Sometimes people grow up in really toxic environments, and don’t realise what’s wrong for a very long time. This post isn’t about happy families, or helping out people where there is mutual, unconditional love. This is about the families that are selfish. This is for the people who find themselves being squeezed for every dollar by the vice-like grip of overbearing parents, or demanding and spoilt siblings. I’m not talking about violent families here. Just the selfish and narcissistic ones.
There are a few occasions when it’s completely appropriate for someone to spend their income to provide for and prop up another person. For instance, a parent paying for a child, or a partner paying for their spouse due to illness. Or if the person in question is financially set, and wants to provide financial breathing space for their loved ones to undertake a new career or to pursue a long held dream.
But sometimes we find ourselves in positions where we are asked for money, or there is the expectation that we will provide either cash or goods, to someone who really shouldn’t be asking. Turning away family and friends is easier said than done, but sometimes it really is necessary. On planes, you’re asked to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. The idea behind that is by the time you’ve helped everyone else, you might not be capable of helping yourself. Unfortunately, you can’t always rely on the people you save to rescue you in return.
If a parent demands money, or expects you to pay for their expenses, you are in a very difficult situation. It is totally appropriate for a parent to request their adult child pay rent or board if the adult child is still living in the family home, and has the means to move out. But if a parent asks a 16 year old to give them their take-home pay from their job at McDonalds every week, then there is a serious problem.
Teens and young adults cannot build the nest egg they need to move out if their parents suck them dry. Their savings are there to help them move out, adjust to life without the ever-present guiding adult hand, and to make and repair their own mistakes. There’s a big difference between teaching a child to be responsible for their money, and taking away something they need to become independent.
The circumstances around situations like that are awful and somewhat extreme. But what happens if, as an independent adult, your parents expect you to provide for them? Filial responsibility is sometimes a cultural expectation, and sometimes a legal one. The fact remains that if parents are asking children for money, then the child must be confident enough to ensure that they themselves are financially independent and secure before they provide any assistance.
The emotional pull to rescue your mother/father can be very intense, and will often overshadow the very real need to provide for yourself, your spouse and your family.
Sometimes parents use the idea that you are somehow in debt to them, because they paid to raise you. Do you think you’d put your own (hypothetical) kids in that situation? The cost of raising a child is the cost the parent agrees to pay when they have a baby. End of story. The child owes NOTHING.
If you want to help your parents or a sibling, your finances are in order, and your family is on board, then knock yourself out. Be aware that you may never see the money again. But if your family are demanding that you take out a loan for them, or hold off on paying for your education, or paying down debt, then step back for a minute (or a decade).
There’s a big difference between asking and demanding. There’s also a big difference between a parent who works hard but is in ill health, and a parent who is the perpetual victim.
You should never go into debt to bail out another person, even if it’s a parent. Especially if they aren’t doing all they can to fix the situation they are in. If mum asks you for money to cover the mortgage repayment, but she hasn’t yet cleaned and rented out the spare bedroom, then it’s a hard no. If your dad tells you that he needs $5000 to cover ‘business expenses’ but can’t or won’t itemise them for you (and yes, you should ask), then again – it’s a very hard no. If your brother asks you for money so he can buy an x-box, then laugh him out of the room. That joker needs a reality check badly. Anyway, how will he afford all the in-game currency and micro-transactions?
If your parents or siblings aren’t the sort to understand why you can’t support them, but will expect the earth from you, then you need to take steps to protect yourself financially. Don’t tell them much about your finances. Don’t let them know how much you make – and if you get a raise, don’t mention it.
Make sure that you don’t have any joint accounts with them. If you do CLOSE THEM. Don’t accept excuses like “oh, but we save on account fees!” or “it’s so that you can access my money if you need to!” Both of those sound reasonable when you’re under pressure but really, when you think about it, they are silly reasons to give someone access to your money.
Lastly, if a parent or sibling asks you for a loan, or to buy something expensive for them, what should you say? A flat no works, but also damages the relationship – something you might not be prepared to do. You can always plead your debts. They will expect you to have money. By saying “You realise you have more money than me right?” you can at least have the element of surprise. There you are, insisting that they have more. When they disagree, say that you’re heavily in debt. Yep, even if you aren’t. I am fully advocating lying if that’s what gets you away from the claws of financial doom. Tell them that last week you were on the verge of asking them for a loan, but you did some extra temp work instead. If they point out that your clothes are nice, or that you can afford to live on your own, then take the first one as a compliment, and the second one as an avenue to talk about debt. “I know, how good are my outfits! I take the train to x-fancy suburb to go the op-shops there. As for my apartment, I get a great deal on the rent that’s basically comparable to the price my friends pay to live in a share-house. But it’s not the apartment that is killing me. It’s my uni debt/health issues/crappy wage.” Tell them that your temp work is over, but you know some good temp agencies, and can pass on the details.
It’s awful to go through this, it really is. I love the idea of helping out friends and family, but that idea doesn’t always translate well to reality. Not everyone is blessed with a loving and sensible family. If you are asked to ruin your own life to help someone save theirs, don’t do it. Pay down your own debt. Build up your own emergency account. Put your oxygen mask on first.