I love to read advice columns, but yours is the first one that I've come across in which the advice really seems sound. I am desperately hoping you can give me some guidance.
My parents have been financially unstable since I was in my late teens. I worked and put myself through college, got married, started a family - the typical path. My husband also came from a financially irresponsible family, and we have worked our tails off to develop good financial habits and live within our means. We save for emergencies and it has not been unusual for either one of us to be working two jobs if we need to replace those funds after an emergency has come up. We're extremely worried about the financial situation my mother has placed herself in, however.
My younger sister is an intermittent drug user throughout her life. Incidentally, she blames being illness on me - she says the fact that I scared/startled her repeatedly as a child caused her brain chemistry to become "off" and therefore I caused her problems. Her employment has been unstable. She would move in with my parents "just for a couple of months" and would stay for years, never contributing financially. My parents supported her son's needs (she did not pursue child support). Her son grew up and my parents insisted that she move out - she moved into the apartment complex where my mother worked, and then proceeded to quit her next job and threaten to kill herself if my parents did not pay her rent. Of course, they did. My nephew, her son, has been arrested multiple times for drug possession, and has fathered two children with another addict. My parents have cared for and paid all expenses for one of the children. The other was given to friends of the mother's sister who my nephew does not even know. My parents paid for the attorney fees involved with his arrests, court costs, replacement of multiple cars "so he could work" though my nephew has changed jobs about every two months and frequently takes a month or two off completely. My sister moved herself back in with my parents in their tiny apartment, sleeping on their living room floor, and storing all of her belongings in their living room. She stopped speaking to me when I told her it was unacceptable for a 40-year old adult to be sleeping on her parents' floor and that it was past time for her to get herself together. She decided that she wanted to be declared disabled, so she took a bunch of pills, then had her son take her to the hospital, so that she would be held in a mental hospital for a few days so that she could "let someone else take care of her for a while" because she says she is not equipped to care for herself. Then she didn't like it and wanted out.
My parents have always been church-goers and have heard frequent teachings on being good financial stewards, but their codependent behavior has resulted in them running up multiple credit cards to pay for attorney fees, rent, cars, and child care for these two. My husband and I have begged for almost twenty years for them to get counseling, to get church assistance in correcting the situation, go to Dave Ramsey classes - SOMETHING. We have been worried that my sister and nephew would leave them wiped out financially and then expect us to foot the bill for them not being on the street, and we have repeatedly expressed this worry to my parents, but nothing has changed.
My father passed away recently. My mother is 75 years old and is maxed out on credit cards, with very little savings and a leased car. She is living in a small house now that she cannot afford, with my nephew and his daughter. He is three months clean, but due to his record, has had difficulty finding a job other than waiting tables. He currently works two days a week and contributes nothing. My mom takes care of his daughter every day and weekend - free childcare. Although the birth mother has never had custody of the child, she collects child support that is taken from his sporadic checks and spends it on drugs. He's repeatedly reported this, but has been told that unless she willingly submits to a drug test, there is no proof and nothing they can do. My mother buys all the food, pays all the utilities. The little girl considers my mother - her great-grandmother - her mother, because her own other is so addicted to drugs that she rarely sees her. My sister has moved in with a boyfriend, and has been hired and released from temporary job assignments because someone always "has it in for her." She has not paid my mother back or helped her financially. She has not filed taxes in years, and has over $40K in student loan debt. She hides her car so that it is not repossessed.
My mother met with her financial advisor yesterday, who bluntly told her that unless my nephew/sister pays $800 per month towards the expenses/what they owe her, she will be out of money and on the street in a matter of about 18 months.
I'm sick to my stomach. My husband and I work very hard, but we have a family to support and we're not going to be able to pay my mom's expenses. What I see happening is that my mom will run out of money, my sister and nephew will dump her on me, she won't want to abandon her great-granddaughter, so she will want her to move in as well. It's like a train wreck that I've been watching come at me for 20 years, begging them to change direction, but they won't. We don't want this mess in our lives. We want to give our child a stable home and financially stable parents like we didn't have, but at the same time, we're not going to let my mom sleep on the street.
Is there any way out of this for me and my husband? Thank you for your time and consideration.
Worried About My Mom
That, my dear, is a mouthful. Lucky you for having turned out to be the white sheep in the family. However, it is a sad vantage point looking at so much rampant dysfunction in your birth family. Although your detailed account is different than most chewed-up families, you share one important inquiry: “what can I do to change other people?” Logically, we know that if making significant changes in our own lives is so difficult, forcing changes on someone else is typically futile- especially when they’re not asking for help. If you can’t affect their change, then how do you handle your own frustration and sadness? Limiting contact with really dysfunctional family members (or friends for that matter) is essential. Putting a hold on Facebook contributions of theirs is a first step. Limiting (not necessarily stopping altogether) texts or calls seems necessary in the same vein. I’d invite my Mom over as much as I thought was proper, and have a pleasant time together. She will most certainly need a role model for what a “normal” person is like. As years of lectures haven’t helped, perhaps merely love and kindness would remind her of what she may be missing in her own life. Will it help her to raise her standards? Maybe yes, maybe no. Is it the proper thing to do? Seems like it might be. Exposure to kindness can have a profound effect on someone.
p.s. I’ve been a therapist for a long time. As we are living in these here United States of America, I have yet to see a regular person tossed “into the street”. Though your financial fears for your Mom may be correct, the homeless /starving scenario is likely not accurate. Now, daughter, it’s your turn to be a good role model. pss You and your nice husband need to start having some fun together. An occasional movie (theater), bowling, or a drive in the country helps to provide some balance in our hardworking lives. Work hard on behalf of each other too.