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Do you pay your son's mortgage?

Your adult son has a history of being careless with money. Despite your urging to buy something more modest, he and his spouse bought a house they couldn’t afford. Now they’re having trouble paying the mortgage. You recently came into some money. Do you help them out, or should they learn from their mistake?

By Lee Simpson and Kevin Little

Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.

When I was eight, I spent the $2 that my grandparents gave me for my birthday on penny candy on the day I received it. At 17, I loaned a boyfriend $50 to help him buy a motorcycle; he never repaid me. Based on these tales of family mythology, I was forever cast as a notorious spendthrift.

Thus, when my husband and I were on the first rung of that fabled property ladder, my parents were very leery about this foolish condominium fad. They cautioned us against it, especially when it was evident that we had not saved the 25 percent down payment their generation deemed the minimum necessary. Horrified that the bank actually gave us a mortgage, my parents predicted insolvency within a decade. You may or may not be surprised to learn that we never did take up residence in the poorhouse, and our credit rating is just fine, thank you.

My point is that one generation is not necessarily a perfect judge of the budgetary maturity level of the next. Parental vision is clouded by past events. I recall when $10,000 was considered a huge income and can’t shake the notion that $20 should take me further than the drug-store. It is very hard to adequately judge the financial decisions of others: the generation gap is often lined with devalued coinage.

Assuming that my son has requested my help, I’ll make it a loan and get my lawyer to draw up terms. Under no circumstances will I rush into the breach without an invitation.

It is imperative to fight against that punitive, judgmental streak that affects all but the most beneficent of us when it comes to cold cash. Scoring moral points by giving them money is more mean-spirited than withholding the funds to teach them something I deem essential. They have undoubtedly already swallowed that lesson along with their pride in coming to me.

Author's photo
Rev. Kevin Little is a minister at St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon, N.S.

I would use some of this newfound bounty to help my son pay his mortgage. We all make mistakes (I’ve made many), and if I can help anyone recover from poor judgment, I will. I would make it clear this rescue plan is a one-time offer. To do otherwise would be to compound the carelessness and encourage my son to be even more foolish in the future.

This points to a problem rarely discussed in churches these days: the true meaning of abundance.

There ought to be abundance for the poor. But doesn’t the middle class already have abundance? We will never truly understand what is precious about life as long as we feel entitled to everything. That is why Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Anyone who has read the book House Lust knows we North Americans have gone overboard buying and renovating bigger and more ornate palaces for ourselves, ones we often can’t afford.

My son has succumbed to this disease of “affluenza,” and after my initial contribution I will need to model a simple lifestyle of enjoying the abundance of happiness found in non-materialistic pleasures. That will radically affect the gifts we give him and his family, the size of the home I live in, and the ways in which I am “good to myself.”

We live in a time when people have more debt than ever before. This debt is not all caused by paying for the necessities and joys in life. There is plenty of waste brought about by mindless consumption.

As a parent and a follower of Jesus, I know abundant joy comes from relationships, beauty and following a cause greater than self. None of which I would need help from parents to pay for.

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