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Ask Dave

Talk about boundaries

Christina and her husband are trying to get control of their finances, and they're becoming increasingly frustrated with her father. She says he thinks they're obligated to buy him whatever he wants when they go to the store together. Dave says Christina needs to have a talk with her father about boundaries.

QUESTION: Christina calls in from Texas, where she and her husband are just starting to take control of their finances. At the same time, her father has a habit of expecting them to buy things for him. She says he has the attitude that they’re obligated to purchase things he wants or needs and will just throw things in the cart when they’re shopping. This is leading to Christina and her husband becoming annoyed and not liking to be around him. Dave says Christina is going to have to have a talk with her father about boundaries.

ANSWER: Well, you’re just going to have to sit down with your dad over coffee and tell him this. Just say, “Dad, I love you. But you’re not entitled to just throw things in the shopping cart. We’re working very hard to get out of debt, and you have to maintain your household while we maintain our household.” If he’s actually hungry and can’t eat, then he can call you and you guys can make a meal for him.

He may or may not like that discussion. I don’t know, but my guess is he won’t. Sometimes when you put boundaries up for people who don’t respect boundaries, it makes them angry. You have to accept that possibility in this discussion. But that becomes what’s known as his problem. It’s not your problem at that point. I’m going to have Kelly pick up, and we’re going to give you a copy of Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries. You need to read it. You’re not crazy; he’s the one who’s out of line. You’re not unloving as a daughter to not allow him to just run over you.

It’s better if you handle this rather than your husband, because it’s probably going to be a little calmer. But if you can’t stand up to him, then you may have to sit down with him and your husband and let your husband put voice to your wishes. Of course you and your husband have to be on the same page that dad’s not going to do this anymore. Let him know you love him, but that you two don’t have extra money right now to buy him stuff.

If you want to buy him a gift, that will be up to you and your husband. Tell him that if he’s ever hungry to just call, and you guys will cook him a meal. But the days of going to Home Depot with him—and him just adding stuff to your bill—are over. Because it’s making you uncomfortable. He’ll probably throw a little fit, then in a few weeks he’ll come around and it’ll be all right.

That’s your only shot at this. You’re going to have to deal with it.