Every June, many baby boomers watch their sons and daughters dress in caps and gowns to receive college diplomas. After the celebrations, there's another special sort of graduation party that's rarely discussed, where the parents get together, have a meal, and clink their glasses together to celebrate their financial freedom from paying for college. They're finally free to keep the money they earn as they sprint toward the retirement finish line. Isn't that part of the American dream? That each generation stands on the shoulders of the previous generation and does better?                     

That may be the dream, but the reality today is that many recent college graduates don't have a job lined up. If that's the case for your son or daughter, they may be standing on your shoulders for a decade or more as opposed to supporting themselves. 

My philosophy about raising children is that our primary job as parents is to raise children who can survive on their own on this planet. But at the same time, I also believe it's easy to talk tough when giving advice to others, especially when we think they're asking for it. However, when it comes to implementing that very same advice with our children, it's no easy task. 

My wife Jo recently showed me a US News article titled Boomers Giving Away Too Much? The author, Kimberly Palmer, thinks it is getting even harder. Here is what she had to say: 

“As young adults struggle to find their footing in this economy, often turning to their parents for help, many baby boomer parents find themselves trapped between their own financial security and that of their children. A new survey from Ameriprise Financial found that more than half of boomers have allowed their grown children to move back home with them rent-free, despite the fact that their own financial stability has deteriorated over the past five years. The survey reveals that many baby boomer parents are feeling simultaneous pressure to help their aging parents and struggling children, and to shore up their own savings and investments as retirement approaches.”

Palmer's final point really grabbed my attention: Parents think it's their own fault that their children don't know how to manage money.Ah yes, guilt still works, doesn't it? After reading the reader comments at the end of the article, it seems Ms. Palmer really hit a nerve.

I'm sure you've heard many stories about parents continuing to care for their adult children. Sometimes it's because the kids got into drugs as teenagers and then 20 years later, they're still living at home. In these extreme cases families need to seek out professional counseling. Hopefully, most of you will never have to experience that, but if you do, my remarks are simple: If you continue with the same type of behavior, expect the same type of result. If you are going to go to counseling, be prepared to learn and help yourself and your child.

The other side of the spectrum is one we experienced in our family. Our youngest son graduated with a master's degree and thought he wanted to be a stock broker. He interned for three months at a major brokerage firm, but when he finished his internship, he came home and announced that being a stock broker was not what he wanted to do with his life. He felt that stock brokers were telemarketers pushing the product of the day, and that most of them cared very little about their clients. Well, it was tough to argue with that.

So he worked as a waiter at Bennigan's while he looked for something he felt suited him better as a career. It was temporary, and OK with us because it was obvious he really was employed and obviously looking very hard for something more permanent.

So the real issue is, how do baby boomers prevent what normally starts out as a temporary solution from evolving into a permanent problem?

Over time I have come to believe in some basic principles. You are responsible for your own behavior. Behavior has consequences. When your children are adults, their behavior is their responsibility, not yours. The daughter who does not keep a clean house heard mom's lessons and made a choice. We cannot control the behavior of our adult children and trying to is a lesson in ultimate frustration. Guilt trips are nothing more than attempts to manipulate. Don't buy into them, and try not to lay guilt trips on your children.

When it comes to learning how to manage money, I look to my own life experience. I never learned how to value and manage money until I didn't have any. Nothing magic, just that plain and simple.

After watching my married children, I can tell you there were times when they didn't have enough money to do all the things they wanted to do. I welcome those events now instead of dreading them. Working together, saving, setting financial priorities, and then achieving a financial goal together is a big pillar in bonding a good marriage.

Several years ago my oldest daughter Dawn called and told me about a personal financial-planning course she had recently taken. She and her husband sat down and looked at their finances, and they were in bad shape, particularly with credit card debt. She and her husband put together a plan, and about every three months she would proudly announce, “We cut up another one!” until they finally reached their goal.

In retrospect, had I intervened and paid off their credit cards to “help them out,” I wonder if their marriage would be what it is today. They made their mess; they cleaned it up and are rightfully proud. Now they are passing those same ideas down to their children.

And finally, one last tip. When it comes to helping children, mom and dad have to be on the same page. I've heard too many sad stories about children being supported by their parents, in which one parent says “no” and the other secretly continues to funnel money to the child. That is truly one situation where everyone loses.

With the job market for college graduates being what it is, Hallmark is really missing out on a great marketing opportunity. Next to the graduation cards in the sale rack, there should be greeting cards celebrating “Offspring Freedom Day.” The face of the card would say something like, “Congratulations! I hear your son/daughter got a real job.” Then you'd open it up, and it would say, “Quick, sell the house, downsize, and sell their furniture before it's too late.”

I certainly don't mean to make light of what is becoming a huge challenge for baby boomers and retirees. Looking after your parents, yourself and your retirement, and your children is a continuing struggle. No one ever said parenting was easy. Getting your children off to a good start in adult life is time and effort well spent… otherwise who is going to look after you in your old age?

On The Lighter Side

Cubs fans are already saying “wait till next year,” as they audition a lot of young kids and watch other teams and their fans enjoy the baseball pennant race.

When it comes to college football, I'm not a rabid fan, but I do like to follow Northwestern. Much like the Cubs, Northwestern has never been considered a football powerhouse. As many a Northwestern Wildcat fan has said, “We hold one NCAA record that will likely never to be broken: the team has been selected as homecoming opponents more than any other college team in history.”

Until next week…