It is the duty of every parent to nurture their children, put a roof over their heads, food on the table, send them to school with a well-packed lunch. And until recently, many parents took that duty even further and provided their adult kids with allowances, cars, maybe even a down-payment on a first house.

But now for many people things are not so flush. So we want to hear from both sides of this equation, how have things changed, how you talk about it.

And if you have questions about this delicate subject, you can go ahead and ask Amy. The phone number is 800-989-8255. E-mail is You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Go to, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Amy Dickinson makes a rare and welcome visit to us here in Studio 3A. She writes the syndicated column, Ask Amy, for the Chicago Tribune, and is a regular guest on this program. Nice to have you back in D.C.

Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Chicago Tribune): Hey, Neal. Thanks.

You know, I've been getting a lot of letters about the economy in general. But lately, I received a few that really caught my eye because they are written by parents who are my age, maybe a little older, who…

CONAN: Thirty-five, even 40?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: Imagine, parents of young adults or even older adult children who have been taking care of their kids, as many parents do in all sorts of ways. And now, the parents, the older generation, is finding that their situation has changed and they're strapped. And how did they, at this relatively late date, cut off the spigot?

You know, we boomer parents, we know we've been over-functioning…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: …for our kids. We've been hovering, helicoptering over them. And we know we've been over-financing them. And up until maybe a year ago, that was fine. They were just a little spoiled. They were a little lucky…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: …maybe to land just out of college in their own apartment, not have to share room, not have to worry too much about their finances.

CONAN: Get a car free and clear a lot of the time.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right, right. And, you know, we boomer parents have been financing our children well into adulthood. And that, until recently, has been sort of okay. Although I, in my view, it's created some problems.

And now, I'm hearing from older parents who cannot do it any longer. Only now, they have 25-, 28-, 30-year-old children, grown children, who sort of don't know how to function on their own. So what next?

CONAN: Well, they've also, to some degree, become reliant upon this. If you're getting your apartment subsidized by your parents and the subsidy goes away, you still need to pay the rent.

Ms. DICKINSON: Absolutely. Their - they have become reliant on it, and they have every reason to expect that it will continue, only, guess what, it won't. And these grown children work. And, you know, it's not that they're…

CONAN: Slackers.

Ms. DICKINSON: …slackers, but they have just been, in some cases, heavily subsidized by their own parents.

CONAN: And this can cause a lot of tension?


CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: Especially now when the older parents - I recently got a letter, and I answered it. It was from an older gentleman who said, I need to cut off funding to my four grown children. And I started my response by saying, why are you financing your grown children? They're all working, all capable, why are you doing that anyway? And now, he has to cut it off, but he doesn't know how to do it. One of his fears is that their credit ratings will be ruined because they have such bad habits.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: That's a problem. And, of course, I said, A: you need to stop financing, you know, you need to take care of yourself now. And the statement you should make to your kids - first, you should apologize because they're not functioning well in the world. And one of your jobs as a parent is to help them to function in the world. So, after you have to apologize to them, tell them you're done, and that their financial future is their concern, it's their responsibility, and that you're going to take care of yourself in retirement. And if there's anything left over, you'll leave it to them in your will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The will. Spend their inheritance. And this - we're talking about situations where - there are kids who are, you know, suddenly in deep distress and may need some serious help.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right. And I actually - I just talked with a friend just today, who told me about a friend of ours who has two grown children, both professionals, both hit the ground running, did everything right, and both of those young people are out of work at the same time. That's an emergency. That's a problem. And now, those highly functioning, very capable young adults are going to be competing in the workplace with people who are less high functioning. And where there's a, sort of a pyramid created where the parents are subsidizing a whole range of children on a whole different set of levels, and it's, you know, it's a problem. Because one couple whose retirement money is dwindling cannot keep it going.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. 800-989-8255, we'd like to hear from both sides of this equation. You can also email us,

Alejandro's(ph) on the line calling from San Francisco.

ALEJANDRO (Caller): Yeah. How you doing, Neal?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

ALEJANDRO: Thanks for taking my call. You know, she's talking about these issues. I mean, it seemed like she's talking about my family. It's just, sort of like, rings a bell where she says when it comes to the habits and the fact that (unintelligible) are manufacturing the procrastinators that we are. And that's - it speaks directly to my family. I - we're a family of 10. We're very big. We are against (unintelligible).

In fact, my daddy say highly educated. He lives in Mexico. So he has, throughout his life, supported us with education and, you know, basically all the needs that we have. The children, the small children was just, you know, I'm one of the ones at the end, didn't really have that financial backing that my dad had. You know, he's getting older. He retired and money is running out. However, you know, the habit that he install on us growing up is that, you know, he just provide everything for us. And then when he started stopping in providing those things, which even when it comes to luxury things or things for leisure, we, you know, sometimes I felt entitled to those things because I look at my older brothers, I say, wait, if they could travel around and they could have everything they have, why I can't have those things. And…

CONAN: Yeah. And so…

ALEJANDRO: …(unintelligible).

CONAN: Are you talking about it with your dad?

ALEJANDRO: Now I am. Now it's finally - my daddy took a very long time for him to get the guts and actually say it to my face. You know what, no. You know? I'm not going to do it anymore. And that did it for me, you know? But, you know, it took forever. He took (unintelligible) to be able to say, no, I cannot provide for you anymore. I cannot buy you cigarettes and I cannot pay for, you know, the things that he did not have to pay for. And…

CONAN: And it sounds like, Alejandro, it sounds to some degree, like, you're saying, and about time, too.

ALEJANDRO: (Unintelligible) what she said is very true. Parents have to step up the plate and taught (unintelligible) stay the ground and talk to them directly and say, no, it's not going to happen anymore. Because they know - he was affecting it tremendously. You know what, ever since my dad stopped sponsoring me and subsidizing everything, you know, things changed very quick for me. And I think at the (unintelligible) I hated my dad at the beginning. But now, I look back, I say, wow, you know, if he hadn't done that, I wouldn't be where I am today. And that really has repercussions in every level of my life.

CONAN: Ah, so, a phone call from a generational trader, Amy.

Ms. DICKINSON: Alejandro, you are my hero, my man. You are - what you're doing is you're illustrating my point all along. And this actually starts with very young children. We all want direction. We all want structure. And we all want for parents to say no. We need it. And you're just illustrating how desperate you were to have some limitations in a way. And you know, one of the things I think we, parents, need to do a better job of is frankly, we have to educate our kids and tell them, you know what, you're going to have to take care of me, not only am I not going to take care of you financially all through adulthood, but you need to get prepared because you may need to take care of me. We need to do that.

CONAN: Alejandro, good luck.

ALEJANDRO: Thank you very much. Have a good day.

CONAN: So long. You, too. Let's see if we can go now to - this is Matthew(ph). Matthew in Boca Raton.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hey, good afternoon. Yes. I just was listening to your show and have to relate completely. I'm 26 years old. I've relied on my family for a long time. Their business is real estate in South Florida and their business, for that matter, the market went bust. And to follow up on what you're just picking up, yeah, I have to help my parents out now. But seriously, here's my perspective. I have my life ahead of me. I have my whole life ahead of me. What can I do for my parents, they can't start a new career? I can. I got to stick to technology and I can support myself now. But my parents, all they know is a market that no longer exists. So I don't feel bad for kids my age. I think we have to step up and take care of our parents. And I realize how fortunate I was these last 26 years.

CONAN: Clearly, only responsible people listen to this program.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MATTHEW: I'm sure you'll get comments on both sides.


Ms. DICKINSON: Well, one of the things you're illustrating is that, you know, I'm hearing from people. You and I are in the same generation. And there are a lot of people who don't feel as you feel. They feel very resentful that their parents are now coming to them. And I like the fact that you're ready, you're willing to step up. And as somebody now who's going to be involved in your parent's life intimately, financially, you're going to have to say some really hard things to them about downsizing, about, you know, sort of strategizing about what they can do to, you know, strip it down, squeeze a little bit and maybe there is some work they can do. Maybe they can consult with you in some way. But I give you so much credit for stepping up. Good for you.

MATTHEW: Well, thanks. I think, one thing I do want to say is, for kids my age and kids going through the same thing that might be resentful, imagine if our parents didn't have us and didn't spend this massive amount of money on us raising us. I think the ballpark figure is a million dollars by the time you're 18. And, I mean, imagine if they didn't have us and they were able to save this money. They wouldn't be in the same situation they are now. That's all I have to say.

Ms. DICKINSON: Wow. That's like that George Bailey, "It's a Wonderful Life" thing. You imagine the world without you in it. That's quite amazing. Thank you.

CONAN: Matthew, good luck.

MATTHEW: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking with "Ask Amy's" Amy Dickinson. She of course writes the syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune, a regular visitor to this program. you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we'll go now to Riaz(ph) in Philadelphia. Am I pronouncing your name correctly?

RIAZ (Caller): That's right.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

RIAZ: So basically, I'm a 44-year-old. I have an 18-year-old son finishing university, first year in the university. And I have a daughter who'll be going to university next year. And they haven't worked at all, and mom had pampered them not to. So now, lost a job for four months now and we are in a situation where we are contemplating on what's next for them and what's next for us.

CONAN: And you're suggesting that maybe they should do part time work when they're at school?

RIAZ: Well, I'm suggesting that they should go full way and take a loan in school.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah. And you know what, you - as a family, one strategy you could try is to look at your community colleges. I am a huge believer in community colleges and it's a really good way to sort of create, like a stop gap, because they need to be, I don't know, maybe they need to be - I don't know, maybe they are already enrolled in community college. But they need to be willing to change their immediate - if they're going to an expensive college next year, you know, you're going to have to commit to enrolling them for next year. You may need to rethink that and encourage them to go part time, work part time and do everything they can to continue with school, but also to try and gain some work skills.

RIAZ: So, are you suggesting that they don't go for the loan or go for the loan? Because a loan will cover most of their expenses. The other one is already in university, so…

Ms. DICKINSON: Uh-huh.

CONAN: Right. You might - what she's suggesting is you might want to consider a less expensive higher education starting with community colleges.

Ms. DICKINSON: And let me just tell you something about my own life. I went to a very expensive college. I took out loans. It absolutely was worth it. I ended up with, you know, a high quality, sort of marquee education and was able to pay those loans back. But it's the kind of thing you need to face, just face it with them and talk about the expense of their education.

RIAZ: Right.

CONAN: Difficult conversations, Riaz.

RIAZ: Well, it is because when I think about it, it's like, you know, going to a good university also gets you to your opportunities rather than graduating from community college.

CONAN: Well, you can go to a community college for a couple of years, hope the economy gets better, and then transfer to a four-year school.

RIAZ: Oh, yeah. That's right.

Ms. DICKINSON: And let me tell you something. I've done a lot of stories on college admissions and four-year prestigious colleges love community college graduates. And the reason is they're so motivated. They usually work and go to school. They make fantastic citizens and students. So it's something to think about.

RIAZ: So is it all right? I mean, I was just going to ask you one more question, is that, if he goes to community college he graduates and then he'd just go then transfer his credit and takes another test. Last semester, I didn't graduate from a university. Does that work out?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, you have to research it with the university he's currently enrolled at. Can he leave, go to community college and go back? That's something they can talk to him about.

CONAN: And depends on the courses, too, sometimes.

Ms. DICKINSON: And you really need to involve him. That's the thing. He needs to be sort of in charge of his life starting now, and because he'll have to finance his own future, right?

CONAN: Yeah.

RIAZ: That's right. No, my question was more like, why does he actually stays back in the colleges and this was (unintelligible) applies to the university just to do the last semester and graduate from there again.

CONAN: It's going to depend on the university and the community college and the course of study.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right. It can happen.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: I think it can happen.

CONAN: Well, good luck, Riaz.

RIAZ: All right. Thank you so much.

CONAN: An email from Nathan(ph)in Goshen, Indiana. Amy misses the fact that young adults like me are the first generation that has an economic situation worse than our parents. We find ourselves graduating college. The only jobs we can get are menial and low-paying jobs that we went to college to avoid. Those of us lucky enough to have parents to help us out financially see that help us investing in our future. They're helping us until we are - jobs become available that we aren't embarrassed to put on a resume.

Ms. DICKINSON: Okay. That's a point of view. But if you were my son, I would say, now, what job would be too embarrassing to put on a resume? I can't think of one. Honestly, because I think any perspective employer would say, oh, you delivered pizzas, good for you. You got through this period, good for you. I mean, what's wrong? Is there possibly a job that, well, I just thought of a job that will be too embarrassing, you know? I won't say what it is.

But I say, you do your work. Of course, I mean, these are really challenging times. This is an emergency of sorts. But - and recent college graduates are probably going to maybe live at home. I mean, it's happening a lot. There's no question about that. But then, there's the question of families like Alejandro's family, where the father has been subsidizing them well into adulthood. Families need to work out when it's going to taper off an end.

CONAN: And there're also families who are - gets in medical crisis or something like that. That situation (unintelligible) very differently.

Ms. DICKINSON: Absolutely. I mean, and that's why we have to be careful with our money, because stuff happens. Real emergencies happen. And you know, your credit rating, my kids' credit rating, not my problem.

CONAN: Thanks, Amy.

Ms. DICKINSON: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Amy Dickinson joins us today in our studio. She writes the Ask Amy column for the Chicago Tribune. Also the author of the new book "The Mighty Queens of Freeville."

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from