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June 20, 2012

Moms and dads differ on how to help adult children

Just in time for parents who are welcoming home college graduates this summer, a new survey finds that mothers are more likely to talk about finances with their adult children while fathers are more likely to quietly slip the kids money. The survey of about 1,600 baby boomers and their relatives was commissioned by Ameriprise Financial.

"Women and men may be predisposed to help family members in different ways, which can cause disagreements and add to family tension if plans aren't discussed upfront," said Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial. Here is an excerpt of my Q&A with her:

Q. Were you surprised by the gender differences the survey turned up?

A. Yes and no. I wasn't surprised that such a large percentage of both men (95 percent) and women (92 percent) say they've provided some kind of financial support to their adult children, but I was a bit shocked at how strongly boomers' support for family members follows stereotypical gender roles. For instance, the numbers show that fathers are more likely to have helped their children buy a car and pay for car insurance.

Q. What are some of the repercussions to this trend?

A. On one hand, providing necessary support to an adult child who is facing a large, unexpected expense or who is transitioning into or out of college is a way for parents to demonstrate that they care. . . . On the other hand, providing financial support to an adult child long term can have detrimental effects. . . . You may unintentionally indicate that you don't believe your child is capable of being independent, and it could even enable a lack of financial responsibility and accountability or create a cycle of dependence.

Q. Any advice for parents who are welcoming home an adult child?

A. It's absolutely important that parents set clear expectations with their child. . . . How long are they welcome to stay? Will they be required to pay rent or chip in for groceries? In what other ways do you expect them to contribute to the household? Take the lead on setting ground rules. If your child has concerns, listen to them, but find a compromise before they move in — and consider putting it in writing.

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