The Delicate Nature of Asking Your Parents for Financial Help
I have not asked my parents for very much, mostly because they’ve never had much, financially, to give. As a child, if you grow up with not that much, you don’t know what you’re missing. For so long, your worldview is only as big as the two-block radius you’re allowed to travel, and since you return home every night like a little boomerang, you only understand what it is that happens inside your house. You only understand the world within the context of what you’re living with, so when I was growing up, I understood on a very basic level that we had enough to get by.
After college, I had a few friends who always seemed to struggle a little less, friends who would be unemployed for languorous stretches of time, drifting through the mire of our early twenties with ease. “Their parents are paying for everything,” we would whisper into happy hour beers. “Must be nice.”
I found jobs with tenacity, because I was responsible for my rent and my bills and the looming spectre of student loans—the latter of which I generally ignored, stuffing the unopened envelopes into the back of various day planners. I had to pay my own way, because there was no one there to help me, really, and that was just fine. I have always valued the independence that comes with knowing that every wrinkled dollar I paid my rent with was with money I earned. I didn’t want help, because I knew that we didn’t have it, but I was proving that I could at least support myself.
That said, I have asked for parental help, but it has been done grudgingly and only in times of great need. When I first moved to New York and moved out of my boyfriend’s dingy hovel into a new apartment, with a roommate, I needed a mattress. My bank account at that time held just enough money to cover my day-to-day expenses. I can’t remember how I paid for my security deposit, but I can only assume that I asked my father, who probably gave me the money. The mattress was another story. I called my father outside of the Sleepy’s on 6th Avenue, across the street from my office and made my case. After making what we both knew were empty promises for repayment, I ordered the cheapest mattress they had. Four years later, I still have it, though it is starting to sag in the middle, and I wake up some mornings with a weird, sharp pain in my lower back. I will keep that mattress until I can afford a new one.
Recently, I realized that my computer was getting on in years. Freelancing means that my computer is the one thing in my life that needs to be highly functional, efficient and up to date. After a very misguided attempt at financing a computer at Best Buy on credit that ended with another credit card in my name and no new computer, I called my father, out of the very specific frustration that comes from wanting something and not being able to have it. I called for financial advice, and during our conversation, he offered to buy me a new computer—one that I would pay off in a year, similar to the credit arrangement I would have had with Best Buy, but without interest and the threat of looming creditors and strife. “You need a computer for your job,” he said. “I want to help you, so I’m going to. This is a loan, it’s not a gift. You’ll pay me back. Besides, I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t have it.”
I have an aversion to help, of any kind and am loathe to ask for assistance, even when I genuinely do need it. As is natural for someone who attempts to exert control over the uncontrollable, doing things by myself, as difficult as they are at times, is my natural way of being. When my dad offered to pay for a new computer for me, I felt a dark guilt, like a tiny bubble of failure that rose to my throat and burst. I am, for all intents and purposes, an adult, nearing the age where I should have socked away a hefty chunk of money earmarked for various adult purchases, like down payments on houses and quietly expensive handbags. I should be sending my parents money, or making offers to help them with their adult things, like mortgages and buying a firepit for the backyard. Instead, I was standing outside the Best Buy in Union Square trying not to cry.
There’s a tiny bubble of failure that rises to the back of your throat, and bursts. Asking for money after a certain age feels wrong because you’re not supposed to do that anymore. It upsets the natural order of things. Children, once released from their ancestral homes, blossom into semi-functional adults who pay for their cell phones and spend their own money. Parental responsibility is financial up to a certain age, but the purse strings should grow slack the older you get. My mother sends money back to her family in Taiwan, lending her sisters and her parents money without asking for it back. This is the kind of thing that adults do, even though she is far from financially responsible in so many ways. I have a feeling that this is the kind of behavior she expects from me, to tend to her in her dotage.
But, part of being an adult is understanding when there are things that are out of your control. Maybe you lose your job and your health insurance and you step up onto a curb funny and break your ankle. Maybe you have to move out of your apartment and into a new one very quickly, and you just don’t have the money required to change homes in your city. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it, even if it hurts your pride and makes you feel like an insufficient adult. It’s okay to take their help when they offer it to you, because they are their parents, and they have it to give to you and they love you.
Megan Reynolds lives in New York.