(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
By Carolyn Hax
Friday, October 26, 2007

Hi, Carolyn:

For the past 15 years now, my wife and I have carried my daughter and son-in-law financially. We have carried the loans for every house and car they have owned, given them more than $80,000, and they are repaying $20,000 more in loans.

My daughter recently got a tattoo, and when I inquired about it, she said it was her body, etc. I am not a big fan of tattoos on men, let alone women, let alone on my daughter. I initially asked if she would remove it and she said no. I then very politely reminded her of the past 15 years of money and favors, and how we had asked very little in return. I then asked her to please, please do me a favor and have it removed. She went off on me like a nuclear bomb about everything she didn't like about me (intrusive, controlling, etc.) and basically told me to go to hell. Hurt is severely inadequate to describe my reaction. What do you think of her reaction?

Spoiled Daughter?

I think this proves your daughter has been right at least once, though maybe only once, in the past 15 years.

Add up the cars, houses, all those G's, and all that "etc." -- and it buys you no more right to tell your daughter what she can and can't tattoo than if you'd booted her out in the cold at 18. Using money to exercise power over your offspring is both intrusive and controlling.

And since your (chronologically) grown daughter has chosen to accept this money, she has some nerve blasting you for it; to be fair, you are just as entitled to civility as are parents who haven't used money to stunt their kids.

You are, however, drastically more exposed to verbal nukes. Independence is in our nature. Teach dependency, and you thwart nature, which is why -- according to my crack team of anecdote collectors -- custodial finances produce grateful, thriving children roughly 0 percent of the time, and ingrates with ill-tended stockpiles of seething resentment about 100 percent. Make that ingrates with spouses, usually of the same cloth.

Which brings us to your next stop: a very good family therapist. A cycle of power and dependency this ingrained doesn't end when you stop writing checks. (Though you do need to stop writing checks. I mean really.) Look inward, please, relinquish control, and learn some new ways to be Dad.

Dear Carolyn:

All my life, I said I wanted kids. I still do, but life has taken several turns that leave me now knowing that kids aren't going to happen for me. It's complex and has taken a lot of time, thought and struggle; there are a lot of details required to explain it, and I don't really want to try over cocktails with friends.

"We're not going to have kids" seems suddenly shocking after a lifetime of saying, "When I'm a mom . . ."

What to do when the friends ask why?


Respect their position as friends who were privy to your reasoning up till now (and so wouldn't think twice about asking) -- and ask them to respect yours, as someone with news too fresh and painful to discuss. Good friends will wait till it's their time to know.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company