Worried About Parents
Posted by Gail | Filed under Money & Family
I’ve been getting a lot of letters from responsible young’uns worried about the reckless behaviour of their parents. Here’s an example:
Catherine wrote: My parents are 62 years old and have practically nothing saved for retirement. They sold their house on the East Coast in ’98 and didn’t save any of the money after moving to Ontario. My parents are hard-working but have never been able to save a dime in their lives and have always been impulsive. They went out and bought a camper and started camping on weekends. One year later, they traded in this camper to get a bigger camper. This past September, they traded in the second camper for a THIRD camper. Then a few days ago, I found out they went to a presentation about a special members-only campground where they had the chance to win a truck. They ended up purchasing a “membership” to this campground in Lewiston, NY. I have not said a word about their retirement in over two years because I gave up on them, but now I am so upset and angry. They make jokes about parking in our driveway and living in their camper, which I don’t find particularly funny. Because of the nature of their job (condo supers), if one of them gets ill or passes away, the other is most likely out of a job and a place to live. Very scary.
My husband and I work hard to save what little bit of money we can. It angers me that they are not confronting reality. I also get upset when I think my oldest brother and I will probably have to take care of them at some point. My oldest brother is also angry and has lost sleep over this, but he has given up on them more than I have. My sister-in-law thinks I should let it go because we’ve already tried and failed, but I feel if I don’t do something now, it’ll be worse when a crisis hits. I feel that the crisis is looming….
Here’s what I said to Catherine: It’s time for you to start treating your parents like the grown-ups that they are. If they were your adult kids, I’d be telling you the same thing: Hands off. This is not your problem to fix. Whatever money you’ve already given them, consider it written off. It’s gone. But there will be NO MORE. You must deal with your life and your parents must deal with theirs. If it blows up in their faces, that’s the way it is. You can’t be responsible for another person (unless they are your minor kids or have come to need through no fault of their own.) Your parents have made their bed, now they must lay in it. If you continue to “enable” them, you have only yourself to blame for your anger and disquiet. Love them. Hug them. Don’t give ’em another cent!
I get that kids feel responsible for the moms and dad who raised them. It’s that very sense of responsibility to your parents that likely has you taking good care of your own financial life. But unlike the parent-child relationship in which parents are responsible for their children because they chose to bring them into the world, the child-parent relationship is different. Through their behaviour your parents set the tone for that relationship. But all the while, your parents are adults and have to assume the responsibility of adults: to take care of themselves.
If you have a parent who is irresponsible with money, a parent who is trying to guilt you into providing for them as they did for you as a child, a parent who seems to have not one iota of common sense and no plan for the future, you need to recognize this is NOT your problem.
Above all, you cannot help anyone – not even your parents – if that help necessitates putting yourself at risk. All that does is create more problems.
How do you say, “No” to a parent you love? It’s tough. But it goes something like this:
“Mom and Dad, I know you’re in a tough spot. I would be happy to help you figure out how you’re going to change what you’re doing so things can get better. And if you want me to help you find a professional to help, I will. But I’m afraid I don’t have the financial means to bail you out or offer you any support. I need to take care of my family and myself so I don’t end up where you are right now. And I am determined to never be a burden on my children, so I must keep my financial house in order. Please let me help you figure out what you have to change. I love you and want to help, but not with money.”