In the minds of some parents, their adult children are forever young - like Peter Pan. They may be in their 30s, 40s or older but they still look to their parents for financial support.
Parents pay bills, provide deposits for rental property or homes, give loans, pay off debt and so on.
The parents' motivation is laudable. They love their adult children and it's translated into money. But keeping them attached to the financial umbilical cord isn't good for the child and can be disastrous for the parent financially.
"No" can be a very hard word to say and some parents end up under a cloud of emotional blackmail and even physical threats. I've heard of cases in New Zealand where elderly parents were told they couldn't see their grandchildren unless they provided money.
It may be fine to fund the kids if there is an endless pot of money. In many cases there isn't and parents have lost their home or their retirement savings by "helping" feckless kids.
An American survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 59 per cent of parents helped their adult children financially.
The survey found the most common reasons for giving assistance were because:
The parents were legitimately concerned with their children's financial well-being (43 per cent of respondents)
They didn't want their children to go through the same struggles they did (37 per cent of respondents)
Their children were worse off than they were in the past (32 per cent of respondents). Although the last point was one of the more common reasons cited, at 32 per cent it was a minority who believed their children were worse off. Adult children often think they face greater hardship than their parents. This could be argued both ways.
Those in their 20s and 30s may have student loans that their parents wouldn't have had and some people struggle to get a first step on to the housing ladder. These same people, however, pay much lower interest rates than their parents did in the 1980s and they can expect to own and buy many more consumer goods and luxuries than their parents had.
Kiwi parents' relationship with their adult children has begun to change, says Mark Thorpe, head of psychology at Auckland University of Technology. Adult children are remaining dependent on their parents for longer than past generations.
The parent's role is to nurture the child and then let go. By 12-15 months, when a child begins to walk, he or she realises they are separate and can move away and come back to the nurturing parent. Traditionally, by age 28 to 32 offspring are totally differentiated from the family of origin, says Thorpe.
However, various societal changes happening mean parents aren't necessarily cutting the umbilical cord by that age. One is that this generation of parents has more money than any previous generation and baby boomers are willing to spend that cash on themselves. This can introduce an element of guilt for kicking the children out of the financial nest.
"It difficult to say 'I am not going to lend you that but I am off overseas for seven months'," says Thorpe.
For their part parents can use money as an unhealthy weapon in their parenting and it is not uncommon for these children to grow up to middle age dependent on their parents for money and never finding their own space, says Marie Quinn, of Marie Quinn Financial Services.
The parents don't want to be seen as ogres or a bullies, says Thorpe. The children latch on psychologically to their parents' guilt and expect more - in some cases claiming entitlement.
"Kids are really good at that - 'My girlfriend's father gave us X, Y, Z'. This can turn into elder abuse if left unchecked," says Thorpe.
"They think, 'Mum doesn't need that money as much as we do'."
The link between parents financially bailing out their adult children and adult children's expectations that parents will continue to support them in their chosen lifestyle worries Age Concern.
"Anecdotally, our elder abuse and neglect prevention services are reporting more families where adult children have an expectation that their parents 'have a duty' to support them in their chosen lifestyle," says Louise Collins, Age Concern's elder abuse national adviser.
"It is often a pattern from childhood of parents not letting go and attitudes that do not value older people or see them as people with the same human rights as anyone else."
That abuse can take many forms, says Collins, ranging from adult children saying they need the money for the grandchildren, to "a more subtle form of financial elder abuse of adult children moving in with Mum and/or Dad and failing to contribute to the costs of running the home", says Collins.
It goes so far as children taking money forcibly, or as one professional interviewed for this article said, trying to have their mother "declared ga ga" to get their hands on the money, which they considered to be theirs already.
It's normal for a parent to want to help a child through university so they can get the best job possible. On the other hand adult children, who are happy to receive the money, are being infantilised by the relationship with their parents, says Thorpe.
By not letting go the parents reinforce the situation. It's a pretty good parent who can actually avoid moralising about how adult children spend loans.
Parents need to be aware that by repaying a child's debt they are fuelling that child's lifestyle.
Sometimes adult children have got into debt or been unable to raise a mortgage thanks to making bad financial choices. By lending or giving money for a mortgage, a parent can be giving a child a leg up, or perpetuating poor choices.
It's a huge psychological leap, says Thorpe, between parents knowing that they can afford to help those adult children and just saying "no".
"The time comes when you just have to be firm."
The best thing to do is to understand psychologically what is going on. Do you feel guilt? Are you being manipulated? Are you refusing to let go of your children and let them grow up?
Family relationships can and do break down over money. Saying "no" is to run the gauntlet of abuse and manipulation and perhaps the risk of the child not finishing university.
The worst-case scenario doesn't always happen, however, says Thorpe.
Tony Walker, a financial adviser at Future History, recommends that parents who cut the financial umbilical cord pay for their child to have a financial consultation with a professional adviser so the young person gets access to good, common sense advice from a neutral party.
"It is very hard for parents to give this advice to their children directly - and likely that the children won't accept it anyhow."
There will be times when parents still lend money. Do it in a structured way, however, by documenting the loan or gift and setting up written expectations.
"With adult children, I advise clients to make any arrangements formal," says Walker. "For example, if money is loaned to a young person to buy a motor vehicle it should be documented and a formal loan agreement drawn up with formal repayments."
This achieves a number of things. It makes the young person respect the lender, it trains them in the process of finance that they will encounter soon enough as they move through life, removes any misunderstandings down the track and it is fair to other siblings and family members, especially if a family trust is involved.
The loan agreement needs to cover the same types of issues that a commercial loan would.
That may include time limits, interest payments and penalty interest, which ensures accountability.