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Q&A with Geoff: Should I keep buying baby supplies for my grandchildren?

q&a with geoff Oct 05, 2022

Question

My son has been married for about 10 years now. My son and his wife brought up concerns many times about the cost of children, which I think was a deterrent for their delay in having them.

Money is often a concern for them; my son has a good job, but the cost of living is high. I told them if they decided to have children, I would financially provide everything a baby and toddler would need. Apparently, this was the encouragement they needed. I have two adorable grandchildren, and I have provided the necessities promised and then some.

I provided plenty of disposable diapers for months and offered all cloth diaper essentials if they decided to go that route.

Originally, my offer was to provide cloth diapers only, but when they said they didn’t want to do cloth diapers, and since I bought months’ worth of disposable supplies so they didn’t have to worry about anything, I think their assumption was that I would continue to provide indefinitely.

I don’t regret the thousands of dollars it took to prepare for these precious babies but it went from essentials to the most expensive items available, from necessities to wants, from my offer of cloth diapers to providing disposable diapers, baby wipes and formula each month, which I had never intended to do.

Interestingly the topmost expensive brands are required. I don’t know if there was a miscommunication or manipulation.

However, $500 per month adds up for me and I’m not able to save anything extra. At this point, I will continue to do what I have been doing for the past two years, for the next two years. I really am happy to help because I do believe they need the help, but I also wonder if I’m being taken advantage of. Am I doing the right thing?

Answer

Even though your plan hasn’t turned out as you had expected, I do admire your generosity toward your children and grandchildren. I can hear how mixed you feel about the twists and turns your offer has taken over the past couple of years. Let’s talk about how you can manage the strange situation in which you’ve found yourself.

I see how your initial offer to help them was intended to give them some financial padding as they dealt with some of the unexpected costs of bringing children into their family. You clearly had a very different idea of how they would manage this very generous offer. It sounds like you were clear in your mind about the difference between needs and wants.

I think it’s only natural that it would be easy to confuse these needs and wants when they have a generous benefactor helping support their children.

Let me ask you a few personal process questions before you start deciding what to do with them:

  • Are you worried about them changing your access to their children if you reduce or cut off your financial support?
  • Are you worried that your relationship with your son and his wife will change if you pull back the financial support?
  • Would you be willing to continue supporting their children even if it means it reduces your own financial security?
  • Would you be willing to offer this same thing to other children or grandchildren (if you have other children and grandchildren)?
  • What are you afraid will happen to your grandchildren if you stop financially supporting them?
  • Does this offer stand beyond infancy and toddlerhood? Will they continue to expect additional support as their children grow up and have additional needs/wants?
  • Do you believe that your love and commitment to your grandchildren can be more than financial?

Perhaps you’ve already thought of these questions, but your dilemma seems to be based on a belief that something will go wrong if you pull back financial support. I’m not sure exactly what your fears are, but it’s important to get clear on your own fears before you try addressing this with your son and his wife.

If you’re clear on this, you’ll stick to your own limits and allow them to problem-solve within the constraints you give them.

There’s no right way to do this. Many of us have been blessed through scholarships, grants and gifts from generous people who want to support our noble efforts. As the giver of the gift, though, you get to decide the parameters.

I am confident that your son and his wife will adjust to the limits you create with your gift.

The giver of the gift doesn’t really get to determine the difference between needs and wants and how the money is used. Like a college scholarship, if the distributed money is used for non-essentials, the reckoning eventually comes when the essentials need to be covered. Your son and his wife appear to have needs that look like wants to you.

Either way, you must decide what you can offer.

I would be careful about accusing them of manipulation. You offered the gift and need to set the parameters you feel good about. Perhaps you’re feeling manipulated because you’re not getting something in return. It’s easy to feel manipulated when we set up covert contracts with others and then expect them to honor them.

Make your offer clearer so you remove any guessing. Set it up in a way you can live with, so you don’t have to operate on unspoken agreements.

There’s no need to justify or explain what you can do for them. It’s your money and anything you give them is a gift. They are responsible for bringing their children into this world and they are ultimately responsible for them. You offered a gift and you get to decide how that gift will continue or not continue. Your love for your children and grandchildren doesn’t have a price tag on it.

Be clear with them and trust that they can be adults about it and care for themselves and their children. 

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