financial Life

When making big decisions, it's important to remember who the adults are. A new survey finds otherwise -- with key generational differences.

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We've all heard about helicopter parents -- and some of us admit we are them -- but a new survey by Coldwell Banker Real Estate indicates that children of younger parents have an outsized influence when it comes to piloting the family's financial decisions.

The "Parenting and Homebuying Study of American Parents" surveyed 2,800 parents of multiple generations about spending decisions made when their children were 18 or under. It showed that 79 percent of millennial parents (age 18-34) and 70 percent of Gen X parents (age 35-59) said that most of their major purchasing decisions revolved around their kids. Only a little over half (52 percent) of boomer parents (age 50-69) and just 41 percent of parents age 70 and older said they made major purchasing decisions that revolved around their kids.

Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist and lifestyle consultant for Coldwell Banker Real Estate, says there has been a shift in the past 30 years in attitudes about major lifestyle and financial decisions, such as moving. "It used to be that when parents wanted or needed to move, they would do it, and the kids would adjust. But Gen X and millennial parents are more focused on their kids and how any change will impact them. Some of them drag their feet even if they know their house is too small or their commute is too long because they're putting the needs of their kids before the needs of the parents."

Generational Shift in Attitude Toward Family

When it comes to moving, the survey showed that 67 percent of millennial parents and 64 percent of Gen X parents cared most about the immediate impact on their kids' emotional well-being, while just 54 percent of boomer parents and 42 percent of parents age 70 and older said that was of primary importance in their decision to move or not.

Younger parents are more likely to want to live near their own parents or their in-laws than their own parents' and grandparents' generations were. Just 29 percent of parents age 70 and older said that when they were raising children they wanted to live near their parents or spouse's parents, and 43 percent of boomer parents said this was a priority.

Ludwig says that when immigrant families first come to the U.S., they often live in multigenerational households or with other relatives in nearby homes. "Over time, people got tired of living someplace where everyone knows each other's business, and they started to want to establish their independence and set boundaries for their relationships with their relatives," she says. "People started moving farther away from family members, but now we're seeing a shift back to a more middle ground with families wanting to live near each other."

"Millennials actually like their parents and think of them as friends," Ludwig says. "Gen X and millennial parents also like the idea of their kids having a relationship with their grandparents and want to know they're around so they can rely on them." These attitudes are reflected in the survey results, with 62 percent of millennial parents and 57 percent of gen X parents saying they want their mothers, fathers or in-laws nearby.

Balancing What's Best for the Kids and Best for You

Putting your children at the center of your decision making may send the wrong message to your kids. ""Parenting styles have changed to from a dominant to a collaborative style in which parents have a lot of respect for their children's perspective and want their kids to avoid pain at all costs," she says. To find the right balance when making a big financial decision -- such as whether to move, to accept a new job or make some other big purchase -- Ludwig suggests following these strategies:
  • Look at long-term impact of your decision, both financially and emotionally. "If you look at the big picture, you can see that taking a new job or moving to a new home can open up new opportunities for your family," she says.
  • Don't over-emphasize the short-term discomfort of change. "Intellectually we know you have to experience some pain in order to have growth. Change is a part of life and a move at the right time can teach kids resilience."
  • Include your kids after you've made the decision. "Once you've decided that a new job or a new house will have a positive long-term impact on you and your family, then you can include your kids in the process of moving and encourage them to see the change as a positive experience," says Ludwig. "Point out that they can stay connected through social media to their friends and find community resources to help them adjust."
When it comes to making big life decisions, it's important to remember who the adults are in your family and not let your kids rule the roost.

Michele Lerner is a Motley Fool contributing writer. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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