Sunday, January 10, 2010

Continuing the Dialog

I knew when I posted yesterday that I was going to get exactly the sort of responses that, indeed, I did get. There was the usual (anonymous!) rant against public benefits. There was the assumption that my kids are jobless leeches. There was the assumption that jobs and housing are plentiful for anyone willing to look for them.

I posted anyway, because it helps me to sort out my own thoughts about assisting my adult children and grandchildren.

For starters, keep in mind that I do not, for the most part, have "normal" children. I adopted older children from the foster care system who came to me with a myriad of issues, not all of them solved by love and good parenting. They continue to have intellectual and behavioral problems that impact their adult lives. I knew when I started parenting thirty years ago that my children were going to have special needs well into adulthood.

Due to my own financial misteps (Retirement savings? I can do that LATER! Credit cards? Life's gift to me, right?), I am in the position of scrambling to secure my future at the same time that I am helping my children and grandchildren secure theirs.

But I also know that I am a soft touch when it comes to my family, and that it helps none of us to allow family to take advantage of me.

Finding the middle ground is harder than it looks.

Some of the comments to my prior post are thoughtful and well-taken. Others, not so much. It is easy to rail against food stamps and unemployment compensation--unless of course one is unemployed, and needs the food stamps. Surely if this economy has taught us anything, it is that jobloss and hunger are NOT circumstances that always happen to the other guy. Sometimes it cuts close to home.

My daughter, for example, is sporadically employed. She found retail work during Christmas. She will pick up more during the census. But what she needs is a fulltime job, which has been difficult for her to find. She strung together enough parttime work to pay rent for most of last year. But when she got behind in October, her roommates could not pick up the slack. So, in November, she moved back home. If she's working, she pays me $100 a month for rent; if she's not, she cleans house once a week for me.

The two grandkids and their father moved in with me in September when Child Protective Services got involved with one of my other daughters, their mother. The father works fulltime, but at a minimum wage job. He takes advantage of public benefits like food stamps and Employment-related daycare. These programs have been a lifesaver for him. He's finding that parenthood is a lot harder than just sending child support (which, as a matter of fact, he had always been good about paying). I charge him $150 for rent, because his take home is not nearly enough to support himself and two children.

Unfortunately, my increased utility payments alone outweigh the small amounts of rent I'm getting.

I don't see that either my daughter, or my grandkid's family have the ability to pay me more, at least not right now. I also don't see the point in throwing either of them out.

Constructive input is invited. Actually, even the non-constructive kind will be read and considered.


Mr. ToughMoneyLove said...

Grace - You are an enabler. If you died tomorrow or next year, what will your adult children and son-in-law have learned from having depended on you instead of on themselves? Nothing constructive. Your "help" is a band-aid, not a fix. What is your exit strategy from all of this? You don't have one and all of you - all the way down to your grandchildren - will pay a big price because of it.

Grace. said...

TML--Where is the line between offering a hand, and enabling? I am sure I fall into the latter catagory often, but this time? The grandkids were headed into foster care unless Dad, who did not have a good living situation where he could take the kids, found one. Unfortunately, the waiting list for public housing is at least 8 months long in our city. He's on it. But in the meantime, by opening my home, he and the children have a place, within the family, to stay. If I died tomorrow? Well, there's still foster care.

Jerry said...

Those programs are there for a reason and it sounds like your family is using them responsibly. There are plenty that abuse the system and I think it's that very thing that is what leads people to be frustrated (and leave unkind rants). I have never had to go on government assistance of any kind but I know plenty of people who did. Speaking of public programs, I'm praying this health insurance reform goes through because I could use a few extra dollars in my bank account instead of paying high premiums.

Morrison said...

Geeze, I hope Mr. Tennessee doesn't ever get sick in his old age, have a stroke or is ever in a car accident or something. Can you imagine if he would then need his wife or offspring to take care of him, lend him a hand or just tide him over till he gets well? Hope not. Wouldn't want them to be 'enablers' or something.
Or have his lawfirm suffer through a downturn (last I read, most lawfirms are laying off attorneys or going out of business). The last thing the TML siblings need to do is enable Mr. TML to remain alive rather than fade his aging boomer butt to a grave. Who'd want a burden such as he?

Jerry, you're not a real person. You're an advertisement (just click on his name). People: when healthcare passes, you surely will not see any money increase in your bank account (that's if anyone will still have one).

Take care of your family, Grace. They are all that matters.

MasterPo said...

I don't mean to seem like I'm piling on you more, but I have to agree with TML. Based on what you have written I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel for them or you in this situation.

Helping family (and friends) in such a direct way is a double edged sword.

IMO at some point soon you need to set boundries and limits to your generosity, then live to those limits. TML is correct. There's no exit strategy here. The scenario you have described can go on and on and on for years, always with a good sounding reason why today it didn't end but tomorrow will be different.

Shevy said...

It would be much easier to agree with those who say you are an enabler if your children were your biological children, raised for their entire lives in a loving environment than the reality.

When you take in children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, physical, emotional or mental health issues you are taking on a life-long obligation.

Mr. TML, if Grace's daughter had Downs' Syndrome (or Prader-Willi, as a friend of mine's child has) would you call her an enabler? Would you expect the child to "grow up", leave home and then be able to live independently, manage their finances, parent well,etc.? This is not different in any significant degree.

I also don't see the s-in-l as one of the problems here. He wasn't a custodial parent, paid child support, has taken on the responsibility that he should have of taking custody now of his 2 young daughters, works full-time and has applied for benefits that are available to him. Some months from now, he will be offered subsidized housing and will be able to move out.

The only thing I would suggest to Grace with regards to his financial contribution is that you should be asking him for the amount that he will be paying once he moves out, probably 25% of net income. Use as much of that increase as necessary to erase the negative effect their presence is having on your budget.

If money is left over, that's up to you. You could use the money to buy substantial things for the girls (school clothes, new shoes, glasses, dental work) if you want or buy them furniture when they move. Or spend it on yourself (gasp). Yes, you can. But there's a benefit in him already being used to the actual cost of living he'll have once they move out.

Anonymous said...

Grace I am a long time lurker. I agree that your family is your family, you are doing what you can for your grandkids, it is NOT wrong, you are not an enabler. You did good adopting your children and yes, you knew it would not be easy. Now you find yourself helping them out with their own kids. It's a tough spot to be in, specially as you near retirement age but you know what? Money isn't everything, family is. You aren't enabling them, you are helping them and the big price Mr. TML says you will pay will be knowing you did the right thing for your grandkids, who would have been put into foster care. Sleep well, you could die tomorrow and you will have earned your reward. I commend you.

Living Almost Large said...

Let's brainstorm what solutions are possible. So your SIL works and is not used to the responsibility of kids. Now what sort of skills does he have or can get to get a better paying job?

Long term he needs more money. Sounds to me like he does not have any issues that preclude him from getting a better paying job?

I believe in helping people get a hand up and that's what the programs are for and how they should be used. They helped my family and I think they are helping yours.

But enough about the short term. Long term, what can both your daughter and SIL do? Can your daughter hold a full time job as well?

If not college, trade school? Secretarial school? Cleaning homes for a living? Plumbing, electrician, driving a truck?

Right now is the perfect opportunity for both adults to get more skills to gain more income. You are giving them an opportunity and the government is helping them as well.

Perhaps you can tell us what they currently do, what they want to do, and what they can do. Maybe we can help with suggestions.

My cousin started out as a cashier at Costco, and got promoted upwards. Now she's in charge of ordering in for the regional area. So getting a full time job with an eye to the future can also be good.

Grace. said...

LAL--my daughter gets SSI for severe emotional impairments. So not only can she not work, but she cannot be ordered to pay child support either. My grandkid's dad works as a security guard at events around town--it doesn't require a clean criminal record nor a high school education, both things that hinder his ability to find better-paying work. To his credit, he's kept this job for more than 8 years. He'd like to do better, and right now, is working toward his GED.

Sharon said...

Suze says it best..PEOPLE first, then money, then things...

I hope that I am that gracious to my family and vice versa should the need arise.

frugal zeitgeist said...

Thanks for the additional background in the comments, Grace. It really helped as far as understanding the big picture goes.

I can't comment on the situation with your other kids because I don't know enough about it or the challenges they have. Based on the information here, though, I think helping your grandkids and son-in-law is the right thing to do. There is no way they'll get by on their own because as much as it sounds like your son-in-law wants to do the right thing, it doesn't sound like he has the skills to succeed.

I think part of helping your family should include helping your son-in-law gain those skills. That means helping him study for the GED, helping him find suitable job training, teaching him how to create and live within a budget (why not include him in your household financial planning and teach him how to do it?), how to cook healthy meals, how to pay bills on time, how to create a daily routine, and all the other things he'll need to be able to survive on his own as a custodial parent. In exchange, he should contribute to the household as is reasonable in his circumstances, and it would be great to factor that contribution into the financial planning that you teach him. If you do all of this, I think he'll have a fighting chance at independence.

Shevy said...

By all means, do everything you can to help your s-in-l get his GED. Does his record mean that he can't get any job that requires him to be bonded/handle money?

I spent several years in the management/administrative end of the longshoring industry and I can tell you that neither a record nor lack of a GED seemed to be an impediment there. I don't know if you live where there *is* a port, and I realize that pay is often much higher for jobs here in Canada, but laborers who were just pushing a broom were making over $17/hr back in the 1990s. Add a skill like driving a forklift and you're worth more, with trades like electricians making into the 6 figures annually.

The problem is that it's hard to get started in a seniority based daily dispatch system. You can show up day after day and not go out. But, if he's young and durable, maybe he can burn the candle at both ends for a few years (work security at night, labor in the day when it's available, sleep whenever he can). I would think construction laboring would be similar to longshoring, although perhaps not quite as well-paid and available everywhere, not just on the coasts.

Living Almost Large said...

FZ got great suggestions! It's a great idea to help him learn to budget, cook, shop, etc. All tools which will enable him to move out and be self sufficient and independent. Not everyone learns from their parents.

Shevy also has great tips for getting a better job. I think that the tip of union jobs good.

Or at a small company and working up?

Tessie said...

You're a good person, Grace.

Anonymous said...

I have a cousin who lost her mother a little while back (my aunt). My cousin had a special needs kid quite young, and my aunt propped her up quite often. With my aunt gone, my cousin is having to do more herself. Its hard to watch, and tough to see family who lack the basic life skills (pay bills on time, hold a job, etc).

Did my aunt enable the situation, yeah, probably. But I am not sure what I would have done differently.

Your grandkids getting foodstamps while their father works bothers me none at all. If he was able and not working it would bother me some (lots with no kids in the mix). You choosing to take your hard earn assets (your home and money) and shelter your family doesn't bother me at all. Its what I would do. The big trick is trying to get the kids to see past the possibilities of their parents. Sorry about the higher bills.

Living Almost Large said...

Definitely you need to plan for the future without you being the safety net for them all. That's the hardest thing. Is walking the fine line between being an enabler and being supportive.

Susan said...

Hi Grace,

I am a licensed therapist in WA state. It would be nice if all children were created equal and were all given loving, nurturing homes both before they were born and afterwards. But, that isn't the case. Your children are better off and farther ahead in the world because of you. However, they will probably not ever make the Forbes 500 list. We can label you an enabler and label your children as manipulators - or we can look at the facts. Some children/people can work as hard as they might and still not be able to get far in society. What is important is that they work to their fullest potential each and every day. You are helping them by assisting them in staying together until they are able to transition to independent housing - a process that is in motion. Social services are in place to assist during times of transition and to assist families that are perpetually low income.

We must remember that we live in a capitalist society and it takes a lot of poor people to make one rich person. And, I for one like to have my dishes washed and food served when I dine out. Both low paying jobs often held by adults.

I would also add that you are giving your grandchildren a better shot at life than their parents had. You are showing them that they matter, they are loved, are welcome, and worth the energy it takes to keep them safe. Because they have a stable home, they are able to go to school and actually learn something. Plus, you have mentioned a couple of times that you have grandchildren in college - they have also learned that they are expected to live to their fullest potential each and every day.

I think you are a phenomenal woman. Plus, you are a therapist - which makes you all the more wonderful to me. I want to thank you for being a fabulous foster mother and grandmother. Their lives have been changed for the better because of you.

Take care and go do something nice for deserve it.