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Ask Dave

Mom's Nonexistent Boundaries

Deron says his mother left her job and apartment in Georgia to attend a funeral in Ohio. She has no savings and no retirement. He's struggling with continuing to help her when she won't help herself.

QUESTION: Deron in Washington says his 58-year-old mother left her job and apartment in Georgia about three weeks ago to attend a funeral in Ohio. She has no savings and no retirement. Deron and his wife pay her bankruptcy note as well as her cell phone bill. He’s struggling with continuing to help her when she won’t help herself. Dave helps Deron decide how to set some boundaries.

ANSWER: Here’s the deal. You’re exactly right. You’re frustrated because you’re starting to feel like you’re enabling. The way you know if you’re enabling is you ask yourself are they doing something bad that you’re helping to pay for? In other words, are they misbehaving and you’re participating in their insanity financially? And that’s when you know financially you’ve become an enabler. But if you’re participating with them financially in turning their lives around, it can be the same amount of money. It could even be the same heart that you’re doing it with. The only difference is you’re actually doing some good, and what you feel like here is no matter how many boats you give her, she shoots the bottom out of them.

I guess I would stop paying the bankruptcy bill, and I’d continue to pay the cell phone bill. Just say, “Mom, I’m not going to participate in you making bad decisions. When you get ready to make a major life decision like that, because I’m putting money into your life, you owe me a discussion on that to help you make better decisions because your decisions . . . It hurts me. I love you, and it hurts me to watch you make decisions that destroy your life. And I am not going to finance and support decisions that are harmful to you. I love you too much for that. So I’m not going to pay any more of the bankruptcy bills. You’re on your own. And I’ll pay the cell phone bill, and that way you can call and talk to your grandkid and talk to us because we want to know how you’re doing, but we’re not going to be sending you money. We’re not going to be participating in this.

“Now, if you want to change your ways and get back on a plan and start living life right, then we’ll talk about how we can do this. But you cannot continue to make these bad decisions. You’re going to reap what you sow. That’s called consequences.”

The problem is she’s not going to hear it because obviously this lady has—there’s something very sad and broken in her heart. You and I don’t have the power to heal that because people don’t make decisions like this that are . . . she’s just not doing well. It’s so sad.

I’ve got to tell you I feel your frustration, and if it were a family member of mine, I would lovingly assist them as long as I was assisting them. But if I’m participating in their insanity and their delusion, then I can’t do that because I love them too much. I’m not going to participate in their harm. I’m not going to buy your crack cocaine for you or your alcohol for you. I’m not going to pay for your bills when you won’t work, because you have to work. That’s how life works.

That’s the kind of stuff we deal with, but it’s just hard especially this time of year.