Empty House, Empty Bank Account
Some single parents have the misconception that when the last child leaves home, there will be a bit more money in the bank. The following is one woman’s story, but I repeatedly hear stories just like it when I speak on the empty-nest years. Diane is a single mom who had two adult children moving out at about the same time. “As much as I was excited about my two kids going to college, I knew child support was ending—not that my ex ever really took that court mandate as seriously as I had hoped or expected. Most of the financial load was on me. Then my ex and I had ‘the talk’ about helping with college expenses. That did not go well. He refused to pay a dime. My mom chipped in some, I started working a second job, my kids paid some, and I borrowed more to make it work. The empty bank account just made it more clear to me that my marriage had failed and now I was reaping the ‘benefit’ of an unsupportive ex who had already married and had another baby and a life outside of our family. My general feeling was anger at him and anger at myself. It wasn’t a good season of life for me, and it just added to the loss I was feeling from my kid’s departure into adulthood.”
Diane learned two lessons about finances and the empty nest:
1. You can’t please everyone all the time. She found herself getting deeper and deeper into debt to help her kids, and she knew that was not going to play out well for her future. Many adult children have figured out how to go to college without their parents’ financial support. Trying to please everyone is a recipe for stress, misery, and frustration. As a recovering people pleaser who has fallen off the wagon hundreds of times, I keep this saying close to my heart: “No matter how hard I try, I can never please everyone.” I once heard someone say, “I don’t know the secret to success for a family, but I do know the secret to failure: trying to keep everyone happy all the time.”
2. Don’t be afraid to talk about money with your adult kids. Not wanting to throw her ex under the bus, Diane didn’t talk about her financial struggles with her adult children. She felt she would be burdening them if she shared her challenges. The lesson she learned was that her kids truly did want to know, and they wanted to be part of the solution. Her kids were willing to do whatever it took to get to college, and they let their mom know that fact only after she confided in them. This is not always the situation, but they also went to their dad and ended up getting a little help from him as well.