Can I say how much I love this LW’s original email subject line: “A Soap Opera Problem–families torn apart over money, demanding parents, undutiful daughters who are me, sons trying to bear the whole burden.” Yeah!!!!
Dear Captain Awkward,
I’d really appreciate your advice on a family problem. Dad grew up
privileged, then was mostly-disinherited and lost his job when I was a
kid. Instead of retrenching, he incurred debt. Mom demands luxuries,
cheats, and is an alcoholic prone to rages. Now Dad asks me and my
brother A for money constantly, always at crisis moments.
Dad always believes that his financial issues will be over soon.
Unfortunately there’s a company he has a part in being sold, meaning
he might get some money one day—there’s some basis in reality but not
enough. He refuses to sell his house, because he wouldn’t get enough
money, and claims to be always economising because he doesn’t go on
holidays though Mom does and he belongs to an elite gentlemen’s club.
A and I have precarious jobs in which we are paid in irregular lump
sums, so we have the money to give him. We both consider ourselves
lucky. The emotional toll of these emergency requests is huge. We also
cannot afford them. Over 5 years, between us we’ve given Dad over
I wrote to Dad saying his behaviour is disordered and deeply hurting
us. He refused to go to his bank with us, blamed A for not giving him
enough, and hardly seemed to have read my message. He’s past hearing.
Saying he’s a good father otherwise is asking Mrs Lincoln how she
enjoyed the play otherwise.
I tried cutting him off altogether years ago: it ended when my
siblings exerted pressure on me to do a family Christmas. I’m proud of
my siblings (A, B & C, all younger) for getting through our childhood,
but I’m the one who rocks the boat. A gives money to Dad without me
knowing, so as not to risk alienating me. A has a more optimistic view
of the situation. My sister B agrees with me mostly, but B and C are
more sheltered (by me and A). C is college age, still living with my
parents. He’s begun suffering from panic attacks. He plans to get out
of the house next year: I’ll help him.
I’m considering not going home this Christmas, but I know it’ll upset
my siblings and I want to see C as neither of us is great at
long-distance. If I do go I’d like a script for talking to A, and my
other siblings, about this, and to make a plan for us going forward,
in how we’re going to react to my parents and stick together. I’ve
asked A to promise me not to give money to my father without telling
me: so far he hasn’t promised. It would make me happy if I could get A
to agree on no more money given directly to my father.
Thank you so much.
–Saving Only Siblings
The word you’re looking for is “no.” Next time your dad asks for money, tell him:
“No, Dad, I won’t give you money.”
He will say whatever he’s gonna say, and it will probably be mean and also about the horrifying fate that awaits him and your mom if you don’t come through this time, and you can remind yourself quietly about his “elite gentleman’s club” (wtf) and end the conversation. He will never stop asking, and he & your mom will never make any adjustments to their budgets as long as the answer from you is “maybe.” They may not make financial changes even then, but if you can’t afford this “help” and the requests are shredding your already frayed relationship, you’re not a bad daughter if you tell them a flat “No.”
The script for your siblings is, “I am not giving our parents money anymore. I’d like us to stick together on this, but what you do is your decision.”
And then the hard part comes: You stick to it even if the others do not. That means when A. calls you a few months from now to strategize about the latest emergency request, your answer can be, “I’m not giving money to Dad anymore, but you do you.”
IF your siblings want to get together to do something for your parents, one thing y’all could do is to hire a financial pro or debt counselor* to work with them on living within their means. As in, “Mom, Dad, we’ve noticed that every year you need about $30,000 more than you have to maintain your current lifestyle. We’d like you to sit down with Financial Advisor Felicia here who can help you come up with something more sustainable, since we won’t be able to make up the difference in the future.”
I don’t see your parents agreeing to that, by the way, because it would require an honest accounting of their finances not to mention dealing with a lot of shame and emotional baggage around spending, addiction, and debt. I think your parents hide their spending from each other which is why these emergencies keep happening. But that’s a problem in their marriage, and that’s really for them to sort out. I offered the pro as a possible solution since it might help you deflect the request to make it a condition of any further discussions about money: “I can’t give you money, Dad, but if you want to meet with a financial advisor who can help you find the money in your budget I can recommend someone.”
It’s great that you and A. (sometimes) have the financial security to help them out, but they are abusing the word “emergency” and they are abusing your ability to take care of yourself (and C., and maybe them) in the long-term.
You don’t have to solve all of this, or any of it, at the holidays this year. If you want to skip the family affair, do it, and invite your siblings out to see you another time. If you can get comfortable with your own “no,” you’ll have taken the best first step you can. I can tell by reading your letter that you’ve got a really healthy handle on this, so if we can give you any encouragement, it’s yours.
*Expert knowledge about how types of professional budget advising work welcome! However, if you find yourself using the word “should”, like, Here’s how the LW “should” “fix” the financial situation of independent adults who do not respect or cooperate with her, or, how she “should” get more involved in a situation that she’s trying to extract herself from,” no need to share anything at all!