Money

Women and Money: A Very, Very, Very Fine House

Today’s question: Will our plans to sell the house ruin our family?

Dear Emma,

My husband and I will be retiring within the year and we told our two children, ages 33 and 35, that we plan to sell our house and buy a smaller, more affordable condo nearby. We’ve owned our big, old, beautiful home for nearly 40 years, and it is full of wonderful memories for all of us. Also, it’s in a neighborhood full of people who have been our community and close friends for decades.

My children are so angry with us for this move. They are both starting their own families — one is married with a baby, the second is engaged — and expressed their expectations that we would keep the house for their families to enjoy. They want their future kids to play on the tire swing in the backyard and have Easter egg hunts in the attic, just as they did growing up. My daughter surprised me by suggesting that she hoped to move into the house one day after we’re gone.

My husband and I are very open about our finances with our kids and they know that we could afford to keep the house. Instead, we are choosing a simpler lifestyle by moving into a condo, and prefer to use our money to travel and give to charity. Our kids, however, feel like we’re neglecting our responsibility to family tradition. Who is right?

— Overwhelmed in Oakland

Dear Overwhelmed,

People crave a homestead. It is important to know where you come from. Parents are compelled to show their children that place. Houses and land and neighborhoods form people, bridge one generation to the next, help us know ourselves. Your children’s dreams for your house are not petty or selfish. They are human and important. Because that building is such a profound piece of who they are, it is understandable why your kids feel they own claim to it.

However, the money you earn is your money to spend as you please ­— no matter the strong emotions of your family.

I imagine you have considered staying put in your big beautiful house and recreating the same holidays you’ve celebrated there for generations. You’ve checked out that fantasy — your children’s fantasy — and have chosen a different life. You have that right to the condo and the travel and the charity. Of course, you will continue to be connected with your family and old neighbors in new and likely wonderful ways, and everyone will develop new traditions in new places.

But all of this also comes at a price, and perhaps your children need to hear you acknowledge that. Since the money is indeed for you and your husband to spend — and the family homestead is, as such, in your hands — you control the future of the family to a degree. This is heavy business. Make sure you sit with the gravity of it. Speak about it with your husband. Then articulate your recognition of the whole scenario to your kids. Then give your kids time to come to terms with the law of the land: They need to respect your wishes and not impose their own.

Once you’ve bought the new condo, hit up Crate & Barrel and make sure your new dining table has enough seats for everyone at Thanksgiving.

Emma Johnson blogs at WealthySingleMommy. She is a freelance business and personal finance journalist, and mom of two. Send her your questions at emma@emma-johnson.net.

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