Q: Our sons are in their late 20s and have good jobs, but they never pay for anything when they’re with my husband and me (they live on their own). Whether it’s a family vacation, a dinner out or popcorn and a movie, Tim and Nick automatically expect us to pick up every tab. My husband says he’s sick of their sponging and wants to "change the rules." But since we can comfortably afford to treat them, I don’t think there’s a problem. Who’s right?
A: Two questions: May we call you Mom? And what time’s dinner?
Seriously, sponging is never excusable, especially by an adult. It’s irrelevant that you, the spongee, don’t mind. And it’s irrelevant as well that you can afford to be sponged off. Your sons, Madam, are freeloading. That they "automatically" expect you to pay removes any doubt. So your husband is right: It’s time for a change.
Were Tim and Nick fresh out of college, living at home and looking for work, that would be one thing. Or had one of them just lost his job, say, or his house in a divorce, that would be another. But these young men haven’t hit a rough patch. They’re on the brink of turning 30, and, as far as we can tell, they haven’t even hit a bump in the road.
We realize that Tim and Nick are still getting established in life, and it’s your pleasure to treat them. But being an adult means being independent, and that means paying your own way. You do your sons no favor by encouraging them to believe there are situations in which they needn’t, and you do the world no favor by adding to the population of moochers. People of character always insist on paying their share, and your children will be the worse off if you allow them to believe otherwise.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.