What Emotional Strings Come with Accepting Money from Your Parents?

Sometimes it seems like there are a lot

Compact Bannerwoman standing alone

When I was on the brink of finishing college, my father called me and offered to pay for my student loans. Great, right? Except no: we weren’t on great speaking terms, and he’s the type of person who uses money to essentially “own” a person. If he gives you $1,000 for a new couch, then you have to let him into your life whenever he sees fit for however long he sees fit. If he buys you a used car, you’ll owe years of your life. If he calls and says, “I want to give you $20,000 to pay for your student loans because I feel guilty that you had to take them out in the first place,” it translates to, “I will give you this money and then be able to throw it in your face at any point in the next twenty years if you stop speaking to me again.”

Nevermind that a) we were not on great terms, b) I did not want his money, and c) my student loans were double that amount. This wasn’t relevant. He called, offered money, and I said, “OMG, please, no.” I finally talked him down to around $8,000, $5,000 of which did in fact go to my student loans, and the rest we used for our cross-country move a month later, when I was twenty-ish weeks pregnant. Even accepting that made me feel sick inside. It was a lot of money for me at the time (it still is!) and from someone I don’t trust. Had we not been on the brink of graduating college, moving from Alabama to Oregon, and having our first child, I wouldn’t have accepted it.

It’s been over eight years, and I still feel icky when I think about the emotional fallout that came from accepting that money. But you know what? I’ve found that in other instances—like when we’ve borrowed money from another parent and repaid it within an agreed on amount of time—I don’t mind at all. I think that’s because the power dynamic is a little more equal when you’ve asked for money that you’re expected to repay—at least for me, it feels an awful lot better than accepting money you never asked for, and that comes with strings attached to it.

Generally speaking, I prefer for us to take care of ourselves, financially and otherwise. But also? I love the idea of being able to give my own child money if he needs it as an adult, with no expectations and no rules. I’m not sure that’s entirely feasible or realistic, but I think it’s something that sounds nice (at least to my product-of-a-dysfunctional-household-self).

have you accepted money from a family member when you didn’t want to, or has family offered money you didn’t want because you knew there were strings attached to it? do you think adult children should always be completely financially independent? where is the line, and when do you draw it?


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