Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’ve decided to basically cut off my daughter once she’s finished high school, which will be just over five months from now. She didn’t do anything wrong, I’m not eager to be rid of her, and I could easily continue to provide her basic needs, but I won’t. I myself lived with my parents into my 20s, but I feel like this did me no favors, and I’ve come to believe in “sink or swim” and “hard knock” life philosophies. So please don’t argue about this decision.
My only question is when and how to deliver this news to my daughter. I don’t want to ruin her birthday or the rest of her senior year, so I may wait until after graduation to tell her she’s on her own. I’ve been trying to instill frugality, budgeting, and saving, but my daughter doesn’t yet know how important that will soon be for her. If she knew now, she might be better prepared, but I can see how the stress from this might actually be detrimental overall.
My daughter and I have a tender, loving relationship, and I’m sure she will be surprised to find out she’s being turned away. Or maybe she will surprise me and fly the nest without being pushed. She actually told me months ago that I shouldn’t pay for college; that is actually what got me started down this road. I hope to still have a (non-co-dependent) relationship with her after this, but I will understand if she doesn’t speak to me for a while. Should I continue to gently lead my daughter toward independence without letting on that it will be forced? Or do I need to inform her now that she will be on her own come summer? Again, my decision is firm in that regard, so please don’t argue there.
—Tell Her Now Or Later?
Dear Tell Her Now Or Later,
A hazard of writing to an advice columnist is that you may not get the answer you want to hear, but a corollary to that is you can’t tell the columnist what kind of advice to give you. So here’s something you don’t want to hear: You’re creating a situation with your daughter that will absolutely harm your relationship with her, and potentially indefinitely. You seem to be aware that this isn’t going to go well, but you naively assume that it’s going to be a temporary rift, which means you misunderstand the nature of what you’re doing and also what sort of relationship you might have once your daughter is out of the house, and can never speak to you again if she chooses.
The issue is not that you want your daughter to be independent; that’s great. It’s that cutting her off abruptly with little or no warning makes some insulting assumptions about her—one of which is that if you don’t cut her off, she’ll be incapable of being independent. Maybe this was true of you when you were her age, but your child is not you. You are different people, and that should be clear to you because she’s volunteered that she didn’t want you to pay for college.
What you should do is have a conversation with her about how she plans to become independent once she graduates, and help her plan it. That is actually helpful, and you don’t risk making her feel completely abandoned by you for no reason other than your own guilt about living with your parents when you were in your 20s. As for sink or swim tactics: They work for some people, but they traumatize others, and sometimes when you throw someone into the deep end, they just drown. You have no way of knowing how your daughter will react. (Sometimes even despite their best efforts, people flail and drown.)
Throwing someone abruptly into a situation they may not be prepared for isn’t tough love, it’s just an unwillingness to do the work of helping them prepare. Even if she comes out of it OK, she will probably resent you for it, because it is a harsh tactic, and often deployed punitively. Why create that resentment when there are plenty of healthy alternatives that would make your relationship stronger? This is the kind of thing people talk about to their therapists years later, not because financial independence was too big of an ask, but because pulling the rug out from under someone with no warning is a breach of trust. As parents, we try to make our children feel safe while they’re with us so that they have the confidence and skills to live as adults, and psychologically that sense of safety is important, even if it’s illusory. If your daughter does have a good relationship with you and trusts you, imagine what it does to her for you to abruptly say, “By the way, you’re on your own, and I am not going to help you if you need it.”
It’s fine if you don’t want to support your daughter after high school, but don’t pat yourself on the back for good parenting, because this isn’t that. You need to actually talk to her and do it in a way that makes her feel like she still has a safety net, at least psychologically, if she tries and it doesn’t work out. Go ahead and tell her now, so she can mentally prepare. The longer you wait, the less prepared she will be, and if you do love her, surely you don’t want her flailing dangerously in the deep end.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My sister refuses to discipline her 14-year-old son. He is constantly acting out and getting into trouble. A month ago, my nephew took my older car for a joy ride and ended up wrecking it. My sister begged me to not go to the cops or the insurance company. I told her it would cost $5,000 to fix the car according to my car guy. She ended up taking the money out of her savings and selling the expensive electronics she was going to give her son for Christmas.
I ended up not fixing the car but selling it as is. With the money, I plan to go on an extended vacation in the new year since I haven’t had one for years. My sister is completely pissed at me. She accused me of ruining Christmas and “stealing” her money. I told her the only thief here was her son and it was high time he suffered some consequences before he gets himself into real trouble. Maybe next time he will think twice if he knows his little stunts with cost him a PS5. My sister told me to shut up and not tell her how to raise her kids. I ended up leaving rather than continuing the argument. This is going to be coming up again and again. Any advice on how I deal with my sister now?
Dear Car Guy,
Your nephew totaled your car, and owed you for it—and your sister paid. What you did with the money or car after that is none of her business. Given that your nephew is 14 and should not be behind the wheel of a car in the first place, they’re both lucky nothing worse happened.
That said, it does no good to tell other people how to raise their kids. Unless they’re explicitly asking you for advice, they don’t want it; and it’s clear your sister’s not asking. If you choose, you can help your nephew by getting involved in his life, if he’s amenable, and trying to be a good role model directly, but telling your sister what to do with him is just a recipe for more tension.
However, if your sister brings up the car and the money again, tell her that someone had to pay for the car your nephew wrecked, and the fact that you decided to sell it does not mean it was money you could afford to lose. If you break something of someone else’s, you should pay for it; it’s that simple. If she brings up her resentment that you used the money to take a vacation, ignore it, and tell her you’re not going to discuss this any further. If she brings it up again, change the subject. You don’t have to engage her when she tries to pick a fight about this. If your refusal to engage means she doesn’t want to talk to you, it’s unfortunate, but it’s not your responsibility to indulge her continued complaints. Walk away if you have to, but don’t turn it into a lecture about child rearing, which will only make things worse. Ignore her provocations, and hopefully, she’ll move on once she sees that you aren’t responding to them.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
We arrived at my in-laws’ house for Christmas to discover my brother-in-law brought his new puppy to stay the weekend without telling either his parents or us. I am highly allergic to dogs, currently pregnant, and my doctor said there are no approved antihistamines at this stage of pregnancy. My in-laws had thoughtfully put their dog into a dog hotel for the duration of our stay and scrubbed the house to minimize my exposure. When they suggested the puppy stay outside the house (there’s a large doghouse, acres of lawn, and we live in a temperate part of the country) my BIL’s wife refused and said she’d keep it in their room. The puppy barked for most of the night, keeping the house awake and I ended up having an asthma attack due to the allergies. We had to leave early as a result but they have not acknowledged they shouldn’t have brought the puppy. I want to propose that we pay to board the dog next Christmas as I cannot imagine having a newborn into that mix but given an already strained relationship between my spouse and their brother, I fear it would be taken as implying they cannot afford to do so. My parents-in-law would be heartbroken to miss the first Christmas with their grandchild if we were to not visit next year. How do I navigate this?
—I Do Honestly Like Dogs
Dear I Do Honestly Like Dogs,
Just be straightforward with both your in-laws and your brother-in-law: You can’t be in the house with a dog because you’re allergic to them. This is not an unreasonable position. It obviously didn’t work this year to just keep the dog isolated to one part of the house, or you wouldn’t have had an asthma attack. Offer to pay to board the dog with the context that you want everyone to be able to stay in the house.
But do not threaten to withhold your grandchild from your parents-in-law over the dog. Surely there are hotels or B&Bs nearby, and that should be an option before skipping Christmas, but hopefully, your brother-in-law will see that between putting the dog up somewhere else, and your family staying somewhere else, the former is the better option.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am a single mom with a baby who works from home. I had to hire a nanny to watch my baby while I am telecommuting. My sisters, “Ellie” and “Lynn,” are both stay-at-home moms and have a nasty habit of popping over unexpectedly to “say hello.” I love my sisters and their children, but the minute they come in, Ellie and Lynn do not watch their children.
They expect my nanny to. I have already explained that she needs to concentrate on my baby—that is what I am paying her for. Not to keep my nephews from fighting or my nieces from making messes in my house. What is worse is that I have a pool, and the kids have to be supervised. I am at the point where I am ready to lock my doors and turn off the lights until they leave. Help, how do I get the message across to my sisters?
Dear Not Kidding,
Tell your sisters that you’re happy to have them visit, but the visits need to be scheduled because you have to work and your nanny needs to be dedicated to watching your baby during that time. They need to understand that the unscheduled visits are disruptive and that your nanny is not a de facto babysitter just because she’s there.
It might help to tell them what times are actually good for visits—when you’re not working and your sisters can’t dump their kids on your nanny. You also need to be direct about the fact that it’s not the nanny’s responsibility to watch all of the kids, and you don’t want the nanny to be resentful that she’s being asked to do extra work she’s not getting paid for.
If the sisters don’t respect the boundaries you’re setting, you’re going to have to just say no when they show up, or they won’t take it seriously. If or when this happens, just answer the door, tell them that it’s not a good time for a visit—for the reasons that you’ve already discussed with them—and that you’ll be happy to see them at whatever time works for all of you when you’re off the clock.
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