Mom And Dad Are Still Financially Irresponsible

Mary wants to honor her parents. They've never been financially responsible, but she has no idea where to begin with questions to ask or how to handle them. Should she just walk away?

QUESTION: Mary in Buffalo wants to honor her parents. Her dad is retired, and her mom works part time at a library. They’ve never been financially responsible, and she’d like to help them, but she has no idea where to begin with questions to ask or how to handle them. Should she just walk away?

ANSWER: The first step is you have permission to walk away. You’re not responsible for them. It’s not dishonoring to them for you to not interfere. What is your motivation for doing this? To help them?

Your only motivation should be how you can help them. The only thing that matters today is tomorrow. How do we fix and have the best set of tomorrows that they can have? That’s 100% up to them to make those decisions. You can’t make them do that. All you can do is come alongside of them and say, “Hey, we’ve been working on a program over at our house. We’ve really gotten control of our money, and I know you guys have always struggled with that subject. If I could ever help you with that and help you get organized and that kind of stuff, I would love to. If I can serve you in that way and just help out my mom and dad, I’d love to do that.” See what kind of response you get. If they say you get to take care of your mom when he’s dead, then you get to say no, you’ve made the decision you’re not going to do that. The way you’re going to help your mom when he’s dead is you’re going to help them right now before he’s dead. You don’t inherit debt, so it’s not your problem. If they want to start to get control of this subject that has banged them around and bonked them in the nose their whole lives, you’re starting to win with yours and you can show them how.

You can only help them if they want help. He’s not doing anything illegal. Stupid is not illegal. They’ve been broke their whole lives. They don’t know how to do anything else. They don’t have skills in this area. And you’re offering to give them skills to show them and maybe even put them in Financial Peace University and that kind of thing. I don’t know how they’ll respond to that. Maybe after all these years of living like this, maybe they’ll be open to listening to something about it. But maybe not. So you can kind of run both scenarios down in your mind. It’s either yes, they’re going to take help, and the help is going to be teaching—not money—and organizational skills and going to class with them, supporting them emotionally. Be their cheerleader. Otherwise, they’re going to say you’re going to take care of your mom when he’s dead. No. You’re not going to do that. They need to know ahead of time you’re not going to do that. You’ll always help them help themselves, but you are not going to be their fallback to their stupidity. It’s not mean.

Let’s say they were functioning under the illusion that you were the backstop and then you aren’t the backstop. You’d be unkind to not let them know that in advance. It sounds mean, but it’s more firm. Mean is to let them be under the illusion that something’s going to happen that’s not going to happen.