Honor Your Parents, Not Their Misbehavior

Dinah is the youngest of four, and none of her siblings make decent money. Dinah is trying to prepare for caring for her parents as they age. What steps should she take to provide for their future care?

QUESTION: Dinah in Atlanta says her parents have been fiscal masochists their entire lives. Dinah is the youngest of four, and none of her siblings make decent money. Dinah is trying to prepare for caring for her parents as they age. What steps should she take to provide for their future care?

ANSWER: Obviously, anytime you want to help someone with money, you’re going to have to have some yourself. Being in control of your life and building wealth is your only hope to care for anyone else and/or yourself. Your situation doesn’t really change the formula. It just changes maybe the urgency of how much gas you’re going to pour on the fire to get the fire burning in your place.

It’s kind of a paradox. You love your parents, and yet you really do kind of resent the idea that you’re going to have to care for somebody who didn’t bother to care for themselves. Both of those feelings coexist together, don’t they? It’s kind of like paying taxes. I don’t mind helping some people, but I do resent helping people who won’t get up off their butt. It’s the same kind of thing.

What happens sometimes in a family that is structured like yours is you’re kind of the first one to go out and win. Sometimes, for instance, when I’m working with professional athletes, there’s this expectation that somehow because you won, someone else in your family is entitled to your money. Let me help you with that. They don’t. You do not have that obligation.

What about the Bible saying you honor your parents? You can honor your parents, but you’re not going to honor their misbehavior. If they were doing cocaine, you wouldn’t honor your parents’ cocaine use. Just because they’re your parents doesn’t mean you honor misbehavior. You honor the position of parenthood only to the extent they function in it. You’re not dishonoring them by adjusting your expectations and their expectations. Those are your two biggest things. You have zero obligation to keep them up in the lifestyle in which they live, which is more than their income. When you start doing their upkeep, it is going to be at the poverty level. We’re talking a cheap, one-bedroom apartment and one hoopty and gas and food. That’s it. That’s not what they have right now. They’re in for a shock when Dinah takes over and is their support mechanism.

You need to be ready for when even your siblings will treat you as if you somehow are a bad person because you’re not participating in the family tradition of stupidity. What I’m talking about is setting healthy boundaries and expectations. There is a book called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud that you need to read. In the meantime, it’s probably a decade or more before you’ve got to deal with this, and so you are going to get about your business of you and your husband building a quality life, and then you will make a decision to what extent you’re going to help someone—anyone—out of your wealth later. Obviously, being a generous person, you’ll want to do some things for some people. But you get to make that decision. You get to make that decision—not guilt trips and not your family saying you’re so lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it. Every time I meet luck, it’s dressed in work clothes.