Saying No To Parents

Dequesha wants to know how to tell her parents no when they ask for money. They assume she has the extra cash to give them. Dave warns Dequesha that this isn't going to be easy and explains how to do it.

QUESTION: Dequesha in Louisville wants to know how to tell her parents no when they ask for money. They assume she has the extra cash to give them. Dave warns Dequesha that this isn’t going to be easy and explains how to do it.

ANSWER: It’s very difficult, especially when you are in one of the types of families where it has been traditional to just take care of family even if family’s being stupid. That’s kind of a script. Psychologists and counselors call that a family script. Everybody has a line they say in this play that we’re in on this stage. The problem is that when you suddenly say no, that’s outside the script, and everybody on the stage stops what they’re doing and turns and looks at you like you have one eye in the center of your head. That’s the pressure of setting boundaries in a family that doesn’t have boundaries.

What I’m telling you is this is not going to be easy. It’s going to be very emotional, and you’re going to have to be very kind and very firm and very gentle. You do not need to inject your opinions about them into their lives. You can say something like, “I just can’t do that right now. I’ve got some other goals and some other things I’m trying to hit. I’m sorry. If you want some help with me coaching you on how I’m handling money, I’m really excited about getting out of debt and building up an emergency fund. I’d love to see you guys be able to do that. If you ever wanted some help, I’d be happy to show you what I’m doing, but I can’t share money with you right now.”

In response to them saying they don’t have money for food or clothes, I’d say something like, “I used to kind of be that way, too, and I struggled with that because it’s kind of something that we’ve all done, haven’t we, Mom? And I just can’t help with that right now, but I’ll tell you what I can do. Anytime you want me to, I can show you how I no longer struggle with that. And it’s not because I’m making more; it’s because I’ve learned how to handle it. I’ll help you anytime you want help with some coaching on how to do it, but I’m not going to be giving you any more money on this because I’m trying to hit some of my goals. If you’re seriously hungry, come by and I’ll cook you a meal.” But they’re not going to do that. They just play the food card because it’s part of the guilt trip.

You can’t give them anything to read—unless they ask. You can read. Keep offering the opportunity to coach them gently and don’t talk about how dumb they are but talk about how dumb you used to be and how you’re not anymore. The book you ought to pick up is Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. The truth is when they’re asking you for food, they’re not really asking you for food. They’re not really hungry. You and I both know they bought crap last week with money they should’ve set aside for food. If they were really hungry, they’d change. The truth is, that’s a great way to play a guilt trip on you. Don’t let them talk that game with you. It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for you. If you could completely support them—and you can’t—it wouldn’t be good for them. They don’t have any dignity that way. They need to learn to take care of themselves, and you can show them when they ask. And just keep offering that option.

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