Change What You're Planting

Carol has three grown children, and her 41-year-old daughter borrows money from Carol frequently. Carol has tried tough love but is afraid her daughter will wind up homeless.

QUESTION: Carol in Dallas is 67 and divorced. She has three grown children, and her 41-year-old daughter borrows money from Carol frequently. Carol has tried tough love but is afraid her daughter will wind up homeless. Dave tells Carol she isn’t helping her daughter; she’s enabling her.

ANSWER: I don’t think she’s going to be homeless. I think she’s pretty resourceful. I think she’ll find a place to live. You’ve continually enabled her. It’s all up to her. You giving her money hasn’t kept any of this from happening. If you continue to give her money, why would that not continue to happen? If you continue to give her money, she is going to continue to be right where she is because you giving her money has helped her get right where she is. It’s up to her. She’ll have to figure it out. If her child is living under a bridge, the child can come stay with you until Mom gets a place to live.

This is a 41-year-old person who is completely broke and completely irresponsible and functioning on the level of a 12-year-old. You’re not helping her. Has it worked for you so far? If you were helping her, we would see her living better. She’s not living better. She’s living worse all the time. If your name is on the apartment lease, you may get sued if she gets evicted. You’ll probably have to pay that bill. When I do something stupid and it costs me money, I call that stupid tax. I have paid plenty of stupid tax in my life, and you signing that lease was stupid. You’re going to end up paying for it probably.

You’re not helping her. That’s the problem. It’s not that you don’t love her, and it’s not that I’m some kind of hard case. I want her to do good. You want her to do good. But you’ve got to look and say you’ve done these three things. What you got was this. In other words, you’re fishing with worms, and the fish aren’t biting. You’re planting this, and nothing grows, so you have to change what you’re planting. You have to change what you’re fishing with if you want a different result. If you keep doing with her what you’ve been doing with her, please don’t expect her to suddenly be someone different than she is. You have to change the recipe. You keep baking a cake and acting like you’re surprised it’s chocolate when the last 62 cakes you baked were chocolate. That’s what we all do, by the way, when we’re enabling. You’re not helping her.

What you could do is put her through Financial Peace University or something like that where she learns how to handle money. Any money that she comes to you wanting has to be tied to a behavior that causes her to represent that she’s handling money better going forward. You might help her if she scratches up part of the money for the back rent, but you aren’t going to just pay it anymore. You didn’t try tough love for very long. And it’s tough. It’s hard to watch people you love systematically destroy their own lives. But you’re not helping her. If you die, what’s she going to do? If you weren’t there, what would she do? Because someday, you’re not going to be there. What’s she going to do then? You’re going to leave her some money. She’s going to go through that. Then what’s she going to do?

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