I remember being in college and there was a really nice guy on the floor of the dorm that I lived in. He would drop by and chat, and we would talk about stuff. Somehow, he would inevitability get around to seeing something that I had that was nice, a camera, some school supplies, or a bike. Then somehow, he would always get around to borrowing it or using whatever was of interest to him.
I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I remember being a little irritated by the constant borrowing or using. I mentioned it to my Dad one time, and he said, “Son, let me tell you something, that guy is a sponge and you need to stay away from him.”
I remember at the time thinking about how my Dad was simply harsh. I mean he didn’t even know the guy, yet here Dad was declaring the moral nature of the guy. I was the one that was living with the guy on the same floor, and I certainly knew more than my Dad. Although he borrowed a bit more, he certainly wasn’t this person that my Dad talked about. My Dad was a hard man, and I simply thought that this was part of his hardness.
Interestingly enough, I found out over time, that I was completely wrong and my Dad was completely right. In many ways, the fellow was exactly what my Dad said. My Dad had seen this so many times over his life, he had an understanding that some people are users of other people. Their sense of reciprocation is broken, and they will attempt to remove as much from you as they can.
In many ways this is subtle. They are not psychopaths. They are not bad people. They are simply sponges. It is the perfect name for them.
Sponges come in all shapes and sizes. They have two payoffs that the sponges are looking for:
a. One is monetary. They are trying to figure out how to get some money out of your pocket. Now it may be borrowing something, or using something that isn’t their stuff for too long. But it means that they deprive you of something.
b. The other one is emotional. They are looking to suck you into their emotional soap opera.
The goal of a sponge is to see how much they can suck in, with the minor amount that they can push out. Now mind you, you may squeeze a sponge and get either emotional support or money, but the point is that you need to squeeze. If you are a nice person, you might end up squeezing, but then you feel guilty about it.
This becomes most difficult inside of a family because our life starts off as being sponges. You come out of the womb, and you are incapable of reciprocation. A matter of the fact, if you are hungry, you scream, and you are comforted or fed (as long as you have good parents). This is the epitome of our spongeful lives.
The act of growing up is the act of learning that we should not be sponges. We learn that we may ask from others, but we should also look at returning in kind. As we grow, we understand that we are not measured by our ability to take, but by our ability to return and provide. The act of being a parent is one where we try and train our kids in many abilities, and not being a sponge is top on the list.
This drives a clear turning point at one time in our lives. As parents, we need to mentally break the cord. At some time in life, as a parent, you need to say, “This is their life. They can ask me for advice, but I cannot force them to live their lives as I see it.” Mind you, you may have issues where you feel that you have to speak up, but you have to keep it far and few between. As a parent, you can’t do this all at once, but it is a gradual letting go as the child moves from junior high to high school or college.
You can actually let go and still have the child live with you even after college. The key is understanding why the child is at home. If it is to save, I find this as a very good reason. After all, I am not attaching my stuff to hearse and dragging it into heaven. All my earthly goods will be gone, and I will leave it to my children. So, I have no issue in helping my kids now rather than after I am gone. However, as I give, one needs to recognize that giving should be letting go. I may give my child a down payment on the house, but if they sell the house and use this money for vacation, they are telling me that I shouldn’t give any more. It might seem like a waste, but some times the only way to see what happens is to give your child live ammo. I would suggest that you are slow in how you test the waters here.
To explore further, in many families, as the parents get older, there are two things that can happen:
1. The child can see the parent has accumulated some wealth and may want that wealth for themselves. Even the best of children may want the security that comes with that wealth. The main thing to remember here is that if the child has accumulated security themselves, it takes the pressure off. So, teaching money habits is key. The thing which I’ll interfere the most in my child’s life is pressuring them to have the ability to make a decent wage, and pushing them to save. To me, this is as critical as pressuring them not to smoke. Good money habits and a savings plan makes life much less stressful.
2. The second thing is that the parent can become the role of the child in the relationship. In the life of the parent, the child starts off as the sponge, but toward later in life the parent ends up as the sponge.
The parent may turn into a money sponge. The parent may want you to sign on their mortgage and co-sign a note. Secondly, they may turn into an emotional sponge. They may have an anger problem, or a bitterness problem. They want to pull you into their soap opera. In this second situation, I have a very strong word of advice. Don’t get sucked in.
I’ve heard some say, “but my parents helped me so much. I owe them.”
Really? I’m going to suggest you have it screwed up. If our families work well, your parents were help by their parents. In the right way of life, if your parent helped you, you must help your children. You don’t pay your debts backward. You pay them forward. This is the lesson that you should have been taught, and the lesson that you need to teach your children. I am helping you. Now you go help your children.
But some parents don’t play this game. They are playing the sponge game. You need to be careful if you parent turns into a sponge, either monetary or emotional.
Now, I am not saying to be cold hearted, and allow your parents to starve.
If they are having a bad day or if they lost their spouse, don’t say “hey get over it.”
What I am saying is that you shouldn’t be sucked into their situation.
If your parents are to the stage of life that they need help, but they never knew how to budget, you are not going to fix that problem. If they can’t keep the house, they can’t keep the house. If they can’t afford a new car, don’t help them buy it. If they need to be in an assisted care facility, but they won’t move, you can’t force them to move until they recognize it themselves. Don’t get into an argument with your parents. Let them know how you feel and move on.
Now, some will have parents (or other relatives) that simply never could figure out how to manage money. They never saved a dime, but they were good people. In this case you need to ask yourself “are they an emotional sponge?”
a. If the answer is no, I hope that you have enough room or enough money to invite them to live in your house or apartment. Good parents or grandparents have lived with their children as long as their has been history. If they are decent people, bring them in. The Lord will honor and bless you for it.
b. If they are an emotional sponge, you need to cut them outside of your life. I am not saying to not talk to them. I’m not saying that you can fiscally cut them off. (Although you are not obligated to support their lifestyle that they want.) You are obligated to figure if you can help them out. It may mean that you send them some money to help with their needs for the rest of their life. But the money needs to be budgeted, and what the Lord directs you to. And don’t steal from your kids to pay your parents. Your kids don’t need a Porsche, but they do need an education.
I recently had a situation where somebody that I was close to was allowing one of their parents to suck them into their soap opera. The parent had always had mood swings, and as they got older, this continued or even got worse. However, this person was not insane, nor mentally ill.
In this case, they were simply a grumpy old person that was going to be bitter because somebody had ripped them off. Now the parent could have lived without the money. So while it was a lot of money, it was not a life changing event. However, the person that I was close to was spending a massive amount of time arguing, talking and emotionally getting wound up around the situation with their parent. After they had done this a month, they told me about it, and asked me for what to do.
Now this person had allow the situation to get so bad that it was impacting their relationship with their spouse and their children. On the surface, it looked okay, but the family knew there was something wrong. This person really wanted to understand what to do, so I came down hard so they would never forget the lesson.
I said the following:
a. This is not your problem. You are trying to tell your parent how to live their life. This is just a crazy thought. You’ve allow this to impact your whole family, and in reality, this person is so set in their ways, you are never going to change them.
b. When you are dealing with a parent, they will always see you as the child. The more you try and play the parent, the more that you will drive a wedge into your relationship. You need to be kind and listening, but if the person tries to suck you into their soap opera and sponge you out, you need to simply say, “I’m sorry I’m not talking about this, and I’m not getting involved. You know my opinion, and I am not going to allow you to vent to me and ruin my day. This is your problem, so call me when you want to be civilized. As for your problem, if is yours to solve. You already have my opinion.”
By doing this, you save the relationship. What really makes a parent mad is when the child tries to teach the parent. They resent it, and it drives the relationship apart. The key is stating your opinion, then refusing to be sucked into an emotional soap opera.
The issue is that the son had a completely different viewpoint on life and could not see the value of hard work and saving for the future.
If you think about it, the son is a perfect example of somebody that was completely wrong on their outlook of life. The son had a really bad worldview, and was just about to do something completely stupid.
So into this situation we have the role of the Father. The most pressing and clear aspect of this whole story is that the father never tried to argue or nag their son. I’ve heard the sermon of the prodigal son so many times that I’ve lost count. In all the sermons, they use the story to illustrate God’s love and forgiveness. They know the father in the story has the character and nature of God. What they don’t point out is that the father is more than willing to know that he cannot force the son to do the right thing. He has to wait until circumstances drive clarity into his son’s understanding.
If God doesn’t force his children to do something, why do we think we are more capable of God?
This story is a blueprint for how we are to treat those that are closest to us. In this case, the father had raised the son to the age of accountability. Once there, the father understood that he could not force his son to do anything.
The father simply gave his son over to God, and had hope that his son would find his way home.
As children, we need to realize that we may have prodigal parents. We need to let them go, and our job is to pray that they return to us.