Guilted into generosity
Dear Annie: My husband and I are in our mid-60s and have been married for 45 years. We had our children early in our marriage and made many sacrifices to make sure our daughter and son had all the benefits of a well-rounded childhood. Because this took up most of our discretionary income, rarely did my husband and I eat out, and we took very inexpensive vacations, if we went anywhere. During our early marriage, we pursued higher education and worked our way into well-paying jobs.
About 25 years ago, we received the first of what’s ended up being numerous inheritances. We have continued to be generous to our children, who are now in their late 30s. We paid for their college and gave them a substantial amount of money for down payments on their first homes. We have four grandchildren and have invested enough money in our state’s college savings plan that they will have very little, if any, college debt.
When my father died eight years ago, we gave each of our children a Christmas present that was enough to pay off their mortgages. That may have been a mistake. I feel that every Christmas since has been a disappointment. We’re very practical, so we give checks. The checks seem insignificant in comparison to the “big one,” and I’m sure our gifts are a huge disappointment. The biggest problem of all is that my husband and I feel guilty spending money on traveling, a hobby we love. I suspect that my daughter, in particular, feels that I’m wasting her money.
How much do parents owe adult children? What about our grandchildren? Their parents aren’t saving money, and I don’t see much chance that they’re going to get the kind of benefits that our children have received. Should we cut back on our spending so we can give them down payments for homes when they get to that stage in their lives? — To Give or Not to Give
Dear TGONTG: Please, step away from the checkbook. Your adult children don’t need another cent. What they do need, sorely, is some sense. To continue giving them cash is to rob them of valuable experience and life lessons.
You’ve already given your grandchildren immense advantages, as well. If and when the time comes that they want to buy houses, they can work hard (using those great college educations for which you paid) and set aside the money for a down payment, just like millions of other Americans.
Enjoy your retirement. Take as many trips you want, and don’t take any guilt-tripping from your kids. If you get the itch to be generous with your wallet, donate to folks who need it. Charity Navigator (https://www.charitynavigator.org/) is a great resource.
Dear Annie: Frequently, I read letters in your column from older people complaining that their children, grandchildren and others do not acknowledge gifts or send thank-you notes. I have another take on this. If someone doesn’t thank another for a favor done or a gift given, maybe it is because he or she doesn’t feel the emotion of gratitude. How sad. It is a wonderful feeling to know that you are important enough to another person for them to give you a gift or a special service. If they don’t feel this, they are the ones who are the poorer for it. I have come to realize that the inability to feel gratitude is terribly impoverishing. Maybe gratitude is the modern secular equivalent of the Christian idea of grace. The gift-giver loves me despite my faults, just as Christians believe that God loves and forgives them despite their faults. — Secular Grace
Dear Secular Grace: In response to your lovely letter, a quote: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” — G.K. Chesterton
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