#800: F is for “Family, Finances & Feelings.” D is for “Disengage.”

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

Dear Saving,

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!



200 thoughts on “#800: F is for “Family, Finances & Feelings.” D is for “Disengage.”

  1. Maybe C would enjoy getting out of the parents’ house to do something adult with LW? I’m thinking a dinner out or weekend trip or whatever C likes. I don’t know if it’s feasible to do this without LW visiting the parents, but worth considering.

    1. I concur with this suggestion. It sounds like C could really use some time out of that toxic environment, particularly as LW is going to be helping them get out of it at some point.

    2. Yes, this is exactly what I was going to say! This also might give the LW a chance to set up some kind of long-distance communication pattern — find out if you both like to play games together online, or if you both hate email but like texting, or something similar. While this is a different problem from the bulk of the letter, I bet it will make LW and C feel better to have some time bonding away from the center of Family Doom.

    3. I agree! LW, maybe you could offer C to spend Christmas at your place this year? Or, if you do want to visit your parent’s area, book tickets for something that’s nearby and which the two of you enjoy? A movie, a show, a play, a long evening out singing carols or volunteering somewhere? Also, if you have the means, you could stay in a hotel or with a friend/another relative and drop in for the meals. Best of luck!

    4. Could LW do a “family Christmas” with just the siblings that she hosts herself, perhaps one of the weekends before Christmas? If LW really needs a time out from the parents (which I definitely can see being a healthy choice) perhaps a weekend getaway with an exchange of gifts and a nice lunch would be feasible? If not a weekend getaway, then even a nice lunch at a convenient restaurant. Building and strengthening those sibling bonds away from the influence of the parents is so important

  2. Seconding the Captain: You’ve got this. Be a broken record. Let it be awkward. You do not owe them money. They may be good parents at other times in other ways, but you do not owe them these constant financial bailouts. Good luck.

      1. “Let it be awkward” is so hard for me because I was raised to be a peacekeeper in family drama (by, of course, always bending to other people’s wants). But I’m learning!

        1. True, was also the peacekeeper in the family. Until moving away and hearing about a new script from a workmate.

          “Lack of Planning on your part does not constitute an Emergency on mine. You need to learn to live within your means, so you need to scale back.”

          Just as the Captain counsels, a financial advisor is needed. Getting siblings on-board with the tough love is the delicate part, but the parents seem to be so image conscious they aren’t dealing with reality.

          1. The “lack of planning” quote is one of my FAVORITES as someone who works in customer service!

  3. From the bitter experience file: Your parents know your social security number and bunches of other stuff about you that can be used to secure credit cards, loans, lines of credit, etc, and if they’re angered by running into “No” may decide you’re the solution to their money problems in other ways.

    There are credit watch services, things you can do with your bank, etc to make sure you’re not surprised by any attempts on this front. Talk to a financial professional & make sure you are protected from this. Because if you think things are awkward now, wait until you find out you’re on the hook for thousands of dollars of borrowed money *you* never borrowed. Act now so this doesn’t become an issue later.

    1. This! I had a friend who ran into a similar problem she ended up quietly changing her legal middle name, which helped to a certain extent when that information no longer matched up.

          1. Now I’m thinking of those stories where people find out someone’s been living in the attic without their knowledge…

      1. Oh, this is so brilliant. I really love my middle name, and I don’t have any reason to do this, but that was really clever thinking on your friend’s part!

      2. You can also change your mother’s maiden name, your first pet’s name, your favorite movie, what city you were born in, and anything else that’s in there as a “security” question. The bank or credit union isn’t going to care or notice that your mother’s maiden name isn’t “Bugs Bunny,” the Mets aren’t a city, and nobody names their pet “867-5309”; all they’ll care about is that the string of characters you enter is the one you gave them last time. (I started doing this when I was pushed to pick answers to security questions that didn’t apply, like the model of my first car.)

        1. Good point. It’s important to write the oddball answers down somewhere, though. I forgot my oddball security question answers, they were a little too off the wall.

        2. As a note! I am not a lawyer, but I do work as a paralegal with Social Security claims.

          The Social Security Administration, at least, DOES care. Just putting that one out there. They get the “Mother’s maiden name” from their files, not from anything that you give to them. Same with “What city were you born in.” They have all that info already.

          That said, there’s really nothing that a parent could do to negatively affect an adult child’s records with Social Security without some other major weird stuff.

          But knowing the information that will be in any “official” files is what would be necessary for starting new accounts even if they wouldn’t have access to existing legitimate accounts.

          (I am piping up because we have run into this a few times – I need someone’s mother’s maiden name for a security check, and they give me what they’ve been using for everything else… and I end up having to go back and be like “No, I need the ACTUAL maiden name…”)

          1. In my case my mother lied on my birth certificate about what was her maiden name, which I discovered when I went to get a duplicate bc from the state. So now on “official” state documents I have to echo her lie, in order for them to match up with my birth certificate. It’s really frustrating!

          2. I’m kind of amazed that works, as if everyone has a simple, uncomplicated “mother’s maiden name”! My daughter has two mothers, my sister-in-law’s surname changed three or four times before she married my brother – surely there are loads of situations where it’s not a straightforward thing?

          3. Ms. Pris – that’s pretty common, actually. There are also cases where the government organization has the information wrong, as someone made a typo when entering it into the system. Fun times!

          4. It bothers me that “mother’s maiden name” is still used so widely as a security question. My “maiden” name is my only name, as I kept it when I married, just like 90% of my female friends. Although my kid has his father’s last name, it’s not unheard of that “mother’s maiden name” = “your own last name” these days. Certainly there are plenty of single moms out there who give their children their own last names.

            Totally tangential to this conversation, but it made me think of it.

          5. My mother’s maiden name is my first name–and many, many people who know me, know that, because it’s a conversation starter, being named “Tennyson,” let me tell you.

        3. I do this all the time. I lie on all security questions so that no one can research the answers from Facebook or anything else. One really easy thing to do is not to give your real birthday to all those sites that want your birthday to send you birthday coupons. They don’t really need the date, just the month, so I always use April 1st even though it isn’t true–but I still want my free-birthday-whatever.

        4. All I can think of is someone who was so delighted they could pick their own security question that they made it “What are you wearing?” and the answer was “I don’t think that’s an appropriate question.”

    2. This, this, this and this. You might think it would never get to that. Hopefully you’re right, but please don’t leave it to find out the hard way.

    3. Related comment: if you put a credit freeze on your name at the three credit reporting agencies, you can prevent people from opening loans in your name. Much better protection than monitoring services that just alert you after the fact. It costs like ten bucks each for a total of thirty. It’s a good idea for preventing run of the mill identity theft as well.

      1. What a world — strangers committing wholescale fraud is “run-of-the-mill identity theft” because it’s not also a betrayal by your nearest and dearest.

        Nothing useful to add — just horror at the parents and admiration of the kids.

      2. I almost posted this and then realized surely someone else would. The only negative repercussion – aside from dealing with Experian/Equifax/TransUnion, who really do not want to do this even though they legally must – is that it will prevent you from getting “instant” credit sort of things like where a store gets you a store card on the spot. My personal biases say this is not a negative at all, but just so you know.

        This is really a great thing to do in this case so you never have to choose between being a part of sending a loved one to jail or shouldering the debt yourself.

        1. With the US credit agencies, you can put a lower-level alert on your credit reports that requires the inquiring creditor to call you to verify that you made the application. It doesn’t prevent you from opening new accounts, and helps head off fraudulent accounts from being started by someone else. The last time I had to do this, I was able to get a 90-day alert put on my account for free.

          1. To piggyback on what Courtney said, if you put that alert on your credit reports, try very hard to list a phone number that is unlikely to change. My former housemate used our home phone for her credit alert after an identity theft. Years later, she tried getting a credit card but she had to call from our house number. Equifax refused to change their listed number for her case. It was weird.

    4. That is fucking hideous. I’m sorry that happened to you. LW, please pay attention to this, for yourself and your siblings. C in particular may be more vulnerable because they’re still at home. I know these are your parents and it’s only natural to hope they wouldn’t sink so low, but sometimes parents can combine the ultimate in selfishness with the ultimate in entitlement when it comes to their kids in a way they never would with anyone else. They’ve shown from their words and actions that they have already lost all sense of proportion when it comes to their kids and money.

      I think the Captain’s advice is spot-on. You can only fight your own battles, and you can choose to drop your end of the rope if you want to. Maybe A falls on their ass along with your parents, but A is grown and can make that choice for themself too.

      1. Especially if they’re prone to the kind of thinking that persuades them that they’ll “pay the kids back” when x, y, and z happens.

    5. Actually, LW and all of the siblings should all be looking into credit watch services right now if they’re not already doing so. You should just put a freeze on your credit accounts, period. Your parents already demonstrate a massive sense of entitlement and a need to spend to keep up appearances. That’s just what they let you see. I doubt highly they’re honest about all of their “emergencies” and it’s entirely possibly they’ve been using all three of you as solutions to their credit problems for years. C seems especially vulnerable since he’s still in the house.

      1. THANK YOU OneTwoThree & Shakti & others for this advice! The beautiful thing about putting those safeguards in place is that you will hopefully never need them, but if your parents do try to do something shady, they protect your finances and your parents from committing fraud.

      2. And if any of you happen to be named Dad Jr. (or, less commonly, Mom Jr.), get on this NOW because it is disgustingly easier for Senior to open accounts in Junior’s name and rack up debt. This may vary by jurisdiction and what types of things we’re talking about, but my friend who went through this was told that the only way to get Dad’s stuff off his own credit report was to file criminal charges against Dad. As he wasn’t ready to permanently burn that bridge and “destroy the rest of the family”, he wouldn’t do it. Get ahead of this if you can.

        1. This is a problem for anyone who is in a Sr./Jr. situation, even without fraud. It is incredibly easy for your credit to get mixed up with your parent’s if your name is too close to theirs. My first husband ran into this issue, and it was a bear to get them all off of his credit. The good news is that if the incorrect account wasn’t opened fraudulently (the parent opened the account themselves with their own SSN), you don’t have to file a police report. You aren’t claiming fraud, only that the account isn’t yours.

          1. It can even happen if you have the same first initial. My brother’s first name starts with A, as does my mother’s. Various agencies are *constantly* deciding that Mom’s “real” address must be mine, because I used to pay one of Brother’s credit card bills.

          2. Heh, mine too. A cousin by the same name (down to the Jr., but with different middle names) had substantial debt and somehow it ended up on my husband’s credit. He called and told them “that credit line was opened in 1978. I was born in 85. Do you really think it’s me?” and it was STILL trouble to get it fixed.

          3. My middle nae is my mother’s first name, and when I had a problem with attempted fraud (caught by my bank), I pulled all of my redit reports, and one of them had me and my mom co-mingled as if we were an aka of each other… gah. I had been pulling my eqifax score for a few years, but I hadn’t checked the others. It’s worth checkig them all when you do.

          4. I have an acquaintance who is a Jr, and the public records office mistakenly filled out his dad’s death certificate saying it was *him* that was dead. That took a lot of fuss to figure out at a time when the extra stress wasn’t needed.

        2. Also a huge problem in marriages. A friend of mine’s ex-wife opened a bunch of credit cards in her name and maxed them without her knowing. She found that out in or shortly before the divorce and is stuck paying it.

          1. My parents have the same first two initials and surname. Cards often come with names listed like that and it causes no end of frustration between them!

            All my financial stress hugs to the lw and siblings.

          2. Families who name all their kids starting with the same letter make me wince a little thinking of how freaking confused they’re going to be once everyone starts getting mail. My immediate family growing up had two Cs and two Ss that were always getting mixed up.

        3. It’s also shockingly easy for Sr to cash Jr’s checks. An acquaintance of mine used to lose their unemployment that way – piece of shit dad.

      3. Very true. I’d recommend also, if you or any of the other siblings still have a parent’s name on your bank accounts… take it off. If C as a minor still needs another name on the account, use your own.
        /she says bitterly after her father cleaned out all of his kids’ college savings, completely legally

    6. This, this is so important. A friend just lost a parent and discovered that he’s now on the hook for funeral costs as well as a long line of credit in “his” name. It might seem “bad” to make sure that you’re legally protected from your own parents, but you have to be in a position to take care of yourself (and in doing so help your siblings).

      1. A bit of a tangent, but on the off chance that your friend is not already way ahead of me on this, he may wish to talk to an attorney who specializes in helping people targeted by debt collectors – in the US, he can call his state or county bar association for a referral, and usually you can get a free or very cheap initial meeting with a lawyer. There is no reason he should have to pay for an identity thief’s debts.

        1. This. Even if LW’s parents haven’t and don’t get credit in LW’s name, debt collectors can still come after them for their parents’ debts. It’s not technically legal, but they will harass family (or anyone they think is family) if they have trouble connecting with the debtors. My mother gets at least a yearly call from debtors looking for a John Smith, because my mother is Anne Smith they must be related, right?

          On another note, may I suggest that the immediate thing for siblings to do is figure out how to get C out of that house, right now now now. I have a friend whose family is in a similar situation, and she never got to go to college because her college fund went to bail out parents who then just took their second bankruptcy two months later. Get that kid out.

          1. And anxiety attacks and college aren’t a good mix. Intervening as soon as possible could mean C not having to drop out, which is likely to lead to even more financial issues. LW seems to be a fair distance away and LW and A both have unsteady income which will make this a lot harder, but I think any steps to make C less vulnerable are important.

          2. It’s not only “not technically illegal”, it’s ILLEGAL in many cases. There’s a whole bottom-feeder level of debt collecting firms that try to collect debt they’re not entitled to – expired debts, debts from a family member, debts that were actually paid off – and tries to harass people into sending them money.

          3. Or, start working w/ C on how to create independent financial plans (i.e., college loans and scholarships, etc.), etc.

    7. That goes double for C. I have known of several people who racked up debt on their minor child’s SSN. I don’t know if C will be able to get a copy of their credit report of set up credit alerts before 18, but if not, it would be a good idea to encourage C to do so immediately upon turning 18.

      1. At the very least, I think C could use a service like creditkarma (I would recommend creditkarma specifically as a non-scammy free monthly credit report service) to verify whether anything is open in their name!

    8. My ex-fiancée’s parents did this to her. While she was not kind to me, she still didn’t deserve the nightmare that was straightening out that mess. After the fact, it was *very* difficult to get her credit report clean.

    9. Put a credit freeze on your own account, and help C do the same. C lives at home, and probably doesn’t bring in the mail. Brings in the mail can provide the means to hide all kinds of things. If Mom is hiding spending from Dad, that’s probably a big part of it.

    10. Yes, this! You can also freeze your credit, so no one can take out any loans in your name, unless you unfreeze the social. Also, next time you get together with C, have them check their credit report as well. Would not surprise me in the least if they had already taken out credit on one of their kids.

  4. I have no idea if this would be a feasible strategy for you, but whenever I go to see relatives that I know have a similar tendency to ask for loans/favors/can you just front me this because we’re faaaaaaaaamily I put as much money as I will reasonably need on a prepaid Visa gift card and then leave all other cards with my wife. That way if my resolve waivers (which happens! Families are like that!) I’m logistically prevented from giving them any cash.

  5. I agree with the others: Say no.

    A trick to help you feel less guilty: Consider your help to C as your meeting obligations to help your family. Don’t spell this out to anyone; don’t use this in an effort to convince anyone of anything, but when you help C with college expenses or a counselor to help him deal with panic attacks or with a place to stay when things get too rough living in that booze addled dysfunctionality he’s got for another year, quietly think to yourself that you’re making a considerable contribution to your family. You’re taking on a responsibility that normally belongs to parents. You could invite C and just C to visit you for Christmas.

    Let me say this which might be obvious but that I think is worth repeating in case there’s a teeny bit of doubt nagging in the back of your mind: Giving thousands of dollars a year to support parents’ bad decisions is already way over and above good. Refusing to give more is not bad. Lots of people do not belong to elite clubs, do not live in their own houses, and live just fine without going on holidays. These things are not horrors that impoverished people put up with. Working, living in a small place with a roof over your head, feeling grateful for a day off and a few meals, these are NORMAL, and your father should feel lucky to have them.

    1. +1 to this. Reading the letter, I’m concerned for C and what they”re going through, living at home and (maybe?) in college. How is college being paid for? If we’re talking loans, it might be good for the LW to talk to C and maybe get C some financial advice on debt, since C isnt have debt management being modelled very well by the parents.

      1. A and I are paying for C’s college and various expenses: my father convinced me, A and B to take out major student loans saying he’d help pay them off (we all paid them off on our own, B with help from me) so we’re determined to stop that happening with C. I’m concerned about his emotional state too but he’s pretty responsible about money–part-time job he’s conscientious about, aware of the basics of our problems.

        Looking through all this and very touched, though not surprised as a long-time reader, by all the kindness and advice. Thanks, you guys. Thanks, Captain!

        1. I was thinking about this too. It’s incredibly impressive that all of you have managed to teach yourselves How To Money, and even more so that you’re taking steps to help C learn before they make the common mistakes. Go you!

      2. I just this morning read something on borrowing from one’s life insurance policy to pay for college; maybe there’s one on C that could be used for C?
        Might be worth checking on, too, to make sure parents can’t cash it in. Sorry you’re having to deal with this.

        1. This might also be something that LW and siblings might look into–getting insurance policies on the parents for enough money to clear whatever debt they leave that the siblings might be responsible for, such as funeral expenses etc. Even a simple cremation with no service is way more expensive than most people realize until they’re staring at the bill for it.

          1. I didn’t know you could do that! Not being in contact with my mother would probably complicate things, but that’s still really helpful to know. Thanks!

          2. I know that you *can*. I haven’t, but I have known a couple of people who maintained insurance policies on ex spouses, or who took out insurance policies on family members when they took on significant responsibilities that would ordinarily have been the family member’s obligation. So clearly it can be done.

          3. YAY – something I know about!! (longtime reader, first time commenter)

            In most states, you will need an adult to sign the life insurance application as the “insured” and/or to sign a statement that they consent to being insured by you. They will also likely need to have a medical examination. The premiums can be costly (based on age and health), but they can really be worth it.

            I pay my parents’ life insurance premiums (and own their cash value policies) so they cannot jeopardize the contracts with loans or let them lapse so my sister and I have no burial funds. It’s hard to sit down and have this conversation (even just with siblings), but it is so necessary for every family.

          4. If you go in for life insurance policies, go for general policies FIRST before considering burial policies or things like accidental death. A general life insurance policy pays out for nearly all causes of death (check the fine print on suicide, work-related accidents, extreme sports, and air travel), and the money isn’t restricted to a specific use.

          5. insurance policies on the parents for enough money to clear whatever debt they leave that the siblings might be responsible for, such as funeral expenses etc

            It’s important to realize, also, that spouses inherit each other’s debts, but children do NOT inherit parents’ debts (funeral expenses are generally new expenses, incurred by the survivors). I mean, consult a lawyer, which I am not, but I’ve heard stories about adult children getting railroaded and guilted by debt collectors into paying things that THEY didn’t ever owe. AIUI, the estate’s assets go to pay off the estate’s debts, and what’s left over can be inherited by heirs. If there is still debt when the assets are gone, then the estate is bankrupt and that’s the end of it; heirs aren’t responsible. Anyone have more detailed knowledge?

          6. @Zelda: You are correct; funeral and burial expenses are not, strictly speaking, debts the deceased leave, and in general you cannot inherit most debts as far as I am aware, but there may be some weirdnesses with any real estate the parents own etc that some ready money might help out with, and if the parents’ existing life insurance policies pay out to their estate, that money will be gone. Insurance policies that pay out to named beneficiaries can’t be seized to pay debts, but if they pay out to the estate they will be.

            Having been in this position, however, when someone dies you are hit with an immediate expense for the disposition of their remains, and if you weren’t expecting it, haven’t budgeted for it, are in a bad spot, don’t have savings, etc, it’s an emotional as well as a financial burden, and it’s nice to have something in place already that will take care of it, and that you *know* will take care of it. Because it does have to be taken care of.

          7. Oh wow, the commenters are extra helpful today! I’m in Canada so I don’t know if the laws around inheritance and debt work the same way but at least now I know what sort of questions to ask.

            In my particular situation I’m less worried about inheriting debt than about maybe recouping some of the cost of care if my mother’s health declines and she can’t live on her own safely. I can’t have that woman in my home because Reasons, I don’t think my sister would go for that either (and I’d never ask her to), nursing homes can’t be cheap and if my mother actually thought to set aside money to look after herself in her old age (money that she doesn’t have anyway) I’d expect to see flocks of pigs gracefully swooping through the clouds next.

          8. Do you as a survivor _have_ to pay for cremation/funeral expenses?
            I’m thinking cardboard box type of stuff. . . or refusing . . . for one person in particular. Are there laws that survivors must carry that obligation?

          9. Regarding life insurance policies & funeral costs. In the US at least, most funeral homes will take an assignment of part of a life insurance policy as payment. It’s basically a lien against the proceeds of the policy. The funeral home draws up the papers, you sign them, and then the funeral home sends them to the insurance company. When the policy pays out (which can take a while, since death certificates can be slooooooow), the insurance company will cut the funeral home a check for the amount of the assignment and then send you the rest.

          10. I know I read a news story a few years ago about a particular place in the US that had basically a massive backlog of unclaimed bodies because the relatives simply could not pay for the expenses, so I would imagine that it’s not a legal obligation, it’s just that most people want to claim the body.

          11. Wait. Can debt be inherited? I didn’t think that the debts of the parents passed to the children.

            As far as funeral expenses – if the parents die in debt, then let the county cremate them or put them in the potters field. Easy for me to say, I know, because I am not talking about my parents. But there are options, I think, other than the children being screwed because of their parents’ financial irresponsibility.

            (On that note:

            1. Make a will – my husband’s ex wife had cancer for seven years before she died but would not make a will and would not make any end of life decisions – said her daughters could decide when to pull the plug. Now her two daughters are having to deal with all of her crap. If you love your children, do not make them go through that kind of hassle.
            2. Set up financial and medical power of attorney and make your end of life wishes clear
            3. Get life insurance so your family has money to bury you)

          12. Ran out of nesting- if you really don’t want to pay for/feel obligated to take care of someones remains, but are the person who has o make a decision, whole body donation/giving the body for scientific research/education may be an option.

          13. @gold digger, AFAIKA, actual debt can’t be inherited by children directly, but it attaches to the estate, and some debt is attached to property that heirs might want to keep. If there’s not enough cash to pay the debts, property is sold to cover it. When my grandmother died, the executor explained that if my mom didn’t want the house to be sold, she would need to come up with $40k to clear the estate’s debts.

            Also there’s a big difference between what is true and what an unethical debt collector will say to get a payment. It’s not legal, but it happens all the time.

          14. Re: inheriting your parents’ debts

            Definitely discuss this with a lawyer!!
            I’ve heard that if you ever pay one of your parents’ debts directly, you are legally liable to pay it; you may be viewed as acknowledging that it is your debt. So, you would never want to pay a credit card bill directly.

            Get info on that sort of thing, for all of you.

            And I agree on the “get a life insurance policy on each of your parents so they can pay you back after they die.” Even if they have to sign it, you can give them $500 to get them to do it. Of course, there are the premiums…

    2. Yes, so much this. Think of how much more helpful it would be to your family if a fraction of that money being devoured by your parents instead was set aside for a Get C Out Of There fund. (I’m not suggesting you SHOULD or MUST set money aside like this! Only as a thought exercise, imagine how much more helpful spending money on family in that way would be, and how much more sustainable for you, than your parents’ “give the money to us so we can fritter it away” plan.)

    3. And just to add on here, if you do feel the urge specifically to spend money on your family, consider spending it flying C (and maybe A and B) out to visit you. It’s still gotta be cheaper than the ~$15K/year on average you’ve been giving your dad.

      It won’t fly as an excuse to your parents, but it might make *you* feel better.

  6. The promise of someday money and how it can ruin all todays made me think of Bleak House. You are right, LW.

  7. So, I’m fairly young, but for a long time my Mom has been disabled. So that means, for a long time my sister and I have been helping to take care of her. And this transition to where you no longer see your parents as authority figures is weird, and hard. We made it with such speed that I forget that it’s even a thing. But here’s the thing, eventually, your parents aren’t in charge any more.

    This is going to happen at different times in every family depending on parental functioning levels. I’ve known people my parent’s age who were perfectly reasonable and caring for themselves. However, between the stress of caring for mom and serious brain damage, neither one of my parents fits in anything like a rational category anymore, and my sister and I conspire behind the scenes to help them.

    I say this, because now is the time that the kids need to become a team. There is Team Mom and Dad and Team Kid. At a certain point, Team Kid is gonna be making a lot of decisions FOR Team Mom and Dad. I know that’s hard to think about, and unpleasant, but it will come eventually. So the sooner you guys get used to working through problems together for both each other and for your parents the better off all of you are going to be.

    Obviously, you can’t force your siblings to do anything. And you don’t want to start a rift. But it is all in your best interests to work together on looking at the long term financial health of both your individual family units, and your family as a whole. And if you can present a united front to your parents, and provide support to each other, it will help so much. So that is the approach I would take with A.

    Aging happens, and it’s going to be MUCH harder for your team to take good care of your parents when they’ve been draining you financially for years. Eventually they are going to need a lot more than just “emergency” financial support. Everyone eventually has medical bills, big ones. Medicare only covers so much. Medications get expensive and sometimes you need people around to be care takers and to help out.

    I would suggest to A that they consider you both stop providing emergency support for your parents, but both begin some kind of savings plan. So that when they retire, if the big promised pay day doesn’t come, you have money set aside to help your parents with their care. (If you choose to do so.) OR you can all go in together on a cabin somewhere nice and have lovely family trips, I don’t care. (I love the Disney Vacation Club, so that’s my rec. ;-))

    But that way when they badger and guilt you you both have an internal defense, you are saving money so if there are REAL emergencies in the future where they absolutely cannot take care of themselves, you can help them. You are saving money so if YOU have your OWN emergencies, you can take care of them. And you can rely on each other’s support in this.

    You, and hopefully Team Kid have decided to put the entire family’s long term health before your parents short term comfort. That is the right decision, the safest decision. It is just not the most FUN decision. And I’m not saying it would be easy. But cutting them off is the right thing to do. And helping each other do it with moral support and unity is the right thing to do.

    I would also suggest maybe a siblings only holiday celebration or weekend? My sister and I have dinner and other activities together. And having that time without the pressure of parents putting you into roles or creating competition could be great. Maybe annual Siblingsgiving? To give you all a chance to catch up sans panic attacks.

    I hope some of this is helpful and not too depressing. And I hope you can find a way to present a united front to your parents. But even if you can’t do it together YOU ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING. You ARE. Stay strong.

    OMg this comment is way too long I’m sorry.

    1. you have money set aside to help your parents with their care. (If you choose to do so.) OR you can all go in together on a cabin somewhere nice and have lovely family trips

      I like the second option. I think we do have a moral obligation to make sure our parents are cared for if they cannot care for themselves, but if the parents are abusive, they break that obligation. I would never judge anyone who walks away from an abusive parent; indeed, I would applaud the strength it took.

    2. Wow, Shinobi, you made the light come on for me. I know just enough about Trust Funds and Tax Attorneys to know I know nothing. But for LW, it may time to check out this stuff for C. I know these actions move money out of the Taxable pile. If the funds for college are based on the pay schedule of the lump payments from jobs, there are likely maneuvers that will maximize the money going to C.

      As someone who had other relatives pick up the slack of my parent’s giant SHRUG at things like heat in the house while they went on vacation, and later, child support payments and college, LW; I feel such admiration and gratitude towards you and A’s actions, towards B and especially C. Thank you thank you.

      And to the Army-telling the funeral home you want the cheapest legal box for the ashes is cathartic. I spent more on my cat.

  8. My mother has helped herself to info such as my bro’s SS number in the past so I concur will all the advice about locking your credit info!
    And another way to think about all that $ you have given your parents: youngest sibling could’ve gone to a top school with no financial aid with that 150k your parents have sponged off the 3 of you!

  9. LW, I think people often struggle saying “No” because they don’t want to be seem as difficult or as mean people, like prioritizing yourself and your mental health is just selfish. But think about what you want to do for other’s as well like helping C move our of the house.

    You need to think long term. Right now, it sounds like your parent’s have many none emergencies emergencies that are mostly due to poor management skills, but maybe in the future you or A or B or C (or even your parents) will have a REAL emergencies and all the money you could have saved went to Gentlemen Club’s subscription and travelling.

    But it sucks to have to be the most grownup person around, so I really feel for you,

    1. We stop need to look at being selfish as being inherently bad. Because in a way it is selfish…it’s also necessary for your own functioning and well-being. Women especially get taught to put others first, and while that’s often admirable you also need to make sure you get taken care of yourself. I’m reminded of the JOY principle from certain strains of Christianity–Jesus first, others second, yourself third, because what people who have lived that find out is that you never actually get to that third tier. Priorities aren’t set in stone. Something can be secondary most of the time but still take precedence over the first priority at times.

        1. This is quite possibly the most succinct and helpful way I’ve seen this put, and I will be remembering it.

      1. With regards to selfishness: One of the most important lessons I took away from the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men is that selfishness can be a weapon you use to defend yourself and others. Selfishness can be useful and even good when used to protect.

    2. There’s a saying that “Your poor [money] management does not constitute my emergency” that I think is applicable here. Just because your parents can’t manage their money does’t mean you’re responsible for bailing them out.

    3. I like this comment by divorceat25. It suggested the thought to me that your parents are the ones characterising themselves as central to everyone else’s lives – you satellites must maintain them as the main body of the family. Time changes everything. Your lives are your own.

      1. “It suggested the thought to me that your parents are the ones characterising themselves as central to everyone else’s lives – you satellites must maintain them as the main body of the family. Time changes everything. Your lives are your own.”

        I like this thought.
        Alcoholic parents often count on a responsible child to pick up the slack to keep the family going. When you’re a dependent you don’t really have a choice, helping your parent cook, pay bills, take care of younger siblings, maintain in social situations, and get to work on time keeps you fed, clothed, and out of the system.

        Healthy parents want you to be an adult, but parents like LWs need their children to stay children, so that they stay in the mindset that maintenance of their parents as the head of the family unit is essential.

        1. Yes, the “parentified child”. I became a parentified child when was over 50 and my dad got dementia, and I took that mantle on as a natural duty. Being forced into that position by your irresponsible parents at a young age is just awful.

  10. Both my brother and sister in law are like this, and my mother in law has been supporting them for YEARS. She has gone through nearly all of (not insubstantial) life insurance that was left to her, and she will be screwed when it’s gone. Her brilliant plan is that she will move in with the BIL once her money is gone, and they will somehow miraculously get their shit together. My husband and I know how this train wreck is going to end, and worked out an action plan years ago. When asked for money, we always say “No, we can’t do that. ” The answer is the same for $1 as it is for $64,000 (real figure we were once asked for-lol!). “No, we can’t do that.” We don’t apologize, we don’t explain, we just “can’t do that.” It’s worked well over the years! We have the reputation of being meanie tightwads, but we’re the meanie tightwads who have our shit together, so I can live with that. There’s worse things than being the mean, selfish, financially stable one, I promise you! Don’t apologize. Don’t explain. Just stick with your mantra.

      1. It would be easier to day no to a request for a huge amount of money, an amount that I don’t even have, than it would be to say no to a loan of 50-100$. So I guess I’d appreciate being able to turn down the request to borrow $64,000 easily.

    1. People are so darn afraid of boundaries. Having limits and boundaries and enforcing them is something people should be proud of, so kudos to you. I do hope that things turn out okay for your BIL and MIL, but if it doesn’t I’m happy they won’t bring you down with them,

  11. It also occurs to me that the someday money your dad is set up to get is likely neither to be as much as he thinks nor last long. And judging by my past experience, it’s something you probably need to brace for. If/When he gets it, the emergency requests for money will probably briefly pause… and then immediately get worse because it’s entirely likely that they’ll double down on their already too-expensive lifestyle. Hopefully I’m wrong, but if the mythical ‘company being bought out’ thing happens, please brace for impact. And please note that everything the Captain said is spot on, and it is not your fault that your parents don’t know what financial responsibility is, OR your responsibility to clean it up. You’ve already gone above and beyond.

    1. Same. I have an uncle and aunt who lived on the expectations of a legal settlement that took almost twenty years to come through, was huge but not as huge as their pipe dreams about it, and was promptly almost entirely eaten up by the THREE DIFFERENT no-money-up-front lawyers who had worked on their case, sequentially. I think in the end they saw about 10%, which they had spent hundreds of times over in the intervening time. Their lifestyle was mainly funded by my late grandfather’s wealth and then trust, which they’ve sucked dry. My grandmother confessed to my sister a few years ago that she is out of money and not sure she can continue to support herself in her old age, but my aunt still routinely demands money. Sis asked why she didn’t tell any of the rest of the family she’s out of money, and my grandmother said, “They wouldn’t have anything more to do with me if they didn’t think I had money.” (Don’t feel too bad, my grandmother is kind of a horrible person–eleventh hour regret is not enough to redeem all the awful things she’s done.)

    2. I’ve heard anecdotally that a significant proportion of people who win lotteries end up going bankrupt because there’s a huge range where the amount of money sounds like a lot, but doesn’t actually last that long if you treat it like a lot. And unless LW’s dad part-owns like Uber or something, I’m guessing that’s exactly the range the potential buy out will be in.

      1. There is a really interesting book by Ruby Payne, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” that explains how different social classes approach money. One of the big challenges for someone who is poor is that her family and friends expect her to share her money. As it is usually not already wealthy people who buy lottery tickets, yeah, it is easy to see how a poor person who wins the lottery would not keep the money long.

        1. And if you’ve been born into intergenerational poverty another feature is that if you get an unexpected windfall you don’t generally see a reason to save it because saving has never worked before. Any savings you accumulate just get spent on necessities. So you’re more likely to decide to just spend it on something nice knowing you might not get another chance.

          I should check that book out, I’m in the policy field so I do a lot of reading on the features/needs of vulnerable groups.

    3. Totally this. I bet in his mind Dad is “budgeting” really well right now–as soon as/if ever the Phantom Money comes through, it’s just gonna be Putting on the Ritz for six months and then back to status quo when it’s gone. Maybe worse, if the Phantom Money makes him look solvent enough on paper to rack up a whole bunch of new debts.

      I’m having a really hard time not picturing the LW’s parents as George and Lucille Bluth.

    4. Yesssss. He may also not be planning on paying income taxes on that money if it does come through. The IRS will not forget!

  12. Captain gives excellent advice as always. All I would add would be that, just because people get upset with you over a decision, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision. Whether it’s NOT giving your parents more money. Or not going to spend Christmas in this toxic emotional hellhole. Just because it upsets your parents or siblings doesn’t mean you’re doing something bad or wrong.

    Also, if/when you waver on the idea of giving your parents more money. Consider this. You would do just as well to set it on fire. Giving your parents more money will never resolve the situation because it doesn’t change the behavior that causes the financial problems in the first place. Your parents know they have a safety net in place with their children, so you four pick up the tab while they skip along, with no accountability. They will not change until it’s too painful for them to continue in this fashion. Susan Forward wrote a whole section about this in Toxic Inlaws, and the only thing that worked was closing the Bank of Responsible People Who Don’t Piss Their Money Away.

    1. I personally think that setting it on fire would be MORE useful, since it would keep you warm for a little while (especially if you broke it down into all ones or something), but continuing the current situation would be harmful. (Sorry, couldn’t resist….)

  13. As they airline in-flight safety demonstration says, be sure to put on your own air mask before helping others.

    You cannot force your siblings into following your plan, and the Captain’s advice about letting them do them is good for more than just the obvious reasons. Right now, your parents are pressuring A for money. You’re pressuring A to not give money, and from A’s perspective, there’s really no difference in how you’re treating him and how they’re treating him.

    Instead of trying to coerce A into behaving the way you would like, live the way you want, and model that behavior. You say “no”, and the world doesn’t end.

    Do not give money to A for any reason. Your dad previously would ask you for $ and A for $; once you start refusing, he’s going to ask A for 2x$. If you give money to A after A’s given money to dad, the cycle is still perpetuated. A knows you don’t approve of him giving money to you dad, so A may not tell you that he’s given money to your dad. He may just say “I’m a little short” or “something fell through” and ask for $. It doesn’t matter. You don’t give or loan money to A until Dad’s finances are sorted out. This will be awkward. I’m sorry, but cutting off Dad and then giving money to A lets the cycle keep going, just on a longer route.

    Also, keep your plans about helping C as off-the-radar as you can. If your parents get wind of those plans, either directly or because of an offhand remark by A or B, there’s potential for mischief. If they know you’ll give money to C, then they may start cutting back their own support of C, either in small ways (“you have to pay for your own food”) or larger ones. (“we’re charging you rent” when they know he can’t move out yet)

    1. I was going to say something similar – make sure money is eg paid directly to C’s college / car repayment company / whatever. If you give C the money to pay for things, Mum & Dad might pull the emotional blackmail card and bully C into forking over the cash.

  14. LW, your use of the word “retrench” and the fact that your father belongs to an elite gentlemen’s club has me picturing you as a Jane Austen heroine. I hope this is okay.

    Hopefully you and A already know this, if you’re in the United States, but any year in which you give an individual gifts amounting to more than $14,000, you (the giver) have to pay taxes on that. (That’s the number for the current tax year, at least; I’m taking a tax accounting course right now.) I just cannot imagine it being reasonable for parents to require their children, on a regular basis, to give them money in amounts large enough to require the kids to pay taxes on it.

    1. We’re not in the US but your point is well taken.

      And I adore every Austen heroine so this is a great compliment! I’d take being any one of them, though Fanny Price would probably be too dutiful to attach my ‘LOL eyeroll’ to the fancy club.

      Again, this is all really great: kindness so much appreciated, rational attitudes making me feel not all about in my head, and points I hadn’t considered raised. Thank you all.

      1. Oh, maybe an elite gentlemen’s club is something different to you, if you’re not in the US.
        In the US, gentleman’s club often refers to a place based around alcohol and strippers (or at least that’s what it is to me; I assumed you were talking about something different – I imagine White’s from my beloved Victorian romance novels but who knows?)

        1. I think at least in the UK an elite one is more likely to be like a fancy society where they can hide from the proletariat and women. Like a country club, but only for obnoxious rich men. That’s what I was picturing, at least.

          1. Smoky rooms, uncomfortable leather chairs, a globe that has a bar hidden inside it, right?

        2. I’m guessing that the LW is referring to something like Whites or Brooks clubs over in England- very exclusive, very expensive and very restricted. These are the kind of places Winston Churchill and and other upper-crust types went to.

      2. Interesting – I think of Fanny Price’s life as being one giant, long, silent eyeroll to almost everyone else’s appalling behaviour… just remember, she is the only one in the novel who is right about stuff. She just has to hide it well!

        NB I think as per slythwolf’s suggestion, it is worth looking up any tax effects of gifts. And good luck, you can work through this.

    2. Just so people don’t panic over the gift tax issue, in the US, a person can give up to $14,000 per year tax free to another person. (So Mom and Dad can give $56,000 to Alice and Jack if they make four separate gifts between each pair of givers and receivers). Anything over that, can be made part of the lifetime exemption of about $5.4 million combined gift/estate tax. So, if you don’t expect to have a significant estate, you don’t ever have to worry about this. And if you do expect to have an estate over $5 million, make sure you get tax advice from an expert, not an internet stranger. 🙂

  15. This doesn’t help with dealing with your parents, BUT! RE: Sibling-Not-The-Best-At-Keeping-In-Touch-Ness, is something I got down! (IMO)

    As The Captain often recommends, could you set up a regular, monthly Skype date (or Google Hangout!) with your Siblings? (Either as a group, or individually?) Where you all know it’s gonna be happening at X time, every month, so y’all can adjust your collective schedules accordingly? (Maybe make these Parent-Talk-Free-Times?)

    Or, there are websites/ apps that allow you to watch films in real time with friends/ family over the internet? Synaptop Theatre is one I found from Googling… I’ve never used such a service myself, but I’ve seen them being used in my Internet Sphere (Hannah Hart on YouTube did Subscriber Movies once or twice?)…

    I suggest this, because I wonder if semi-regular catching up (in what is intended to be a scheduled, but un-pressured way) with your siblings may make it easier for you to say NO to “Family Holidays” on the grounds of your already being aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives so you don’t need to catch up in person so much…

    I hope your experience improves for you, LW. Sending you Positive Thoughts!

    1. This!

      I use whatsapp to keep in touch with a sibling in another country. It seemed weird and forced at first, but reminding myself to check in every few days to a week (particularly when they were going through a long bad patch like C will til they leave home) really made a difference to both of us. Also, not just being the support, but reaching out when I’d had a hard day and needed a chat too has made things loads more balanced between us rather than me just feeling like i need to look out for them.

      1. Most of my relationships these days are long distance… I phone my Li’l Bro, or Grandma while walking home from work every fortnight or so – I’ve found many benefits for this, the finite distance limits a conversation naturally, it feels like I have company when I dun feel like walking, and as you say, Manattee, it helps to prevent the dreaded only contacting when I want something! 🙂

        One of my BFFs and I give each other a rundown of our day via Facebook each day, it’s all pretty mundane, but keeps us in contact! Another friend and I trade friendly insults over WordsWithFriends (I mostly lose by, like, 3 points!)…

        And my BF and I have monthly Skype dates on the 5th, no matter what (even if it’s just “Hi! Your face is still cute! But I gotta go do that Thing I was just txting about…”) so that we can “see” each other.

        The casual structure, I think, is what helps keep me, an historically Terrible Communicator on track?

        1. I scrabble with my mum (there’s tonnes on scrabble apps), it helps us stay in touch, is low pressure contact, a great way to beat boredom in lost moments, and helps me practice my mother tongue! Can’t recommend it enough

  16. To me the focus of the letter seemed to be about dealing with siblings rather than parents – so here’s my $0.02 – you can’t save your siblings. You can only offer them love and support in a way that builds you both up – and in situations like this the sad truth is that the measure you can offer (b/c of how you view your parents’ situation) may be less than what you want in the name of self-preservation.

    I grew up in a similar situation (the $$ of your family was addiction to alcohol in mine) and I’m also the oldest. I used to be really insistent about giving them advice and put a lot of parameters on my relationship with them based on their relationship with my parents because I honestly thought it would help them – in retrospect that was really about me playing out my process of finding peace and balance in my relationship with my parents, and it spilled on to them.

    I missed out on years of being there for them and building friendships with them because I was bossing them around more or less – once I was genuinely able to stop that, it made our relationship better. I can’t say how I could’ve made that process go any faster – I needed the time – but I’m so happy I’m finally there. I’ve had just a year or so of closeness with my siblings that wasn’t there when I was giving them lots of advice about how to handle my parents, and I’m looking forward to a lot more of it.

    1. Yes. Something I have noticed–because I grew up in a cult, I know a lot of other people from cult backgrounds, even if they aren’t the same cult, and it is incredibly common for older siblings in that situation to stay connected long after they’ve mostly gotten out because they are desperate to save their younger siblings. That connection usually actively compromises their own ability to survive and thrive outside the family, but they cling to it because they don’t want to leave their siblings in the situation. But over and over again, what I see are older siblings who break their hearts attempting to extricate younger siblings from situations the younger siblings have not yet realized are actively harming them. In fact, often with a nearly alienated older sibling to dump on, life gets easier for the younger siblings for a time because there’s a single scapegoat instead of everyone taking a share in the abuse, so the situation tends to perpetuate itself for as long as the escapee is looking back and holding a hand out to try and pull everyone else to safety.

      It’s often when the older sibling finally reluctantly stops trying that the situation for those remaining becomes so blatant that the younger siblings suddenly realize what they’d been talking about all this time and start making their own efforts to escape.

      I have seen this play out more than once. My opinion is that it is always, always better to put on your own parachute and get the heck out and hope that your siblings follow your example. Hanging around for years trying to stuff them into a parachute harness they don’t want to wear is just going to end with all of you going down together.

      1. This!

        Different abuse situation here and reporting in as the “older sibling” who found and pulled the rip cord.

        [CW ahoy: Abuse]

        One of the most difficult decisions of my life was to cut everyone off and go into hiding, especially since I was the care taker and mother figure. I didn’t re-initiate contact until I worked through a lot of things with a therapist and until the youngest reached their majority.

        Because the bitter and painful truth is: There are folks (even Parents) who will use everything you love against you to hurt you for no other reason other than they can.

        And I’m sorry, but all kinds of terrible abuses happen in affluent and rich families. And these types of families have the Power to deflect any attention away from their class and race, while keeping what is going on hidden or unreported or unprosecuted.

        [end CW]

        Pulling the rip cord and cutting off any and all contact isn’t hopeless. It will also take everything you have to do it and to keep making the choice to do it.

  17. I don’t disagree 100% with CA, but I also think that there’s a real chance that your parents will double down on their financial pressures to the rest of your siblings. The script of “This is what I’m doing, but you do whatever you like,” as directed towards A, may have the effect of reinforcing the feeling that he’s dealing with this alone now.

    I don’t know exactly how I’d phrase it, but maybe consider some kind of statement to the effect of, “I have to extricate myself from this, and I hope you do too, but no matter how you choose to proceed with supporting our parents, I love you and I can understand your decisions,” with whatever caveats you need around “we can talk about it after after a certain amount of time has elapsed / as long as we’re not talking numbers / with the understanding that I can stop the conversation at any time” / whatever other boundaries you need to put in place.

    1. I understand what you are getting at, but reinforcing the feeling that he’s dealing with alone now is the point.

      A needs to fully realize that he is, in fact, completely alone in this if he plans to keep giving money to their parents. If he doesn’t, he may give /more/ money than he can really afford to them while assuming that the LW will break down and give in and help him out the way she has always helped out there parents (which in turn, hurts both A and the LW).

      My experience with my sister is that I have to lay it out there with 0% sugar coating (our parents did a good job of making us doubt what people say), so the same may be true with the LW and A.

      When I enforced my own boundaries recently, my sister actually defended our parents and made it seem like /I/ was the one out of line. Later when we were alone, I explained to her that I have to have firm boundaries with our parents, especially when she is around because they push harder than normal. I asked her to respect my boundaries as well (certain topics are off-limits when I am around, but she will still engage them and inevitably I get drawn into the fight because of old dynamics). Until I spelled it out, she didn’t realize that although she doesn’t mind having an occasional fight about off-limit topics with them, I did because /I/ was the one who had to deal with the aftermath for /weeks./ And then I explicitly told her that if she kept doing that, I would not come to visit at all – she would have to find another time if she wanted to see me. That’s when she realized that she was completely alone in dealing with our parents (that I would no longer be the scapegoat) if she kept doing the equivalent of giving our parents money. Last time we were all together, she was much better about avoiding the off-limit topics, which I greatly appreciated.

      So my point is that you can still say it with love, but being firm and clear are crucial, especially when someone has been manipulated like this for so long.

  18. The commentariat here is nailing it with the great suggestions.

    I’ve got another one that can potentially let the LW off the hook as being the family bank and the “bad seed.”

    Get a date and time for your parents to apply for a loan in person at a credit union or bank.

    Use a script like “I hear you both need money right now.  Let’s decide when we can go down to our bank and apply for that loan that you need. What do you say?”  The parents will have to hear, in dispassionate detail from an impersonal institution, why they either do or do not qualify for a loan.  If they do qualify for that loan, they’re on the hook to the bank to pay it back, not you.

    1. While this idea is meant to shift the blame, what I see happening here is an enormous amount of pressure on either A or the LW (or most likely both) to then cosign a personal loan with the parents or otherwise form official ties to the parents’ finances. You should not assume that a bank is going to help you out of this situation; they are businesses like any other who are interested in representing themselves in a way that they can make money off your interest.

      To be blunt, people in my family have been misled by dishonest/incompetent loan officers previously (“this is only a temporary cosign!” yeah fucking right) and therefore I am extra wary of the situation where daughter-under-a-lot-of-pressure + desperate-to-appease-son + manipulative-and-entitled-parents + loan-officer-who-has-their-own-motivations are all in the same room.

      Though the LW can do whatever she damn well pleases, I suspect her efforts would be better spent securing her finances than attempting to prove to her parents they have a problem.

      1. Even if it is a “temporary cosign” (+1 on the “yeah fucking right”), all they have to do to make it your debt is miss one payment, depending on the creditor. That’s basically the same thing as the LW giving money to her parents, except with an uncomfortable trip to a bank + a pile of paperwork.

      2. Yeah. The loan officer will want to both make the loan and minimize risk to the bank, and that’s very likely to mean “do whatever you can to get responsible person to cosign.” Which is likely to be A, given his difficulty in withstanding parental pressure for money.

        1. This was basically my point, but explained more succinctly. I don’t think the LW should push to put herself or her brother in a position where not just their parents but a third party is pushing them to make financially damaging choices.

    2. Yes, cosigning is a risk; in the case of the LW’s parents, I’d call it a near-certainty that they would “forget” a payment, because they think they’re entitled to have the LW pay their bills.

    3. So clearly I failed to say this and didn’t.

      The LW doesn’t cosign any loan for money the parents might want.  The parents can deduce what they will from the fact that they alone are on the hook for repayment.

      1. Um, I don’t think this is a good idea.

        Above and beyond the danger that LW in a moment of weakness will agree to somehow be resonsible for this debt, there’s the fact that LW and their parents already have the dynamic that LW is somehow responsible for dealing with the parents’ problems. Going down to the bank with them would just another instance of LW taking responsibility, and would reinforce that dynamic both in the parents’ minds and in LW’s mind.

        As Miss Manners says, the way to say no is often. And IMHO it’s a lot easier from a distance — it’s a lot harder when you with them and with an authoritative stranger who has an interest in you saying “yes.”

        1. The LW also can’t ensure that A won’t cosign, if she were to set up a loan application and then refuse to cosign herself. Setting up a situation that would add pressure on A to “help out” and potentially compromise his own finances for life, that sounds like a bad idea.

          This is the parents’ mess. Getting more involved now just gives her more ownership of it.

      2. I think in a different situation (maybe with a sibling or a kid who is just starting out with money management and has made some bad choices) this could be a fine solution. When someone has basically got their heart in the right place but just needs a wake-up call (“hey if you can’t afford this apartment maybe you should make some financial changes?”) then having someone in from the outside to deliver that can work better than someone inside the family.

        But in this case it seems like the parents are pretty deep in denial. This situation has gone on for YEARS. I cannot imagine taking $150,000 from a relative for something less than a major medical emergency (a cultural bias, I know, but bear with me.) I doubt having them talk to the bank about a loan would really puncture the bubble of deluded self-interest — it probably would just give them fuel to see themselves as poor beleaguered people who can’t get help from anyone!

  19. Also, the whole “demanding money in the moment of crisis” thing is a strategy. They’re trying to arrange it so you don’t have time to think. You have less reason to say no because it’s an “emergency.” Dad has clearly known this situation is approaching, but he chooses not to ask before it’s a crisis because he knows you will feel pressure to say yes.

  20. I feel that when it comes to money, it is really hard to set on a dynamic, specially with family figures of power.
    I guess it would be helpful to set the boundary on “I will help when I can and with the things I want/choose”.
    There is always room to be generous on small gestures, like going shopping with mom and pay for “that one pair of shoes”, the occasional weekly grocery shopping on you, or a plane ticket to come visit.
    If they won’t listen you can always be like, “sorry.. I am saving for this next big adulthood step (house, wedding, honeymoon, C graduation present, medical expenses, kid, university for my kids, whatever you want to make up).”
    When I help my family out, I have learned that it works better for me when I give out ACTUAL things, rather than money. It works for my family dynamics, and leaves the “please let me borrow money” and its possible awkward answer, aside.

  21. First, as a stranger on the internet, I want to say, LW, I am so proud of you. It sounds like you have a really good grasp on recognizing and labeling the dysfunction of the situation, realizing the best thing for you is to minimize contact with your parents and not give them any more money, and reaching out to others for help, which is like the incredibly, incredibly difficult first three steps in this situation. So many people get stuck on like, step one. Or step 0.5. So if you haven’t already done so, take a moment to sit back and be proud of yourself for how hard you have worked already and how far you have already come, and know that all of us here at CA are proud of you too.

    Your parents and their financial situation sounds like a sinking ship that is also on fire and not only are they listening to the band playing on, they are also actively poking more holes in the hull and pouring more gas on the fire. You’re right to recognize that giving them “”emergency”” money is like giving them flammable wooden oars- they could use those oars to row a lifeboat away from their sinking ship, but instead they are going to break them into kindling and use them to feed the fire.

    Now to the one part of the letter that concerned me a bit: 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. […]–Saving Only Siblings

    It is fantastic and so loving of you that you want to help your siblings and I applaud you for it. But the thing is, you can build a life raft and offer your siblings space on that raft, or offer them help to get to their own rafts, but you cannot *make* your siblings get on your raft. Probably everyone here would agree with you that it would be best if neither you nor A gave your parents money. But A has to come to that conclusion on their own. If A still has hope or still feels a sense of duty or whatever it is, they will keep giving the money, and trying to extract a promise from them that they don’t want to keep… I just can’t see how it will end well. I think the best thing to say to A is something like, “You know my position, that I think it’s best that none of us give parents any money, but I respect that you have to make your own choice about it” and then back off. I am guessing here but I bet A will have to come to their own realization about enabling your parents in their own timeframe and their own path.

    The suggestion I have might not be helpful in this situation, but it might help to just sit with it and think about it? What if you put a ban on talking about your parent’s finances. What if you told your parents and your siblings you will not give money and you do not want to hear about their finances or discuss them at all, and that is the end of the conversation? If every time your dad brings up money, you say “I already told you dad, I am not talking about this,” then he can’t even get to the part where he asks you for money. If he persists in trying to talk about money, you end the conversation. Same with A, if they want to freak out about your parent’s latest drama, you say “that sounds difficult but I already told you I am not involved, so let’s change the subject.” This might not work from a practical standpoint (for example) you might need warnings if anything bad is happening around C.) But, you know that your parents will keep spending money they don’t have, they will keep putting themselves in “emergencies” of their own making, they will keep refusing to use their own means of helping themselves (spend less, sell the house etc). They will do all this whether you are listening or not. Picture a world in which you don’t have to have the anxiety of listening to their latest “we caused this ourselves and we refuse to fix it” pseudo-crisis. How would this feel for you?

    1. The Captain talked about sticking to your guns even if your siblings continue to financially support your parents. In the aftermath, a thing to be aware of and to be mentally prepared for is for your Dad to use the fact that A continues to pay money to manipulate you into weakening your ‘no’ stance.

      In the same way that you can’t force A to not give your parents’ money, your decision to say no to money requests doesn’t hinge on A’s actions around giving them money or withholding it. United fronts are often a lot more effective — and feel better — than going it alone (or one person doing something that seems to directly contradict what another person is doing) but you do get to set your own boundaries around this without reference to what A and B do with their money. Really. No matter if (/when) your Dad tries to invoke guilt, shame. Or even possibly if A tries to get you to keep paying to lessen his financial burden or reinforce that his actions are reasonable and OK.

      Building from that point, I believe you see yourself as a super responsible and caring sibling and that that may form a lot of your self-image when you think about your place in your family — understandably so! I think your responsibility and care are brilliant and admirable, but I think it can also work against you as a pressure or pain point when you take action that could be cast as less ‘responsible’ or ‘caring’ than actions in the past.

      All your siblings are now adults (even C at college age is an adult) so I’m wondering — what would happen if you tried to take a step back from being the/a ‘responsible one’? What if you no longer tried to ‘shelter’ any of your siblings, at all, over anything (including but not limited to your parents)? What if you tried to take on an attitude of ‘they’ve got this’, even it appears that they in fact do not?

      Something that hasn’t been picked up on much in comments is your parents exerting pressure on you to do a family Christmas. As part of possibly stepping back from the role of the ‘responsible, caring sibling’, what would happen if you tried on the idea that you don’t owe your siblings or parents anything? Not playing nice, not money, not ‘shelter’, not anything. I’m not saying that you should change your actions or stop doing all the lovely things you do for them – but I think you could try sitting with the idea that these are not things you HAVE to do, especially if you don’t want to. Your siblings will be OK if you step back a bit from protecting, shoring up, uniting, and so on. Your siblings will be OK.

      One of the kindest things a friend did for me, when I was in a very difficult situation, was to say: ‘You are a responsible grown-up and I’m sure whatever you decide will be a responsible, grown-up thing to do’. (Her saying it, so non-judgmentally, actually inspired a moment of clarity, immediately after which I was like ‘cool, I think I need to go break up with the partner who just assaulted me, can you drive me there and wait in the car and take me back to your place after?’ and she was like ‘yep, let’s go’.)

      I think this script is awesome because it:
      – Illustrates responsibility – both that you think the person can handle the responsibility but that either way, it’s still their responsibility
      – Illustrates choice – that everyone in this situation is an adult, has autonomy and makes decisions around how to handle certain matters and again, has responsibility for their choice/s
      – Illustrates options – “***a*** responsible, grown-up thing to do’ implies that there are a range of choices and actions that are good – it’s not just one pre-identified action or choice that you yourself are pushing for, which becomes a point of tension if the person decides to not do that specific thing (see a financial counsellor, not give a parent money, etc.)
      – Is supportive and speaks to your belief in the person rather than (in the case of your parents), completely understandable doubts about their irresponsibility and choices. But it speaks to your belief in them without saying ‘I trust you!’ or reinforcing what you see as poor decision-making
      – Could work with both your siblings and your parents, across a range of situations

      1. Typos, argh!

        *what if you tried to take on an attitude of ‘they’ve got this’, even if it appears they in fact do not?

        *your siblings exerting pressure on you to do a family Christmas

    2. I agree so much with the “refuse to talk about money with anyone in this dynamic” advice. I posted about it below.

      It’s such a toxic thing going on, and it isn’t helping to talk about it.

      First, make a rule. The first rule. “No, Dad, I can’t give you money.”
      “Why? I just can’t.” “There’s nothing more to say, Dad. I can’t give you money. I need to leave now, because you won’t drop the topic.” And then leave.

      Go for a hugely long walk, and come back later. Go to the library and come back later. So stay with someone else for the week (old friends?) and only come by for a dinner. Go change your plane ticket for an earlier one and go all the way home.

      Ditto w/ A. “I don’t want to talk about the folks and money with you.”

      Make it, “We need something else to talk about. There is more to us than this issue, and it’s such a negative. I don’t want to talk about it with you.”
      You can’t be his support in this–you’re not on ‘his’ side; you sort of can’t be, you’re on your own side. If he needs support, he needs it from someone else. A therapist, a friend–but not you, you’re too involved.

      Support him by being the person who sees, truly sees and values and wants to wallow in, all those things that are “him” that aren’t The Guy Saving His Profligate Parents. Show him how to escape, mentally, from that pressure, by refusing to discuss the issue with him.

  22. My grandparents had to file for bankruptcy in their 60’s. They lost their house, they divorced and they survived. It was a stressful, terrible time, but filing for bankruptcy is not the end of the world. Letting them experience the consequences of their poor decisions doesn’t make you a bad daughter.

  23. I hope I didn’t miss a comment talking about this already; this is another suggestion for LW regarding C.

    Are the panic attacks because things are so unstable/stressful at home? Beyond planning a trip or visit with them, it might help ease their anxiety if they have a sort of bug-out plan.

    Something goes down that is heartwrenchingly awful? What is the backup plan? Do they have friends nearby they could crash with for a few days? Is there a crisis shelter or something similar? Do they have their own bank account separate from the parents/unaccessible?

    With my anxiety issues related to family, things got much better when I had a way to securely get out of the house for as long as I needed to (to calm down). I applied for a student line of credit that was directly connected to my account and I could monitor online (I use a credit union, which might be helpful if the family generally uses one specific Big Bank).

    It may rock the boat, so don’t feel pressured to necessarily share this with your parents so much as let C know there are escape routes.

    Knowing your exit options, even if they are temporary, can be a hugeeee stress relief (especially when prone to panic attacks).

    1. Getting C their own bank account is a great idea (providing they really can keep the money out of their parents hands). In high school and college I had more than one friend who discovered upon graduation that an irresponsible parent had been dipping in to their earnings, and they all had a really rocky start to independent life.

      1. Yup. I knew a young woman in grad school in a foreign country who checked her bank balance in her account at home–which she had saved up for by working during her gap year etc etc–only to discover that her parents had spent it all. She didn’t even have enough money to buy a ticket home for the summer.

      2. Yes! And as was said to someone contemplating divorce in the comments on a previous letter: Get the account in a different bank from the one that is used by the person you are worried will steal your money. Don’t tell them about it, and get the notices sent to a different address (like a PO Box).

        1. Many banks also now let you do electronic statements only – so you can have them sent to an email that Grasping Parents cannot access, and never worry about untoward mail alerting anyone.

          1. Some banks still send out physical mail for certain things, even if your statement is sent electronically. Privacy notices, policy changes, etc. My bank does this, and it’s a pain in the ass because I check the mail after work when I am donewiththisshit, so it sits in a pile near my front door. Email, I actually read. My bank has apparently sold all of the branches in my city to someone else, and I didn’t realize it. I happened to open a letter from them, which mentioned the sale like it had already been announced and then went on to talk about how one of their services is being phased out by the end of the year in preparation for the transfer of accounts in early 2016. I never saw the original notice that might have some more detail about when the transfer will happen and how long it will take (so that I can deal with direct deposit and automatic payments)? I can’t find the letter, and there is jack shit on their website about how to navigate this process.

            As annoying as this is to me, I can’t imagine how nervewracking it would be to suddenly get a paper privacy notice to account holders (or whatever) delivered to an address shared with someone whom you don’t trust to know where your money lives.

  24. Another important thing to keep in mind is that if LW does decide to try to hook the parents up with a debt counselor, be very, very careful. There are legitimate debt counselors, but there are also very shady operators who suck people in with promises of eliminating debt, but end up saddling them with even more debt at worse interest rates.

    1. OMG, yes. I briefly worked in collections, and I can’t tell you how many people I talked to who were hooked up with bogus companies. You are looking for “credit counselling services,” not “debt management services.” The fees should be nominal, and make sure that you understand exactly how and when the payments to your creditors will be made. A credit counselling service will negotiate a reduced payment and possibly a waiver on things like overlimit fees. Most of the debt management companies have a flat fee that amounts to several months of the payment amount that they quote you, and the first several months of payments go 100% toward their fee. By the time you have covered their fee, your credit accounts have charged off, and you are dealing with 3rd party collectors for the amounts (and your credit is really screwed–multiple accounts with the 180-day late + charge-off, followed by multiple collection accounts.)

  25. Dear LW:

    I believe that talking to your siblings weekly or more often – not about your parents’ horrible money stuff – just calling and saying hi will help some of the stress.

    For C, this could mean that you and he start working on his exit now.

    For you and A this could be mending some rips that you both feel due to money stress. Maybe you could call (or Skype or see each other) and you’d say ” I’m not going to give any more to the parents. I’m sorry that my concern for you has led to me nagging you about your gifts. I won’t nag anymore. I love you”. A will probably be happy and say “I know I shouldn’t by I don’t know how to say no and I love you too”

    And maybe you two will strategize about how you’ll help him say No, or maybe you’ll eat yummy food and agree to not talk about the parents.

    For B, maybe you and she will get to just be closer. Because it sounds like it’s been you and A against the world and maybe she needs to know, you love her too.

    I realize that I’m going after closeness among the sibs, rather than how to say no. That’s because I think if all four of you can feel like a team emotionally, then even if your actions differ you won’t be as stressed.

    Jedi hugs if you want them

    1. I love these suggestions! I think more time spent with siblings away from the pall cast by the parents’ financial strain and manipulation, and more time spent having fun, relaxing together and enjoying each other as adults who choose to be in each others’ lives, could be great! It also means that the sibling relationships hopefully won’t be defined by the parents’ money troubles and that even if (/when) the parents continue down their current path, the siblings can know they’re all OK.

    2. This is a good comment. There is seriously something to be said for maintaining non-antagonistic relationships with siblings. Even really tiny stuff like noticing when someone gets teased a lot about a particular subject and they’re not enthusiastically going along with it (eg when they’re going to get a girlfriend, an example from my younger brother) making sure to just *not do that* and not participate or change the subject when it comes up. Right through to the more serious situations like when they’re under a lot of pressure with something like this. Making sure to make your time together a more safe space so they can lead the conversation where they want it to go and not have to be on the defensive.

      A related note, I have four siblings myself and our various bonds and closeness varied a lot over the years. The same person would go from being a best friend to a total enemy. Now that we’re all adults we’re a bit better at forming relationships with each other as individuals (though I’m pretty terrible at long distance stuff too and as the only one living in a different city that makes it hard! luckily we have the sort of relationship where we can just pick up where we left off even if we haven’t talked in months) so now that C as the youngest is in college hopefully this will start getting easier too.

  26. no additional financial advice to give, but a fistbump of solidarity to the LW for being another eldest child of immature parents and feeling the need to step in and mother everybody. i s2g it’s like the stereotypical ‘bossiness’ of an eldest child gets ramped up to ELEVEN when the parents never really act like ADULTS in one way or another and it is tough as hell to resist that urge to sort everything out for everybody else.

    it’s worth keeping in mind (and this is directed at /me/ as much as the LW, tbh) that it’s the job of a parent to support their child–physically, emotionally, financially–up until the child can support themself. you are not your dad’s parent! you are not your mom’s parent! you are not A’s, B’s, or C’s parent! all the financial and/or emotional support you’ve given to your mom & dad, and plan to give to C in the future, are not obligations. they are BONUSES. refusing to give any more bonuses doesn’t mean that you’re a horrible selfish ungrateful person, because you’ve already gone above and beyond.

    you mentioned in the letter that you and A have been sheltering B and C from a lot of this financial nastiness–maybe now is the time to stop sheltering them. i can imagine you might be reluctant to do so because of C’s panic attacks, but given how often manipulative parents rope siblings into pressuring other siblings, i think it’d be worth having a frank conversation with B and C about this whole deal so everyone has the same info and can make an informed decision of their own about how they’re going to participate in the family situation.

    1. I wonder if C’s panic attacks would lessen if he knew he was in the real world of facts, rather than a hell of not knowing exactly what is swirling all around him. Me, I’d want solid ground under me.

      My sibling was the sheltered Golden Child and very sneering of all my supposed faults, even repeating their mantra that I wasn’t part of the “real” family- until I put on my oxygen mask and left all of them. Without me caretaking for him and taking all the family insanity, the family turned and fell on Sibling, who’s now known to all as the Bad Seed. Meanwhile, I’m happy without them. Guess I wasn’t as grossly flawed after all…

  27. Wow LW that sounds nightmarish! Let me say, $150K over 5 years would be a life changing amount of money for me – and I’m on a pretty decent middle class income. That’s home deposit money. That’s brand new car *and* home deposit and a couple really cool overseas trips… It’s so hardcore that you and A have managed to come through for your parents like this but I 100% support your decision to turn off the tap. You are absolutely correct that this situation sucks and your parents need to figure out how to scale back. I sincerely hope that you and A are well enough off that this money hasn’t been life ruining for you, because it would have been for me. I think the suggestion to just make your parent’s finances a no-go topic is really the only solution at this point. I’m sure you’ve told A that loaning them money is enabling them, and all the other good reasons it should stop, so at this point all you can really do is refuse to talk about it any more.

    I’ve found when banning topics of conversation that it’s super weird and there’s a lot of push back and anger at first. Just keep repeating your refusal like a broken record “I don’t want to talk about that” and then eventually remove yourself physically from the discussion. It does eventually take, and eventually people will raise it with you much less. Note that I said much less and not never because in my experience truly difficult people never really drop stuff 100%. You can probably get A to drop it, but not your Dad.

    Anyway. As someone with a younger brother who still lives with very difficult parents as an adult, I strongly endorse your plan to help C move out ASAP. The longer C leaves it the harder it gets and the more normal and safe the home environment seems. I don’t think my brother could move out now (he’s in his 30s) without serious support from a mental health professional, which is something culturally Not Done for most of my family. I wish I’d convinced him to come and live with me when he was 18 and at university. Or helped him set up a share house with friends. Anyway. It’s a major regret of mine – obviously there’s no guarantee you can succeed in freeing C but hopefully you can. Acting as a parent to your younger sibling is honestly more than enough to take on.

    I hope A eventually sees the light, but if not you can at least just ban the topic from conversation and move on. :-/

    1. Its almost the last of our mortgage – which we are expecting to take another 10+ years to pay off (because, interest, etc). It would be a deposit on a significantly nicer house! Its a HUGE sum of money. Its more than our joint incomes – and we are well and truly almost upper-middle-class for our country.

  28. Ye Gods and Goddesses and little fishes too, how much do I empathize with LW! My mom has become extremely irresponsible with money after years of (thankfully) being thrifty, as part of her mental illness. Her live-in bf for many years has some very risky financial practices, at least in my opinion. Right now they both have steady jobs, but they’re nearing retirement and their pension is likely to be virtually nonexistent. Yet, they go on vacations abroad twice a year and as far as I know put nothing aside for the future. I’m an only child. I really dread my financial future because I *know* I won’t be able to leave them to their own devices when the inevitable happens. I’m pre-guilting myself over this already. If you are able, if you can find in yourself the strength of will and enlist the support of your siblings – run, run for the hills. You don’t really owe them anything anymore. It sounds like they’ve taken all the possible advantage they could of you. If they aren’t willing to take their finances seriously and solve their own problems – that’s it. You can’t force them to do it, or plead with them until they do, or nag or badger or browbeat them to do it either. It is neither your responsibility nor your “daughterly duty”. Not at all. Save C by all means, the sooner the better because I have to agree with Anisoptera there about a living hell becoming normal the longer you stay from personal experience (I moved out at 26), but as far as your involvement with your parents’ finances goes – youve earned every right to be done, done done.

  29. SOS, the advice here is great, and I just wanted to reiterate that it is going to be SO HARD to say no to your parents, and to step back and support A in making whatever decisions he makes. Look after yourself: dealing with that kind of thing is really hard emotional work, and it exhausts you and it drains you. If you have a difficult conversation with your parents or with your siblings and then find yourself getting home from work and just feeling 10 times as tired as usual for the next week, this is normal. Be nice to yourself and do small rewarding things and see your friends and grit your teeth and keep saying no. Lots of luck.

  30. LW, I wish you the best. I think you’ve already gotten plenty of advice. All I have to add is the warning that if/when you cut your parents off financially, the ENTIRETY of their financial problems are likely to become YOUR FAULT. All of them, overnight. A scapegoat is you.

    That means they may double down on the emotional pressure with A. Thy will point out that IF ONLY his heartless LW sib would help them out of this new crisis, all of their troubles would be gone. But because LW won’t, they’ll be hauled off to debtor’s gaol / have to sleep in cardboard boxes / etc. That’s calculated to add emotional pressure to A: not only to lend money directly, but also to save his parents by convincing heartless sib LW to pony up. If he can’t convince LW, then it becomes by-proxy-his-fault when doom destruction etc. rains from the skies.

    I don’t have a strategy for this, other than to be prepared for it to happen and have a good support team in place. I certainly hope it doesn’t!

    Best of luck to you.

    1. I found this warning very interesting because my expectation was the opposite. I’d like to share my scenario too, so that LW can be braced for either.

      When your dad brings his money problems to you he’ll be all “you’re the oNLY one who can hELP MEEE” because that’s what has worked on you before, but it’s not necessarily true. It’s possible that you’ll finally say no, then squeeze your eyes shut and cringe and wait for the crash, and then… nothing. You open your eyes again to see your parents going merrily on their way, still spending recklessly. They didn’t get what they wanted from you and they found other sources. Maybe your dad talked to someone at the club. Maybe your mom has a wealthy cousin. Maybe you don’t even want to know. The day of reckoning you were simultaneously dreading and hoping for is still a long way off. This can be disorienting.

      Another thing you might discover is that when they finally realize that your “no” is firm and that your moneywell has dried up, they’ll drop you like a stone. Even though you were ready to cut them off yourself, this can still hurt. It won’t be your fault, though.

      Be strong. What your parents expect from you isn’t reasonable. It’s okay to tell them no and let them deal with their own consequences.

      1. So much yes to this, and not just when it comes to money. As one of my friends says, “You’re not the only option, you’re just the easiest option.”

        That feeling where everything DOESN’T fall apart is such a fucking trip. When it happened to me it made me second-guess my decision—I thought I must have imagined the level of guilt-tripping and emotional vampirism that that person had been putting me through, because clearly they were actually fine without me.

        The thing I’ve realized after a while (and hearing about it from other people) is that they’d just moved onto a new victim, and I was now just another part of the tale of persecution and woe that they used to manipulate people.

        I really don’t like talking about people like this, and I generally try to give people a lot of benefit of the doubt, but there are a lot of people who, whether out of genuine need for survival or just pure entitlement, perpetuate this pattern over and over. They make you feel like the most important person in the world and the only one who can save them, but it is just not actually true, and that will become glaringly clear once you start saying no. For me the thing that got in the way of getting out sooner was that I *needed* to feel needed by people, because I didn’t think anyone would ever just love me unless they had to.

        Wow, that turned out really long, sorry!

  31. Does LW feel guilty or as if they are abandoning Mom and Dad by quitting the emergency payments? If it would make LW feel better about paying something — just not these wild emergency payments — then maybe they can look into facilitating taking out long-term care insurance policies for Mom and Dad and then being responsible for paying the premiums.

    Then when Mom and Dad ask for emergency money, LW can answer, “Well, I won’t do that, but I did make the payments on your long-term care insurance this month.” When the siblings pressure LW to contribute to emergency money gifts, LW can answer, “Sorry, I won’t do that. But I did make the payments on their long-term care insurance this month.”

    Maybe at the same time, LW can put some cash into a savings account or other vehicle for costs related to Mom and Dad’s long-term and end-of-life care. The monthly payments don’t have to be very large to accumulate into a good-sized fund, which LW, not the parents, controls, for the inevitable. I can’t believe that Mom and Dad have prepared for their later years, themselves. Maybe insurance + savings fund would help LW not feel so bad about saying “no” to these lump sum handouts.

  32. LW, it is really, really hard when you can see how your parents are hurting your siblings, but they don’t see it the way you do. What I have learned is that there is really nothing you can do. My situation is not as dire, but I have seen my sister hurt multiple times by our parents. She just keeps confiding in them, and then when she does something they do not approve of, they turn around and use the confided information against her. They keep breaking her trust over and over and it really hurts her (it also makes me very angry).

    They did that to me multiple times, but I finally put my foot down. A few years ago, I promised myself that I would never tell them anything important (that could hurt me) ever again. And I’ve stuck with it. (I use a ton of the Captain’s scripts and tactics, actually.) I keep encouraging my sister to follow my lead, but she keeps being drawn back into the cycle. And even though my sister is the one who turned me onto this blog, she is going to have to learn on her own – nothing I have said or done has made her stop trusting our parents.

    So you can’t make your siblings stop giving your parents money – all you can do is stop yourself and hope they can see how much better you are doing and decide to do the same.

    Good luck!!

  33. So, my little piece of it.

    I’ve been financially independent from my parents for nine years and I’ve had to ask for money twice. Once was because my ex-husband’s favorite hobby was Spend All Of My Wife’s Money and I *really* wanted a divorce, and the other time was when I had to pay off tickets that, if I hadn’t paid, would have landed me in jail.

    Twice. I’m a broke college student, in the time of my life where I’m *allowed* to fuck up with money.

    And you know what? My parents could have said no either time. It would have sucked. I would have been in a lot of hot water. But it’s not actually their job to protect me from my own poor choices. They had the money to give–my divorce money was from a CD in my name, and I repaid the tickets the next week when I got my grants. This is a big part of how I make sure that the people I love still have the goodwill to help me in times of need. I ask sparingly and return the money.

    When are your parents going to repay you? The answer, of course, is never. So how are you going to build your own future? How are you going to buy a house, pay for a wedding, save for retirement, save for your own children? Are you willing to compromise your life to save thoughtless people from their own piss-poor planning?

  34. I wanted to echo and amplify the Captain’s suggestion to just say NO to the parents, and to your sibling(s) – you do you.

    In my experience this works in a couple of different ways if you can do it genuinely. Basically you can’t get stuck in a tug of war if you put down the rope.

    I stopped having contact with *relative* seven years ago. My brothers continued to try as they felt more optimistic and more obligated in the relationship. When we talked I said *reasons* -not up for negotiation- and ‘you do what you think is right for you’. When I stopped needing them to validate my choices with their behavior it got easier for all of us.

    So my suggestion is- trust that A has the skills and smarts to deal with the outcome of A’s choices like you’ve got the skills and smarts to deal with yours. Honour that A has accountability and responsibility for how A spends A’s money, something your parent’s aren’t doing but you can. Show A how boundaries work in a relationship- you support A and care for them and this doesn’t have to be matched or negotiated by A doing what feels right to you. A is a different person, maybe with different needs and different ideas about what will work. Presenting a unified front is a tricky thing to negotiate in a family environment where boundaries and roles aren’t respected. I’m not sure it is the top (or healthiest) priority here.

    Uncomfortable as it is right now, high as the stakes feel, this problem is not going to go away quickly. You do have time and space to find your own bearings and respect each other in the process. Letting A know that you’re going to do X and they do what feels right to them is an invitation for them to really consider what is happening and why. It’s an invitation for them and for you to maybe do something counter to the current family culture.

    If you can do this for A, it will be easier for A to do it with your parents / when they are ready/ if they want / need to.

  35. LW here again! And again I thank you for all the great advice. I have a bank-is-to-call-me-and-check watch on my account, but it never occurred to me to think of C’s, and now I’m frightened but better to plan ahead than be blindsided later.

    Some stuff I may have not made clear due to length and me being an inveterate waffler, for which I’m very sorry: I’m close to B (she’s the best of us at keeping in-touch long-distance, bless her). And I’m not keeping anything from B and C, I’d never gaslight them, they get too much of that from our parents–they know the basics from me, and I think I’ve made clear to them I’ll tell them anything they want to know. I’ll try to make it crystal clear: money is difficult to talk about. What I meant by them being sheltered was just that they haven’t been subject to the strange financial rants, or the consequences of not giving money like Dad cornering A at the gym or hammering on the door of my shared-with-roommates home when I lived in their country. The one time Dad got money out of B, A and I both went dead in the eyes and made sure it was returned at once, with the message that if she was ever asked again, we wouldn’t give him another penny. That he’ll go back to her is a concern if we stop giving money anyway, but you are all right: they are all adults, I have to trust them to do their adult thing.

    And I’ll make it clear to C I would help him out of the house anytime he wants: it does seem, from how A, B and I all were, that we’re boiling frogs–you stay there going ‘it’s fine, it’s fine’ and then you get out of the pot and go ‘Wow that was not fine!’ But it’s hard to convince the still-boiling frogs: I advised A and B to get out sooner than they did, and only once they were out could they go ‘Wow that was not fine.’ But if frog wants out right now, I’ll get him out!

    I didn’t ask A to promise not to give money to Dad, but to tell me if Dad asked–I know he sometimes keeps it from me so as not to upset me, and he is not the greatest at sharing his emotions and has to stew alone in hurt misery and feelings of ultimate responsibility (oldest boy, Mom is less savage to the boys so he wants to protect her, the Weight of The World &c). I think talking it out does help him, and has resulted in him saying no sometimes. I do totally accept me saying it would make me happy if he agreed not to give Dad money in the very next sentence tips my hand, and he certainly does know I’d always want him to say no, so perhaps I am putting too much pressure on him. I’ll try not to. (I think A and B see me more as an emotional ditzy flighty artist type than the serious boss sister [they call me Shorty and have been known to leap at me to dry my hair when I get caught out in the rain], so I try to seem grave and not over-emotional in this awful situation, but it’s very possible I’ve been overdoing it.)

    It really was an absolutely tremendous help to see the consensus of so many impartial people on saying no, and the clear-eyed statements about my own future (precarious!) and my parents’ old age and future overspending (inevitable!)–the Bleak House reference opened my eyes going ‘Of course!’: 99.9999% of the time I know I’m right, but it only takes a minute to waver, or go ‘but FAMILY,’ so I’m sure I’ll be checking back at wavering points and murmuring ‘No, no, no, it has to be no, even if they sucker money from A or even B, even if they drain my uncle dry (they do get money from him too, which I tried to talk to him about–but it resulted in him handing over more money to protect me). I have to be ready for the real emergency.’ Which means you have all given me a combination pearl of great price. Really, thank you, Captain, everybody.

    1. Someone above offered the advice of bringing only a pre-paid Visa on any family visits (and leave any other cards,cash etc. at home), so as to put a hard limit on any wavering moments – I thought that was a brilliant suggestion and want to mention it here because you brought up the waver-potential and I wanted to be sure you didn’t miss it. 🙂

  36. Wow, this is basically a mini version of the entire American economy right now: old people refusing to live within their means and expecting their kids to pick up the tab!

  37. If you want to work on a long distance relationship with your sibling, then do that directly. Don’t use your parents or Christmas as an excuse. Start sending text messages (even if they get no response) and letters and visit now and then. It’ll likely happen someday that you’ll have to have relationship with your parents =)

  38. I’m really sorry you are caught in this situation. As a more extreme solution that might be worth exploring as a family is going down the Power of Attorney (or whatever the equivalent is where you live) route due to diminished capacity or evidence that your parents are unable to manage on their own or have the ability to make informed choices around money. It can be hard work proving the case and would not be the most pleasant situation whilst you are getting it set up and then going forward as you take control of the finances, but if it protects them and ensures that they can remain in their own home in the longer term, it might be worth having that discussion. It would also help with getting the spending and debt under control, enabling them to have a pension down the line. As a bonus, you and your siblings would not be asked quite so frequently for money to cover the shortfall in their spending. This would not be an easy choice to make as you would be managing their finances for them for the long term, but I’m highlighting as an option – even if you don’t use it, so that you can consider all alternatives to “just say NO to their requests for money”.

  39. Whats with the requests seeming to come when you recieve one of your “irregular lump sums” of income? Do they only come when your parents “know” you have money? If your income is irregular, thats a *really* good reason NOT to give them money – there is no way to be confident of when the next payment may be, or how large it will be.

    Good luck LW.
    Husband and I are still dealing with the fallout of him investing all his savings in his Dads company, which then went bankrupt (taking both parents down with it). His parents bullied him into buying their family home, using those savings as a “deposit” in order to “save the memories”. The local tax agents and similar were VERY unhappy with this arrangement and forced a sale. In the meantime, we came close to selling the house under his parents anyway because the financial strain on us was awful.
    We had a cheap and tacky wedding because his family lost his (significant – nearly 2 years of his then-salary) savings, which we could only afford because my parents paid the food. His parents, meanwhile, complained something wicked about having to travel the hour flight to our wedding. Needless to say, the whole situation did not help my relationship with his family, nor did it improve his mothers temperament.

    Its going to be hard, but at some point, you have to let them fail for themselves. Hopefully the rest of the family can stand up to them too.

  40. Some thoughts.

    OP, you wrote: A gives money to Dad without me knowing, so as not to risk alienating me.

    Alienating YOU, not Dad?

    This tells me you are putting too much pressure on A, trying to affect what he does. JenniferP made this point, and I want to underline it.
    Make the logical argument about “not helping them by bailing them out” and “hurting myself by taking on the emotional responsibility of fixing the situation.”

    Then say, “I’m never giving them money. And, by the way, I won’t be giving you money either. I hope I can persuade you to also always say “no” as well. But I don’t ever want to talk about the money situation again, actually.”

    And then, don’t ever pressure A anymore. Don’t shore him up when HE is worrying about it. Especially, don’t chastise him about whether he gives them money.

    Then–your path forward? Here’s my advice.
    Make all your relationships with your siblings focus on the easy stuff. Favorite movies, plans for the summer, trying to get a promotion, what you’ll major in, funny joke someone told. Build that stuff. Create it, seek it out, respond to it. That sort of sharing is the positive stuff that creates bonds between people. Once those things are flowing well enough, then you can talk about stuff like your love life, some philosophical point, and even how you feel about yourself.

    Even with A–I’d try to avoid talking about it with him. I know he’s stewing, but be the distraction, not the support. Love *him*, be there for the “him” that he is when the parents aren’t in the equation.

    Do NOT have conversations about Mom & Dad and How They Spend Money and What Are They Going to Do. Avoid that stuff like the plague. It destroys. It’s a negative. And you know what? It’s not about you, actually.

    With C, I love all the advice about creating contact. Text him something silly every morning at 7:30. Just some sort of touch, contact, etc. So that you’re safe, positive, and friendly. Then, when he really needs you, he’ll know how to get ahold of you.

    With the comments about “being ready when they hit rock bottom,” I worry that you’re still planning on how YOU will cope with THEIR problem.

    Honestly, I think you could all use an Al Anon meeting or six–it’s not alcoholism, but it’s still “I’m fixing your problems.”

  41. To keep your focus on reality, do the math for what the compound interest on that $75,000 would have been, if you had invested it for your own future. Consider presenting your parents w/ a bill for the money they “borrowed” from you. Get angry! I’d be feeling huge resentment.

    And then keep saying no to them.

  42. My parents are brilliant with money but some of their relatives are not.

    Something which often seemed to help was they would offer to buy *the thing* – for example, if the car needed £X to repair, they would offer to contact the mechanic and pay them direct, rather than handing over cash. That way the person has to be more precise than just general “emergency” and they have to justify expenses directly, and also they don’t get to pretned to need the boiler fixed when actually what they want is money for the expensive gentleman’s club.

    It didn’t shut the requests down, but it’s a good soft option to suggest to your brother.

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