As a parent or caregiver, you naturally want your kids to be financially secure. As a result, it’s pretty tough not to hold some control over their money. To some extent, this is exactly what you should do, because kids can’t always rationalize maturely the way you can about saving, spending, and investing. As the saying goes, though, hold a flower too hard and you’ll crush it. Some parents take their financial control too far, never letting their child truly blossom.
Control or Help?
Excessive money control can often disguise itself as help. For instance, you might offer to write checks for things your child needs, rather than letting them get a joint bank account with you. Similarly, you might require that he give you his paychecks from a summer or after school job so you can track it, rather than showing him how to note what he’s taking in and spending for himself. On the surface, these kinds of activities can seem kind, but they are problematic because they guarantee that you will be doing all the financial work, and that your child will remain dependent on you. They prevent your child from getting the experience he needs working with money to get out on his own.
What’s Behind the Control?
In some cases, parents try to control their kids’ money too much because on some level, they don’t want to be alone. By controlling their child’s finances, they ensure that their children will need to interact with them and, in some cases, will have to stay at home. This is classic Codependence. In other instances, parents financially control their children to deal with their own financial troubles. For instance, they might offer to “hold onto” their child’s birthday money so they secretly can spend it—they plan to repay the “loan” later, although they often don’t really have a plan for how to get the money back. Sometimes, there is distrust between the parent and child that makes it hard for the parent to believe the child will do what he says he will with money, or that he can do it properly. This mistrust doesn’t necessarily have to stem from previous money mistakes, although it sometimes does. Another common reason people try to control money their children have is because they didn’t have control themselves in the past. In taking over, these parents and caregivers are essentially rebelling against how they were treated or what they were able to do with money in the past. Lastly, some parents and caregivers are used to a more luxurious lifestyle. They control all money in the house because they fear losing that way of living.
Fixing the Problem
The reasons why parents seek heavy control of their kids’ funds or other assets typically are not just about dollars and cents. To really achieve any kind of lasting change, you have to deal with whatever psychological and family dynamic issues are connected to the control. These problems can run deep, so it’s not practical or reasonable to expect much progress overnight. Anything that gets your family communicating and handling money more transparently, such as putting a budget checklist on your fridge or having a weekly “money talk,” generally helps. It’s sometimes necessary for a controlling parent or caregiver to get some professional counseling to unravel their motivations for money control. If you find that you need this, don’t be embarrassed. Simply acknowledge that, in going to the sessions, you are doing something good not only for your child, but