Encourage a Plan
It's a lot easier to subsidize your grown children — if you can afford it — as long as they have a plan and are actively pursuing it, such as a fascinating, but unpaid internship, with a nonprofit or a low-paying starter job in a career with potential. Seeing them make progress on a promising path into adult life is the No. 1 goal, and sometimes the financial help you offer in their 20s can be the crucial bridge they need. Ask your emerging adult, where do you want your life to be one year, five years and 10 years from now, and what help do you think you need from us in order to get there? Especially in the early 20s, the answer may be "I have no idea," but asking it is a good way to get them thinking about their strategies.
Remember, Money Can Be Power
When you still hold the purse strings, it's natural to feel you should have a say in how the money's spent. "Hmmm, nice new outfit you got there; how much did that cost?" But be careful about using money to control your grown children and their life choices — that tactic will create resentment. On the other hand, if your children won't take your money, don't take it personally. Their decision is part of a healthy desire to run their own lives without parental control.
If you find yourself grumbling about how the financial drain of parenting is lasting longer than you expected, rest assured. Most emerging adults are striving steadily to reach financial independence, and by age 30, most have at last emerged into a stable adulthood with a higher income (often combined by then with a spouse or partner's earnings). Like you, they look forward to the day when the Bank of Mom and Dad can close its doors for good. Until then, any help you're able to provide during these financially uncertain years will enhance the likelihood that they'll flourish in their 20s and beyond.
Elizabeth Fishel is a widely published writer on family issues and the author of four nonfiction books, including Sisters and Reunion. Dr. Jeffrey Arnett is a research professor of psychology at Clark University and author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties. They are working on a parents' guide to emerging adulthood, to be published by Workman in 2012.