Ask Team Practical: Parenting Parents


by Liz Moorhead, Ask Team Practical
Ask Team Practical: Parenting Parents | A Practical Wedding

My fiancé and I are building a life together. This includes buying a new house. My parents make financial planning and life decisions I do not agree with, and they are struggling with poverty. They’ve asked to live with me on occasion before, but I wasn’t in the position. Now that I would technically have the space, I feel like a scumbag, but I do not want them to live with us in our new house. We have a history of them taking advantage of generosity, rather than using it as motivation to get their act straight. I am afraid they will never move out, and I cannot be a human ATM machine. I’m so tired of thinking about this and it makes me hurt. How do I know when to cut my parents off from an endless cash flow, when they continue to make terrible decisions?

Too Worn Out For A Fun Sign Off

Dear TWOFAFSO,

The worst part of adulthood (besides the nine-to-fives and the taxes) has got to be when you’re forced to parent your parents. And I hate to break it to ya, but that sounds like where you are. When it’s put that way, you can think of treating your parents the way you would, well—not kids. But, sort of, yeah. Kids. Plus the added respect for birthing you and/or raising you.

Whether we’re talking about parents or kids, or even friends or siblings, the most loving thing to do is to help without enabling and without hurting yourself. Easier said than done, am I right? Plus, you’re newly married. And marriage comes with a slight shift in relational roles. Yeah, you’re still your parents’ kid, you still love them to death, but now the protection of your marriage has been bumped up to top priority.

So, how to help, keeping all of these things in mind? Abruptly declaring, “ALRIGHT! I’ve helped you enough! You’re on your own!” can be sort of divisive. Instead, set some expectations and boundaries so there’s a bit of warning when it’s time to say, “Sorry. I can’t anymore.” Expectations being, “Here is what I want you to do,” and boundaries being, “Here’s the limit to how I will help.” Sometimes the boundaries are dependent on the expectations, of course. If you meet with a financial advisor weekly and follow their advice, I’ll help you cover your car payment, etc.

Expectations should be large-scale, not the sort of thing that requires micromanaging. In fact, delegate. Send them to that financial advisor I mentioned above. You’ve probably already figured this out yourself, but you really can’t root around in the nitty gritty of it with them. No sitting down at the kitchen table with the financial records, no asking nosy questions about financial decisions, and no setting little allowances for them. It would drive them positively insane. Actually, it’d probably drive you even crazier. Beside all that, it’s just way too easy to find flaws in the way someone handles their day-to-day finances. I believe you when you say your parents are making large-scale Bad Financial Decisions, but you don’t need to see when they splurged $1.69 on coffee, or bought Charmin instead of the store brand one-ply (but can you blame them? That stuff is awful). None of that is your problem, and seeing the details will infuriate you in ways you don’t need. Help them set the appointments, fill out the applications, or whatever else sets them on the path to the good. But don’t dig down into the bad. You probably don’t want to see the full extent anyway.

Boundaries are harder though, aren’t they? And this, I guess, is where we get to the meat of your question and you determine, “Should I let them live with us?” If they’re not meeting your expectations, no. This is finally your chance to flip around the old, “Not under my roof!” But aside from that, boundaries are there to protect you and your marriage. Will having your mom and dad padding around in the house harm your marriage? Then shut it down. Boundaries are also about protecting your relationship with your parents. If giving and giving while they continue to run amok is making you angry with your parents, it’s probably harming more than helping.

When it does come time to say, “Sorry. I can’t help in this way,” though you may be angry, you can emphasize what I said above. “This is hurting our relationship, and I want to protect it. So I won’t be able to help you like this any more.” It’s hard, scary, and sad. But prioritizing your marriage, setting clear expectations, and building protective boundaries is good for everyone involved.

*****

Team Practical, how have you handled parents who ask a lot of you? When do you say, “Enough is enough”?

Photo by APW sponsor Emily Takes Photos.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her son.

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  • K

    I most definitely identify with this question! I am in a similar situation with my parents – they haven’t asked to live with us recently, but with them moving out to be closer to us, I’m worried that’s what’s coming.

    I guess I don’t have any magical answers – but then, I suppose the key words here are “it’s hard.” There is never going to be an easy way to break away from your parents financially without breaking away emotionally as well – and this is made even more difficult when they act very much like children.

    I am hoping someone else will have some more words of wisdom……I think the financial advisor idea is a great one, I hope that I can talk my parents into that!

  • kckp

    My husband and I are “parenting” a sibling instead of parents, but a lot of these strategies seem like they would help us too.

    • Anon

      Yes. This has not happened to us, yet, but I fear it is on the not-too-distant horizon. Not that I am opposed to helping — I am totally on board! — but not if we are the only family members to do so, being perceived as having the cash flow (we certainly don’t have it). I am more than willing to contribute our share (and even more than our share, as long as others are also contributing), but I am not willing to allow the family to shove this responsibility solely on us. I am terrified, and don’t really know how to plan for it. Save extra cash just in case? Set boundaries now? Try to talk to the family to see what kind of plan they have for the future care of said sibling? Make sure every room in our house is being “used” so that we “don’t have room”? Sending you strength in dealing with this issue, I know it can’t be easy.

    • Jessica

      My fiancé and I are eventually going to take over the care of his severely mentally ill sister. She has been violent in the past and we don’t want her living with us and any potential children we have. It’s hard knowing that we will have to make painful decisions. But I completely agree, there is no easy way through these issues.

  • http://anniecardi.com Annie

    Ugh, TWOFAFSO is in a really tough situation and deserves major hugs (and maybe a massage and some nice shoes). Along with Liz’s fantastic advice, I’ll chime in with out necessary it can be to set boundaries like that. Without going into too many details, my family’s dealt with a kind of similar situation, and all parties are way better off now that boundaries have been set. The side who had to set boundaries is WAY less stressed now, and the side who had boundaries set realized they could look after themselves and take responsibility/not take advantage of others. It doesn’t mean everything’s perfect all the time, and it took a while to work out, but it was a necessary move. It’s really rough, but it can be better for everyone in the long run. Good luck with everything!

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

    It’s hard enough setting boundaries with parents, especially when it comes to money and shared living situations. I’d say this calls for a talk with your fiance about what you are and are not comfortable with in regards to helping your parents out. That way when the next request comes the two of you already know where your boundaries are, what you are and aren’t comfortable doing. It might make the conversation with your parents easier just because you already know what boundaries you are setting.

    With friends and family members who are in a tight bind financially I always set two rules 1) I don’t lend more than I can afford to give. Too often the money doesn’t make its way back to me, so I need to know that I won’t be stressed and resentful for the loan. 2) I wouldn’t say yes to a living situation if I wouldn’t be ok with the thought of it becoming permanent.

    Then it’s just a matter of standing firm and being supportive to the best of your ability. It’s so hard to say no to parents though.

    • Another Meg

      If I was an only child, I’d be in a similar situation. As it is, my older siblings are bearing the brunt of my parents’ bad financial choices. I think Liz’s advise is great, and I agree with Sheryl that you should talk to your fiance and keep ahead of requests from your parents. It can really help to know what his limits are in this regard. I’m sorry you’re in this situation- setting boundaries with parents while still maintaining a good parent-child relationship is tricky; I hope you find a solution that works for everyone.

  • Anon

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful advice! I am struggling with parenting members of my family in other (non-financial) ways, but the steps suggested really bring some clarity on how to approach our fam’s issues.

    I love the guideline that you should never “loan”, or give away, more than you can afford to without resentment if you are never “repaid.”

    I am also grateful for the comment about how, over the long haul, setting boundaries CAN build sanity for the setters and even help the others grow and learn on their own. Even if it’s a difficult journey. Sometimes I fear that folks in my family will not learn :-( but sanity on my side is worth attempting!!

  • KE

    The Billfold recently had a great column about exactly this- http://thebillfold.com/2012/11/just-say-no/. Similar advice to Liz’s, but written by someone whose parents do depend on him. TWOFAFSO, you’re not the only one struggling with this.

    • Dawn

      I just wanted to quickly thank you for linking to that site — I’d never seen it before and I just spent waaaay too much time on it considering I’m at work but it has some great stuff on it!

      • KE

        Yep, it’s up there with APW on my daily “must read” list. People talking honestly about money is so refreshing. Which is what I love about APW… smart people talking honestly about relationships and weddings!

  • Chalk

    Please keep in mind that it’s a lot harder to get someone to move out than it is to allow them to move in. If I were in your position, I’d set up a savings account without their knowledge, and start setting money aside for them. That way, when they come against a true financial emergency (and it sounds like it’s inevitable), you’ll be in a position to not only help them, but the extra money will give yourself options for how to help them. Good luck.

    • Liz

      Wow, that’s excellent.

    • Breck

      This is my plan as soon as I graduate/have a job that pays beyond minimum wage. My mom has had a very tough few years, and she’s not the most financially responsible gal around. She has joked a few times that she’s counting on me to have an extra bedroom for her when she runs out of money, but us under one roof (especially now that I live with my dude) is not an option whatsoever. She has always put me and my brother first, so I plan on being there to help her out, but for the sake of my relationship with her, my relationship with my guy, and, most importantly, my own sanity, she needs to live elsewhere.

      I hadn’t really thought about how I would address this when the time came, so this was really great pre emptive advice for me. Bookmarking, now.

  • A

    In addition to Liz’s great advice, I highly recommend the advice of Captain Awkward. She has a wealth of strategies and scripts for dealing with tough situations. Her advice is always amazing, and enforcing healthy boundaries is her specialty!

  • M.

    This is something that I’ve really been struggling with. My fiancee’s parents have had a rough go of it the past 3 years (as many of us have) and have had to come to him more than once for money. As a (then undergraduate, now graduate) student, it really pained me to see what little savings he had go to his parents. I have deep empathy for them and realize that some things (like multiple layoffs and prolonged unemployment due to the financial crisis) are unpredictable and unfortunate; however, it boggles my mind that his family not only had no savings to back them up but continues to spend money on things (new laptops, large Christmas presents) that I deem frivolous (instead of putting the money to paying off surmounting credit card debt, morgtage, etc.).

    I recognize that it’s not my place, as just his fiancee, to be able to say anything to his parents, but the problem also lies in the fact that he is perfectly enabling them. To him, it’s “his money,” whereas, to me, it’s also “our money for our future.”

    • Anonforthis

      My husband and I have come up against this same difficulty with his mother and her husband. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that he deals with the emotional challenges of the situation with stoicism and by shutting his emotions down. I really struggled with this when we were pre-engaged and through much of our engagement. However, two things happened which really helped me cope.
      1. In trying to “protect” my parents and family from them, I learned a lot about how he felt – He loves them and wants to help them, but most of all, he doesn’t want anyone else to have to shoulder the burden of dealing with them. He tried to block me out of conversations about dealing with them because he was trying to protect me, rather than leaning on me for support. Once I realized this (mostly because my mom explained it to me after a battle over giving his parents my parents phone number – I didn’t want them calling and asking my folks for money), I started broaching the subject by saying things like “how can WE plan financially to support your mom better”. Opening that conversation during a neutral time, when there wasn’t a problem to deal with really helped us iron out our strategy.
      2. One of the things that changed monumentally for our relationship after the wedding was sharing funds. Maybe it’s because he started grad school and we moved, or maybe it was the act of cashing a bunch of checks made out to both of us, but somehow, we started acting as a financial team with almost zero effort. Obviously, this helped a lot in getting on the same page for when and how we could give money to family. Hopefully this shift will happen for you too as you approach your wedding. Good luck!

    • Whitney

      I have nothing to add except thank goodness someone else out there has a simular situation. My fella and I have had almost relationship-ending “discussions” about the fact his parents have no retirement and have expressed an expectation on him eventually footing the bills.

      It’s hard for a control freak as myself to take about 100 deep breaths, and let him try to handle the tough process of setting boundaries. And then I have all these feelings: upset that he has to explain that he won’t have a zillion dollars to take care of them and it breaks his heart, resentment that they expect him to when he is only so awesome and successful by some miracle that all their nonsense didn’t permanently scar him, feeling like a total scrooge and classist for thinking that everyone should be taking care of themselves.

      This is the issue we continually have to revisit. I’m sure it will be that thing that we will always argue about.

  • KB

    I haven’t been in this exact situation, but I have to say that I empathize with how much it sucks when you realize that your parents are actual people with crappy flaws. It’s different when you’re younger and you think your parents are wrong, wrong, wrong just because they have different opinions or you’re rebelling or whatnot. But then you get to adulthood and you have that surreal moment where you come up against a conflict and think, “Wow – I know what you’re saying is totally and objectively incorrect. What do I do with this?”

    If it’s an option, another form of boundary-setting might require pulling away from them for a limited amount of time before you actually buy the house. It may hurt and be confusing to limit contact if you’re used to talking to them a lot, but creating physical distance can help reset the button on your relationship so that you can re-enter it with a fresh start and different expectations of behavior. I realize this isn’t the best course if they’re really in need of your emotional support, but maybe as a last resort option.

    One final thing – don’t let them make you feel guilty for doing this!! You can recognize that you feel badly for having to set these boundaries in the first place, but don’t let them take advantage of your feelings to make you do something that you don’t want to do. You are not snooty for refusing to give them money and you are not a bad daughter for refusing to enable them and their bad decisions. It’s why they call it “tough love” and not “easy love.”

  • Claire Elizabeth

    Oh lady, I feel for you. This is tough stuff. We’re dealing w/ a similar situation w/ my FIL, and it is so stressful.

    This is what A & I are doing:
    1) Sorting out our own finances so that we know exactly how much we can afford to support FIL – we’re a year into marriage, hoping to have kids in the next few years, and want to travel a lot. We need to be realistic about how much we can put toward FIL issues w/ out unduly compromising our own family plans.

    2) Setting up a savings/emergency account for FIL-related issues that we contribute to monthly. Because, as my military officer godfather always says: Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail – which, ahem, is kind of at the heart of this whole issue.

    3) Talking to professionals. This issue is tearing A up emotionally. And I am constantly pissed off about it which doesn’t make me especially helpful. So A is (reluctantly) seeing a counselor to get some perspective & help w/ setting boundaries. And I am reading up on financial planning techniques.

    4) Trying to set a good example/reasonable expectations. Because we feel badly about FIL’s circumstances, we got into the habit of doing/buying overly nice things for FIL b/c he otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. Cue dependency cycle! So we’ve cut back significantly – no more dinners at fancy restaurants, but a weekly supper at our place; no more expensive hockey tickets (Thanks NHL strike, you made that one easy!) but inviting him to watch sports at a pub or with a group of our friends.

    None of these tactics have solved the underlying issues, but I hope that, in time, we’ll get to a better, less fraught, place.

    • Laurel

      This is really good advice, especially the advice to plan for the help you’ll offer your family to make sure it works in your budget.

    • Whitney

      Yep, awesome advice. Gives me an action plan instead of being pissed :)

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    For the record, I found TWOFAFSO to be a very fun signoff. I said it out loud and enjoyed that very much.

  • Caroline

    We struggle with my in-laws not asking for money, but just explaining how their lack of money is clearly the end of the world, which makes us feel like we need to give them money to fix the immediate problem. After givin them a large (for us) sum of money, and feeling completely like it was a horrible decision, I had a long talk with my Rabbi about it. He explained that it wasn’t ethical to destroy our future and a ability to provide for ourselves and save money for things like a house and babies to care for them. Yes, respecting parents is a mitzvah (religious obligation), but that didn’t mean that we were allowed (according to religious law) to compromise our future to take care of them. We had an obligation to make sure we were ok too. It was really helpful, and my partner and I decided we would not be giving them more money for this type of thing. (We having given them money for other thugs like splitting a big birthday gift for his little sister, but not for their crises). The fact is, they’re a little drama prone when it comes to crises, and they’ve actually seemed to become a little better at figuring them out themselves since we decided we couldn’t help.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      DH and I had to have conversations along these lines when we were engaged. He “had” to buy his parents house (to try and save his substantial savings and so they could stay in the house they built – the second seemed more important to them at the time), and when both of us were laid off at about the same time, soon after making non-refundable deposits for our wedding, things got stressful money-wise.

      So we had to decide how long we could keep propping up his parents in a 5-bedroom + rumpus (etc etc) house, while we were living in a cold, damp 1-bed townhouse (in different cities) to try and save for our wedding. In the end, someone else made the decision for us and we got to sell their house and get some money back out of it, but yeah, we were already preparing to do it – we could not justify bankrupting ourselves as we started out as a newly married couple because of his parents mistakes.

      Thankfully we are all in a better place now (we own our own home, and they are clear of bankruptcy, so about to buy the place they are currently renting)

  • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

    I just set a boundary with my mother for the first time last night, over the phone. It had nothing to do with financial support, but everything to do with me being firm and protecting myself (from further emotional abuse, in this case). It did not go over well. I am so grateful for my husband, who is super supportive and has told me over and over again that I’m strong and did the right thing.

    For anyone else who’s set boundaries with parents (for whatever reason) I’d love to hear how you weathered the fallout. (To be honest, my mother struggles with undiagnosed mental illness, so the fallout in my situation is likely to be significant…)

    • Edelweiss

      First of all – well done. It takes a huge amount of emotional growth and courage to set boundaries in an emotionally abusive relationship. It is for your good and the good of your baby family, but it’s hard. Please take pride in what you’ve just done.

      Not knowing your situation or the kind of boundaries you set – I don’t know what to tell you about what to expect in weathering the storm. In my experiences, because I haven’t cut ties completely, it’s been hard but the worst of it is always in the beginning (whether it be the first week or the first month) – then if you stay firm, it gets easier. She will begin to respect the boundaries, she’ll find new ways to push the limits – but your boundaries will stay there. If you give in, you’ll find yourself in the same fight, only harder down the road.

      When you think about giving in, go to your husband. There is not one boundary I’ve set that I regret setting. But there are boundaries I’ve backed down from, and I consistently regret those decisions.

      In terms of her mental stability, my mother is still with my father so although she makes threats I don’t need to worry about any self-harm or her making herself physically unwell because I know he’s there. If you don’t have that to rely on, I suggest enlisting another relative or family friend to be the person that checks on any physical health concerns. You can’t safely protect your boundaries and be responsible for that.

      Good luck. You’re making good choices.

      • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

        Thank you, especially for the part about not regretting any of the boundaries you’ve set. Although I’m panicking a bit at how “off script” we are (for 30 years I’ve made every attempt to acquiesce to my mother’s distorted worldview, in hopes of avoiding her wrath. Now that I’ve taken a stand I’m frankly terrified of what will happen next. The devil you know versus the one you don’t, and all that), I can still look at the boundary I’ve set without regret. In fact, when I think about it I feel relief.

      • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

        Sticking by your guns is a big thing here. Setting those boundaries is hard, and in my experience I almost always want to back them down. But the boundaries were set with a reason, and chances are you’ve put a lot of thought into why they are necessary. For me the biggest thing that helps is reminding myself of the big underlying reasons behind the boundaries: protecting your baby family, having a relationship with your mother that doesn’t drive you insane, protecting your emotional, mental and physical health.

    • http://misshappnstance.wordpress.com Miss Happ

      I definitely went through something like this with my mother – she made some choices that affected myself and people I care about, and I ended up essentially removing myself from having access to her place/stuff by giving her back all her spare keys. Immediately afterward, she wanted to discuss this. We met at a neutral location, had a civilized lunch, and I simply said that I didn’t approve of X decision and she needed to accept that I could no longer take care of her place/stuff while she traveled. I continue to try to keep visits to a meal, or an outing, and I don’t spend the night unless it makes something significantly more efficient – ie. early morning family trip. She has since tried to re-give me keys, and has brought it up a few times. I actually employ almost a kid diversionary tactic when this happens “Thanks, I’m not interested in keeping a key, how about we do lunch at my office next week?” It says, “These are my boundaries, this is what’s acceptable, I can’t be everything to you, but I still want to be part of your life.” It is hard. It gets easier. Sometimes, you have to redraw the lines, too. Situations change. Good luck!

      • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

        Thanks. The boundary I set involved my mother’s house, as well. We will be staying in a nearby hotel for Thanksgiving this year, instead of at her house. We have a lot of practical reasons for this as well, but the main reason is self-protection.

        My mother has always been mentally ill. Our relationship has always been fragile, and she has been manipulative and emotionally abusive for my entire life. I moved out when I was 17, and while I wouldn’t say that our relationship improved, I was at least no longer captive in a toxic internment. I now live halfway across the country, but whenever I go back to her house (not even the one I grew up in!), I feel like a terrorized child again.

        I got married in September, and her unacceptable behavior during and immediately after my wedding, coupled with a fierce desire to protect my baby family, has given me the determination to begin setting boundaries. I don’t want to cut my mother out of my life (though I realize she may make that decision herself), and I hope we can find a way to get to a healthier place.

        • Class of 1980

          Kelly, the mental illness thing is such a lose-lose situation.

          I’ve cut ties with one parent due to a personality disorder. I was clear on what specific thing I wouldn’t tolerate and he just can’t stop himself. I also suggested therapy, which was taken as an insult.

          The main thing is that I put the ball in his court. He chose to continue doing the one thing I said would make me stop talking to him. There is somewhat less guilt when you spell it out that way.

          I feel very badly, but he refuses to look at his behavior or get help, even though he has plenty of time and money to do so. Two days ago, dad’s older brother died and he was estranged from his grown son. I heard my dad cried so hard, that he couldn’t even speak clearly. No doubt, his own mortality and the similarity of his brother’s situation is hitting home.

          Dad has three siblings. ALL of them have at least one or more grown children they are estranged from. Personality disorders and mental illness really screw up families.

          • Sarah

            I’m so sorry for both these situations. My fiance’s mother has Borderline Personality Disorder, so I understand how difficult this can be. I worry constantly about how her behaviour is going to impact our baby family as we head into the future — and more immediately, how she might behave at our wedding. She was openly spiteful, selfish and outrageous all around at a recent funeral, so obviously nothing is off limits to her. I hope my FH comes to a place where he is ready to face the situation more realistically and protect our family. It’s hard for him, I know, because of years of emotional abuse. Though he’s a grown man, he still imagines that she is omnipotent and waits for punishment at every turn.

          • ANON

            My 63-year-old mother lost her job 4 years ago. I pay her mortgage and help her as much as I can when she has unexpected expenses. I’m only 25, and it’s been incredibly hard to be financially responsible for a parent at a time in my life when I’ve only recently become financially stable myself.

            This post and comment thread have been all too relevant for me. I’ve appreciated the advice and the honesty of people who are sharing my struggle.

            Here’s why I felt the need to comment here. My mother does not have a mental illness. I have bipolar disorder.

            I want to gently urge everyone to examine their biases and to try their best not to vilify those of us living with mental illness, not to make hurtful claims and generalizations about us. Sometimes we are the ones holding our families together, not the other way around.

    • Lturtle

      I have had to set some strict boundaries with my mother as well. She is mentally ill, but refuses to get help, and has been psychologically abusive my entire life. The last straw for me was discovering her physically abusing my kid. There has been some serious fallout from this, about half my family did not attend my wedding because I refused to invite my mom. But holding firm on my boundaries has been incredibly rewarding. I am the most emotionally healthy I have ever been, and feel I am a better mom for it.
      My boundaries in this instance are that she is not welcome in my home, and is not allowed direct contact with my kid. She can send letters or gifts, and I will meet her in a public place on occasion to visit if she wants. My hubs has been very supportive of this. Immediately after the new boundaries she pitched a fit, and played the victim card with the rest of the family. So I made it clear that if she didn’t respect my boundaries as stated I would have not further contact with her at all. It worked. She still isn’t happy about it, but she follows the rules and doesn’t give me a hard time about it anymore. It’s been almost 4 years now, and I have no regrets about my choice.
      I hope that you are able to find peace in your relationship with your mom as well.

  • Laurel

    The most important thing you can do is to figure out what you genuinely want to offer your parents. It’s really easy to end up feeling like you MUST DO X or you are a terrible child/sibling/cousin/grandchild. That pressure can come from your family, or it can come from external ideas about what it means to be a Good Child, but either way it isn’t useful: there will always be MORE THINGS you need to do to be good enough.

    In my (mostly non-financial) boundary setting, I’ve figured out what I genuinely can and want to offer, and then offered that. There are family member combinations I just don’t do; there are trips my family wants me to take that I decline; there are responsibilities I won’t take on; but there are other things that I’m more than happy to do, and that I specifically offer. I want to be a good family member, and so I’ve worked on trusting myself to set my own standards. I think you can do the same.

    You don’t need to invite your parents to live with you to be a good daughter. Inviting them to live with you is going to expose you to their problematic choices in more ways, and put strain on your relationship with them, especially since you already feel taken advantage of; it might be financially helpful to them, but it will also be relationally expensive. Focus on kinds of support that you’re willing to offer, that will support rather than tax your relationship. Budget those in upfront. Don’t take on guilt for not doing MORE THINGS.

    • Claire Elizabeth

      Yup. This is excellent advice.

  • Audrey

    Hmmm, this is pretty topical for me. I struggle a lot with how I want to take care of my mom in the future. The thing is – she IS good with money and does a lot of scrimping and saving, but:
    - She never finished college
    - She didn’t work full time for years while my parents were married
    - Then she raised me as a single mother while working full time

    She’s at a point where a lot of her friends are in retirement or partial retirement, but she simply does not have the funds to retire and instead is working a low paid job. I don’t mind helping with small to medium gifts (I’ve already done it), but she keeps hinting around with wanting to live with my husband and me someday and I don’t want to think about it. When I do try to hint that I wouldn’t consider it she either gets hurt or blows it off as not something she’s seriously considering.

    Worse, she’s 2000 miles away from me right now, and I both would like to be closer to help her with little day to day things… and don’t because of how much she’d probably lean on me emotionally. Sigh.

  • Class of 1980

    Just one other perspective …

    It used to be considered normal for aging parents to live with their children. Prior to the safety net of social security, it was more common than not. It was for money reasons and declining health reasons.

    This same discussion is happening for parents of new graduates who can’t find jobs. Should they let their grown kids move back in until they can find jobs to support themselves?

    In Europe, it’s very common for young adults to live with their parents for years after college. They have never had the sort of economy that Americans had that allowed young adults to be self-sufficient so early. Even in America, the trend of college grads getting jobs and moving out is not as old as we think it is.

    Some historians are saying that we may go back to the old model that Europe still has, where most young adults take far longer to leave their parents home than we have gotten used to.

    With this economy, we are probably going to see more families forced to live together just to survive. The question of parents living with their children is really similar to the question of grown children living with their parents.

    We may be looking at a new normal.

    • Lauren

      I am living both of those scenarios now. I grew up living with my parents in my grandparents’ house, where we helped and continue to help my grandparents with their medical needs. I have since moved in after college and before I get married because, hello! Free rent in exchange for chores I’ve been doing for years?

      It irks me when people view our very full, very happy house askance. But it also works and works well because we all have boundaries and expectations for the arrangement. For example, I have an exit date planned for when I’ll be “on my own.”

      It does seem that the letter writer’s folks would be making the move in their terms, while I think the secret to multigenerational living is having it be on mutual terms.

      • Liz

        There also is an element of irresponsibility in the letter writer’s situation (on the part of the parents, I mean) which changes things quite a bit for me. We’ve had various living arrangements in my family, with elderly moving in and college grads sticking around, but I think the options would be handled differently if, say, my college-grad brother was laying on his ass all day in front of an Xbox, rather than just trying to frugally get on his feet.

        • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

          Yes!
          Both my brother and I have spent time living back with our parents as young adults. There was never a specified end date given, but there were set expectations about helping out and moving towards moving out. It was always a case of “we have room, you have need, stay till you can afford to move on, but you need to work towards that”. For me, I stayed while I was in part-time work, paid board, did chores and moved out the week I started a full-time job. (then moved home again when I lost that until now-DHs tenancy ended and we could move in together)

  • Sandy

    Some days, APW. Some days I’m convinced that serendipity is present here.

    3 years ago, I went on a mini vacation to a nearby city with my mother, with the intention of telling her that I was ending my 5 year marriage. That day she told me that she and my father would have to file for bankruptcy and that they were going to lose their house to foreclosure. Since that time, they have lived with a variety of friends and relatives, but for the majority of the time they have lived in a camper that they purchased with one of the last bits of money they had.

    A variety of places has hosted this camper, including a campground (with actual water and electricity), my uncle’s farm, and a piece of wooded property owned by a family friend. While the transient nature of my parent’s existence has been painful for me in a way that I cannot impart, it has made them happy for the first time in many years, especially my father.

    As a grad student, newly married to another grad student, I am in absolutely no position to help my parents, even with small things like providing gas or propane to heat their home. Occasionally, I can get together $50 or maybe even $100 to help them, but more often than not I am left with nothing to do and no way to help.

    I understand the importance of setting boundaries and of protecting my relationships with my husband and my parents but I cannot escape one fact: these are the people who have cared for me my entire life. They have loved and nurtured me, fostered my intelligence and my curiosity, and paid, in large part over the preceeding years, for the possessions that I own and the education that I received.

    What causes me stress is not that my parents make poor decisions (they do) or that they live an embarassing lifestyle (they do), but that after all they have done for me I am so incapable of helping them. My guilt stems from wanting to do more than I can and not feeling justified in denying them every thing I can possibly spare, as they have always given me everything, and more, that they had.

    • Class of 1980

      You can only do what you can do, but I feel your pain.

      Even for parents who were responsible, many have had a lot of their retirement money reduced thanks to the economic crisis. People who thought they’d be retiring are having to put it off indefinitely.

      My mom and step-dad retired with a good nest egg. They went to a financial planner at Fidelity who divided their money into separate investments. The planner advised them not to totally pay off the house they were buying.

      Well, that planner did them no favors. Most of the money was lost when the financial crisis hit because it wasn’t in safe enough investments, and some of the money they had been withdrawing turned out to be principal when they thought they were drawing on interest. It turned out that Fidelity had a plan they could have put them into where you couldn’t lose if stocks went down, but they never told them about it. Even worse, they were left without their house at least paid for thanks to the planner telling them not to pay it off.

      They have lost it all.

      Financial planners are not the answer to everything. You have to do your own homework. It’s just horrible to see this happen to people who tried to be responsible.

      They never asked me for anything. I just started hearing things from my sister that led to me asking questions. Mom tried to say they were almost okay, but I knew she was trying to spare me. So, now I’m helping toward monthly expenses to cover the shortfall. Luckily, there is another family member helping also.

      Going forward, I expect with our ever-increasing inflation and the need to replace things that break down, their needs are going to become greater. One relative just spent $10,000 to replace mom and step-dad’s 10-year-old air conditioning system!

      Even if your parents are financially intact right now, there are warning signs that our currency could fail in the next few years, and then wealth held in dollars won’t be worth much anyway. Families are going to HAVE TO pull together.

  • Melissa

    When I saw this post this morning, I freaked a bit. This is so similar to my own family story. My mother–who was and remains single–has a history of making very poor financial decisions. To the tune of defaulting on her student loan and pretending it didn’t exist, giving notice on an apartment with nowhere else to live, and other variety of very bad, no good things. I grew up not really knowing better, though in my teens I often used my paychecks–which were supposed to be going towards paying for school–to get the electricity turned back on or buy basic groceries so we could eat.

    When she asked, I always loaned her little bits here and there, to get gas or groceries when she’d overestimated her paycheck. Now, however, the request is for rent money, 5 days after it’s already late. I vowed never to give her money, because I see it as enabling further bad decisions, but also because if I give once I know she will always think that I’ll be there to help financially. This situation just tears at me–do I support the future of my new family or become the crutch upon which my mother leans heavily? What makes it worse is her refusal to deal with her life as it is, instead hiding in fantasies of what her life will become, if only this harebrained scheme pans out, when her Prince Charming comes to her rescue.

    I’m at the point where this has already seriously strained my relationship with her, and I don’t know how to move forward. I wish I’d had the balls to create boundaries earlier, and I wish the boundaries I have created didn’t wound my mother and our relationship the way they do. I’m terrified that one day in the near future, she’ll ask to move in with me because she has no where else to go. I know that my answer will be no, and I don’t think my mother can survive that.

  • stephanie B

    My parents are in a similar way with out meaning to be. They paid out of pocket for me to attend a private school but because of my father’s epilepsy I couldn’t afford the last year. Now I’m struggling to get back into school, my parents are struggling to make ends meet, and rather than saving up for retirement, my parents banked on me making enough to take care of them once they (my father) could no longer work. The problem is they had me a little too late in life. The stress of parents depending on you is ridiculous, the lines between what you want for yourself and the obligations you have with your parents begin to cross when the tables turn. It’s a hard battle between “I know I can’t help them/they took care of me.” Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself as well as them about the situation at hand whether it means unloading the stress of it or not. They need to know what you’re going through too.

  • HyeKeen

    Wow – this hits me in two spots because 1) my mom has on-going depression and financial issues (and has talked in the past about living with my family – husband and daughter) and 2) we are in the process of bringing my husband’s parents over from another country to live with us.

    My mom – I’m very frustated over our mother’s lack of financial planning – not working while taking care of her own mother (i.e., not building up a retirement fund); poor financial decisions – like purchasing items she doesn’t have money for, buying LOTS of things and then never using them or only using them for a SHORT time, buying “collector’s items” then never doing anything with them; etc. She was in a DIRE situation for awhile, living off of her savings before finally finding a job. She probably makes just enough for daily living, but when it comes time to pay her property tax, I have a feeling she may be putting things on credit. She already had about $30K of debt she was paying off – and she’s only able to make the minimum payments as far as I know. We give her MANY suggestions on how to cut costs (get rid of cable and home phone, keep internet and cell phone), but she basically does the bare minimum (got rid of TiVo service, reduced her level of service on cable and internet).

    She’s in treatment for depression – basically followed by a pyschiatrist and given medication, but what I think she really needs is “talking it out” therapy to talk about the issues that made her depressed in the first place – like her divorce, taking care of her mother for several years, etc. She doesn’t seem to enthusiastic about that idea tho.

    It’s so hard dealing with both of these things because I think the depression is responsible for part of her bad financial decisions (although not all – as I’m coming to realize she’s always been a bad financial planner – thus one of the reasons for her divorce). She’s also not taking care of herself physically – both in her personal health and how she keeps up her house (found mold growing in her kitchen sink TWICE).

    I’ve tried to go to counseling with her – it resulted in some short-term successes but she seemed to avoid really digging into what was going on. I’m hoping to go with her soon to her psychiatrist to see if he can give me some help in terms of how to support her better. But in general it’s just really frustrating – as my husband and I worry for her mental and physical well being (oh forgot to mention she’s in fairly poor health as well – on blood pressure & cholesterol meds, overweight, etc.) but at the same time don’t feel like having her live with us would be a good idea….

    Anyway…one to the other topic.

    My in-laws – they live in what’s probably considered a third-world country, and while very hard-working, enthusiastic folks, don’t have jobs because of the bad economic situation there and would be a great help to us by living with us, watching our daughter while I work and my husband looks for and then finds a job. My mother-in-law talks all the time about taking over in the kitchen, looking forward to daily tasks with our daughter, etc.

    So, while I’m enthusiastic (although cautious about potential issues due to new living arrangements) about my in-laws coming to live with me – they will be a great help in the most part – I AVOID the thought of my mom coming to live with us. Why? Because she’s like a child – has to be told to help out (like washing dishes, laundry, etc.), doesn’t offer to cook meals or help out, has a messy disorganized house and we worry about her not cleaning up after herself.

    I feel disloyal in some senses with being so excited about my in-laws coming to live with us but not wanting my mom to live with us. Combined with my sympathy for her regarding her mental illness – I feel stuck in this middle place not knowing how to move forward in my dealings with her. At one point, my sister and I had given her an ultimatum, basically saying if you don’t start making better financial decisions and taking care of your finances, we won’t help you out when it comes to the breaking point. Basically we feel like if she’s not willing to sacrifice in the short term to make her long-term better, we’re not willing to sacrifice our own situations to help her out.

    Anyway, sorry for such a long post. I obviously have a lot of mixed feelings on this topic. Guess I need to go see someone and get some help. Argh! It’s not fun having to parent both my own daughter and my mother. :(

  • Shannon

    Perfect post for me to read today; just last week I called a therapist, for the first time ever, to finally get some help in how to go about dealing with my mom. I’m going in there with a bunch of specific questions I want help with: How much should I try to help my mom, if at all? Emotionally, financially? What can I do that will actually be helpful rather than just enabling her? Where do I draw the line? When is it OK to say no and when isn’t it?

    My mom struggles with a combo of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and the after-effects of a very traumatic & abusive childhood. She has been in therapy and on medication on and off through the years, but hasn’t been able to stick with those things consistently.

    Despite these issues, she was a wonderful, kind, loving, supportive mom to me when I was a kid. I have amazing memories of doing fun things together, cuddling up with her on the couch, of her always telling me how much she loved me and how proud she was. A great way to grow up! It wasn’t until my teenage years, when she and my stepdad broke up and she became single for the first time, and I became old enough (in her eyes) to confide in, that our roles began to shift so that I was sometimes doing more parenting than she was.

    Now I’m 28, about to get married, and since about my freshman or sophomore year of college, when she was laid off and had to sell our house, I’m probably the parent in our relationship 90% of the time. Our phone calls and emails revolve around her problems, her issues, etc. – she often forgets altogether to ask me how I’m doing, or if she does and I answer honestly that things in my life are pretty damn awesome, she turns it around on me (“must be nice… wish I could take a vacation.” “must be nice… maybe if I wasn’t such a piece of sh*t I’d be able to do that too…” etc.). She can almost never be positive; she is almost always negative, self-deprecating, anxious, on edge, or even sometimes resentful of what others (including me) have that she does not. If I let her she’ll keep me on the phone for hours at a time, or write 5 emails to me a day.

    She has financial trouble (no savings, struggles to pay bills, has to go into debt anytime there is a big expense, etc.), and while I’ve loaned her money a few times, I’m not really in a position to do very much and also, she has sometimes misused the money I have loaned her which doesn’t help things either. (as Liz pointed out) I do NOT want to be in the position of scolding my own mom about how she’s spending her money… UGH! but when she’s spending my money… how can I not? On the other hand, I also understand that some of this is out of her control – getting laid off from her much-better-paying job of 20+ years was not her fault, nor is the fact that her parents encouraged her to NOT go to college when she was younger and at a time when you really could do OK with a high school diploma. She’s mentioned moving in with us “someday” several times and it makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t let her retire into poverty, but I can’t have her that close. I know that it will hurt my mental health, my relationship, my family…. but it’s my mother and I also know that it isn’t her fault that she’s like this – how would I feel if I’d been abused for years as a child? I don’t know that I’d handle it any better than she does. So I really don’t know what to do anymore. I’m an only child and have no siblings to help with this, just my fiancee, who’s at his wit’s end already (just a note, I realize that in some cases siblings don’t make things any easier either…)

    Anyway, all I can say is… I felt SO much better after I made that appointment with the therapist. If she can’t get help, at least I can!!

    • Charlee

      I have been browsing mother-related posts on APW for some time now searching for something that resembles my own situation, and Shannon, your post has definitely resonated with me. Your description of a happy and supportive mother that has evolved into one that is constantly negative, self-deprecating and self-absorbed reminds me of my own mother, and it’s a situation that has me anxious about my wedding next year.

      My dad died when I was young so my mum and I were pretty close growing up, although she could be a bit overbearing at times (I think this is a reflection of her perceived need to be both a nurturer-mother and enforcer-father). She also had serious health issues for many years and felt that she “missed out” on a lot of “normal” aspects of live. Once I went to uni a gradual pattern of attention-seeking, self-deprecating behaviour emerged that left me feeling drained, frustrated and ultimately irritated.

      Now, 6 or so years on, she thinks we have a great relationship. However I find that our occasional phonecalls and time spent together (we live at opposite ends of the country) are strained, and find myself madly irritated by her very presence. She is still my mum and I love and respect her, but I can’t bring myself to be the friend that she thinks I am.

      Now I am engaged and in starting to plan our wedding I am experiencing recurring anxiety over my mother’s behaviour on the day. I am really worried that she will just really, really annoy me by being clingy and over-affectionate and drawing attention to herself (the current line is a reminder that she has never been married and probably never will). I don’t want her with me when I’m getting ready but also don’t want to offend her, as I know it’s a big day for her as well. While I don’t have the same financial-support issues mentioned by a lot of you here I would be interested to hear how any of you have dealt with a mother/family member who doesn’t understand or even perceive your need for a bit of emotional distance.

  • Kate

    Was digging through old APW and found this one. It didn’t feel particularly relevant until now. In my situation, there is a catch- my concerns aren’t about my parents or family of origin (financially responsible, well-insured folks that they are), but about my guy’s family. How obligated am I to help them? It is pretty clear that in the future I’ll be the primary breadwinner in my relationship by a wide margin. While it may be easier to keep my wallet closed when things are tight, am I obligated to give them money or support them in their retirement when I’m making more money? If I’m helping my parents in their retired years am I obligated to do the same for my S.O.’s family? If my future in-laws continue to make poor lifestyle choices and skip on health or long term care insurance, will I be expected to foot their medical bills? Will I be expected to open my home to them for an indefinite period of time? I’m comfortable with the idea of my money being “our” money (my guy and I), but I’m not as comfortable with it being “their” money too and the abuses that could follow. I would love to see a Team Practical post on this.

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