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My Money, My Choices

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a personal finance writer, television host and radio broadcaster. Every Wednesday, she arms Metro readers with tips to keep spending in check.

Why you need to start treating your parents like grownups: Vaz-Oxlade

If you have a parent who is irresponsible with money, you need to recognize this is not your problem.

If you’ve lost sleep at night because of your parents’ bad behaviour with their money, it’s time for you to start treating them like the grownups that they are, writes Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

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If you’ve lost sleep at night because of your parents’ bad behaviour with their money, it’s time for you to start treating them like the grownups that they are, writes Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

While the media likes to focus on just what a bunch of layabouts millennials are, I’ve seen the other side of this coin: young people deeply concerned about their parents’ irresponsible financial behaviour.

Some young adults feel caught between struggling with their own goals and their parents’ requests for help. Or they’re desperately afraid they’re going to be on the hook when mom and dad retire with nothing but a bunch of debt.

If you’ve lost sleep at night because of your elders’ bad behaviour with their money, it’s time for you to start treating your parents like the grownups that they are. If they were your adult kids, I’d be telling you the same thing: hands off. This is not your problem to fix.

Whatever money you’ve already given them, consider it written off. It’s gone.

But there will be no more. You must deal with your life and your parents must deal with theirs. If it blows up in their faces, that’s the way it is.

You can’t be responsible for another person (unless they are your minor kids or have come to need through no fault of their own). Your parents have made their bed, now they must lie in it. If you continue to enable them, you have only yourself to blame for your anger and disquiet.

Love them. Hug them. Don’t give ’em another nickel!

I get that kids feel responsible for the moms and dads who raised them. It’s that very sense of responsibility to your parents that likely has you taking good care of your own financial life.

But unlike the parent-child relationship in which parents are responsible for their children because they chose to bring them into the world, the child-parent relationship is different. Through their behaviour, your parents set the tone for that relationship. Your parents are adults and have to assume the responsibility of adults: to take care of themselves.

If you have a parent who is irresponsible with money, a parent who is trying to guilt you into providing for them as they did for you as a child, a parent who seems to have not one iota of common sense and no plan for the future, you need to recognize this is not your problem.

Above all, you cannot help anyone — not even your parents — if that help necessitates putting yourself at risk. All that does is create more problems.

How do you say, “No” to a parent you love? It’s tough. But it goes something like this:

“Mom and Dad, I know you’re in a tough spot. I would be happy to help you figure out how you’re going to change what you’re doing so things can get better. And if you want me to help you find a professional to help, I will.

“But I’m afraid I don’t have the financial means to bail you out or offer you any support. I need to take care of my family and myself so I don’t end up where you are right now. And I am determined to never be a burden on my children, so I must keep my financial house in order.

“Please let me help you figure out what you have to change. I love you and want to help, but not with money.”

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