|By Amy Alkon|
Wednesday, Feb. 5 — Q: After six years with a lazy and ambitionless boyfriend, I found a funny, loyal, caring boyfriend I love, with a solid career and a good work ethic. He pays his share of our bills and even does our laundry! The problem is, at 28, he is SO incredibly spoiled by his parents. They are well-off and pay for his car insurance, randomly deposit $200 in his bank account (about once monthly), and even bought him new snow tires! He has made headway on small issues I’ve brought up, like cooking more than bachelor-type foods and playing video games less, but he says, “I’m not calling my parents and demanding they stop paying for my insurance, if that’s something they want to do.” Well, I can’t feel we’re in a marriage-potential relationship while he isn’t fully self-sufficient. I worry that we’ll have kids and he’ll still be getting assistance from mommy and daddy. As an independent person who pays all her own bills, I want my man to do the same and to want to be independent from his parents, as well.
—Mama’s Boy’s Girlfriend
A: I get where you’re coming from. When I was in my late teens, I was hot to be completely independent from my parents. Now that I’m in my late 40s, I wish my parents would get high on LSD and start paying my bills.
Just because your boyfriend’s parents give him cash and snow tires (and don’t even make him do tricks like a seal for every penny) doesn’t mean he’s spoiled. Pediatrician Bruce J. McIntosh, who coined the term “spoiled child syndrome,” explains that what makes a kid “spoiled” — sets him on a path to becoming a nasty and irresponsible adult brat — is not parental indulgence but parental overindulgence, meaning parents’ failure to set clear limits and expectations. McIntosh writes in the journal Pediatrics that overindulgent parents attempt “to meet the child's complex developmental needs with material gifts and uncritical acceptance while failing to provide essential guidelines for acceptable behavior.” Their spoiled kids grow up into spoiled adults — self-absorbed manipulators who lack consideration for others, have difficulty delaying gratification, and throw tantrums to get their way — not the guy you describe: loyal, loving, and laundry-doing, with a good work ethic, and now compliantly expanding his culinary horizons beyond frozen pizza, Hot Pockets, and pasta that comes with a packet of crack-like powdered “cheese.”
The fact that his parents pay for his car insurance is unlikely to cause a good guy, apparently raised with appropriate boundaries, to snap — to start banging his boss over the head with his G.I. Joe to try to get a better parking space. What his parents are doing actually seems smart: giving him his inheritance while they’re still around to see him enjoying it. Your asking him to demand they stop is like asking him to walk past a $20 bill he spots on the sidewalk just because he didn’t earn it. Also, because kids and unforeseen expenses go together like peanut butter and anaphylactic shock, consider that having generous in-laws wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. (Kids say the darndest things: “Mommy, I might need the doctor to find my Lego again” and “I wanna go to grad school!”)
You might also consider why you’re so determined to swat the money fairy with a rolled-up newspaper. Unfortunately, we humans have a self-image-protecting need to justify our thinking as right, so once we’ve decided The Way Things Are, we tend to lock up our minds and refuse to let in any opposing viewpoints to argue their case. One possible way to remedy this is to start from the premise that you’re human and therefore fallible. It also helps to consider whether your reasoning on a particular issue would more accurately be described as “emotioning.” For example, could you be acting out of envy that your boyfriend has had advantages you haven’t? Is it possible you have a fear hangover from your relationship with the slacker who started every day by getting a head start on napping?
Ultimately, the fairest, most sensible way to assess whether you have anything to worry about is to coolly examine the evidence. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Action is character.” Look at the kind of guy your boyfriend has shown himself to be, and then project that guy into scenarios in your future together. If you can just crank down the dimmer switch on your emotions, I suspect you’ll find your way to a conclusion along these lines: that this loyal, loving, hardworking guy will continue to be all of those things and that you can rest assured that his plan for paying the kiddies’ private-school tuition won’t involve a truckload of lottery scratchers or a ski mask and a shotgun.
Advice Goddess Radio: Harvard Business School’s Dr. Francesca Gino on how to make wise decisions and stick to them.