Updated on 04.16.08

Personal Finance and Intrusion

Trent Hamm

I’m worried about my grandmother’s finances. She lives on Social Security and a small pension from the state, but if that were all there was to her story, it would be fine – she owns her residence and is just fine in terms of taxes and debt. The problem is that her oldest son still lives with her and is a constant drain on her financial state. He’s simply incapable of holding down a job.

My grandmother is far too caring of a person to allow one of her children to be out on the street, so she allows him to live with her and has likely agreed to leave her home to him when she passes on.

The end result of this situation is that there are two adults living on a small pension and one person’s Social Security benefits. This worries me and makes me sad on a daily basis – I think about her and really wish there were a way I could help her with her situation. The only problem is that if I do financially assist her, that assistance will translate directly into spending money for her son, who I don’t really want to help because of how he’s draining away my grandmother’s golden years.

A big part of me wants to intrude in this situation. I want to somehow be able to storm in the door and somehow make everything all right for my grandmother.

In the end, though, this intrusion would serve no real purpose. She’s a grown woman with a caring heart who has the power to make her own choices, and she chooses to spend her extra money taking care of her son. It has very little to do with how I feel about it – it’s really her choice, not mine.

I hear often from readers who are faced with a similar situation in their own lives. They see a financial mess in the life of someone they care about and they desperately want to intrude in it. Much of the time, I feel like they’re writing to me for “permission” – some sort of approval of their intrusion.

My reaction is pretty much always the same: don’t intrude unless it directly affects you and even then, only intrude in business to the extent that you need to to protect yourself. Don’t stick your nose into someone else’s business – all you’ll do is create resentment and almost always you’ll fail to solve the problem you wish to address. Often, you’ll make the problem worse.

Instead, just let the people you care about know that you’ll help them if they need it, in the form of advice or financial assistance or whatever the situation calls for. Sit down with just that person (or persons), let them know that you care for them, and let them know that you want to help them specifically, but don’t push them. Let them make the choice – it is their life, after all.

Of course, some situations demand that you protect yourself, and you should always take any measures you feel are necessary to protect yourself. Just make sure that everyone involved in that protection is on the same page – that means, if you’re married, talk over such decisions with your spouse.

As for my grandmother, I talk to her on the phone every week and I’ve had a few conversations with just her about her situation, just letting her know that if she ever needs anything at all, I’m just a phone call away and I’ll help her in any way that I can. But I won’t make her pick up that phone – it’s her life to lead and her choices to make, even if I don’t agree with the choices.

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  1. Michael says:

    I take it he isn’t Uncle Phil. I am surprised such a close-knit, trusting family can’t snap him out of it.

  2. I think you have described a pretty ideal way to handle the situation.
    Even though we often think other people may be “being taken advantage of”,if they don’t feel that way it is not our place to convince them, and likely impossible. Telling them that you are willing to help them if they ever need it
    is a good idea as well, because they may ask you for assistance at that point in getting out of the situation they are in, but you let them initiate it, not you.


  3. Wil says:

    I totally get where you are coming from here. The urge to talk to Grandma is normal, but might not be the best place to start. Ask your wife about the prospects of kicking one you HER kids out of the house…, ever.

    I had a similar situation at home. I talked to the uncle and told him he either needed to start supporting himself, in which case he could stay, or he could leave and leech of someone else. I gave him the option of walking through the door or flying through a window.

    He whined to his mother for a while, but he did leave, and everyone was much happier after. Maybe talking to your grandma’s son would be a better answer?

  4. Diane says:

    It’s awful that this situation happens so frequently. I have an alcoholic brother who used my elderly mother, financially and emotionally, until there was nothing left to take. He left her broke and broken and so for the last three years she has been living with me. From what I hear, he has found another elderly woman to leech off of. These kind of people always find someone to mooch from.

  5. Katrina says:

    I agree with your advice here- my great-aunt is in an almost identical situation, but add a drinking/drug/gambling problem to the son. We shook our heads at it, but she is well-off and chooses to spend her money supporting him. We had no right to interfere It became a serious concern recently when she had some serious health issues and became incapacitated. In order to guarantee that she was getting appropriate care and that he wasn’t pilfering from her finances without her around, my grandparents are petitioning for legal guardianship of her.

    Luckily, they did it in such a way that no hard feelings were created. The son was unhappy at first, but ultimately chose to not contest. Doing things with tact and respect, even when you’re dealing with someone who clearly doesn’t respect himself or his mother, is the best way to navigate murky waters such as this.

  6. It’s hard not to interfere, but you are doing the right thing.

    On the upside, at least she has company and is not lonely?

  7. Frugal Dad says:

    My grandfather continues to financially support, from a distance, his 50-something year-old daughter who refuses to stay employed. I have tried to talk to him about how he is enabling her lazy behavior, but he just can’t turn his back. One day he put me in my place a bit by reminding me that it was his money and his daughter. I haven’t mentioned it since.

  8. Sarah says:

    I am all too aware of the struggle not to interfere with family finances. I work in the financial industry and my parents are in their mid-50s and no where ready for retirement. My Dad is in a job that is way too stressful and my Mom currently does not work. While they have no debt other than few years left on their mortgage, she is not contributing to their future or at least working to allow my father to leave his current job to look for something else. I have approached the subject several times but seem to hit a brick wall. I have left it up to them and placed it in God’s hands and let them know if they have any questions I am here for them. Thank you for posting this subject, it really hit home and I am glad others struggle with it as well.

  9. weiszguy says:

    One thing I’ve always admired about your writing, Trent, is your lack of embarrassment in bringing up your family. In this case, aren’t you worried your grandmother and her son will see this article? If they do, won’t that cause a rift, or at least hard feelings? The fear of that happening would prevent me from writing something like this, but in your case, it makes your writing more interesting, more compelling, even. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

  10. Susan says:

    That’s really difficult. I’m watching a similar situation and it’s awful to watch. I can’t imagine that this would happen with my family between my brothers and I, but I’m sure no one sees it coming….

  11. KellyKelly says:

    I do not have children. Whenever people ask me who will take care of me when I am old, I think of all the elderly people I’ve known or read about who have adult children who drain them. (Or who have kids that live very far away and can offer no real logistical support).

    There are obviously no guarantees in life, with any relationship.

  12. Geoff says:

    Rather than focus on the now, start to focus on what happens when your Grandmother passes away.

    You still have the situation and it needs a resolution. In that light 2 thoughts:
    1: Family can challenge the will of your grandmother. The aim would be a equal split of the estate (ie sale of the home) with each party then free do do as they wish. Not necessary the nieces action to take but it does bring the issue to a real closure and removes the anger that these types of situations can generate.
    2: Start a discussion to structure the estate so that the “son” does not have cart blanche over the house and/or estate. This may involve placing the house into a trust that places limited upon the son. The alternative would be to sell the house and purchase again via a trust a small property (ie condo) for the son but again with limitation that would see any proceeds of a sale etc reverting back to the other members of the family.

    This last scenario is what my parent undertook with an uncle who has serious LD problems and lived at home (while working) right up until my grandparents death. Once they had both passes on the house was sold and the proceeds used to purchase a small condo. The extra funds where placed in a “managed” account that covered outgoings on the condo. Has worked very well for the last 20 years.

  13. Rex says:

    This post was perfectly timed and lists the conclusions that I have come to recently. In my situation my father-in-law recently passed away (in 3/07 @ age 59) and my mother-in-law lost not only her life partner (married for 25 years), but also 2/3 of the family income. Having an interest in personal finance I offered to step in and help when he got sick (12/06, brain tumor) and figured out where the accounts were, what was owed, if there was life insurance (there was, but way too small a policy). And now in the aftermath of the financial whirlwind my mother-in-law is in a situation where she is making around 30k and making a house payment that is around 45% of her income. The past 3 months she has been in the red nearly $1k per month and although I helped her create a budget there came a time a couple months ago when I decided to slowly step back. The frustration comes in watching her slowly sinking and not being able to do anything about it, but I am now fine with it and have offered my help if and when she asks for it. To top it off her 23 yr old son lives with her and is sporadic on his rent and her father is now fighting kidney cancer and it does not look good. I can’t imagine loosing my spouse and my father all within 2 years…

  14. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    weiszguy: I’m careful when I write such that I don’t violate anyone’s privacy while still telling a true story. I have to choose what I say carefully in places like this, and I think for the most part I do it well – no one has ever gotten mad because of something I’ve written, and some of my subjects have found great value in the comments that readers have left.

    Michael: trust is not a substitute for character.

  15. Trent: I agree with weiszguy regarding the openness of your language when talking about family. It comes across as caring while at the same time not appearing to pull punches.

    Isn’t it funny how often people usually must be dragged into volunteer work while at the same time many are over-eager to get involved in the matters of family members that they’re probably better off avoiding?

  16. Megan says:

    Ooooo, this hits a nerve for me. My aunt mooched off my grandmother to the point that I think it contributed to her death. She convinced my grandma to borrow against her house that had long since been payed off, and then after Grandma died said aunt even squandered the house away. This was to be my mother’s inheritance.

    Now my parents have stepped in to support my aunt; they bought her a condo to live in and she (occasionally) pays rent to them–far less than the monthly mortgage at that.

  17. a.nony.mous says:

    I think there’s an exception to your don’t intrude rules: abuse. Financial abuse of elders is an issue, and the typical financial abuser is an unemployed, middle-aged son or nephew with substance abuse issues. That may not be what’s going on here, but someone should at least mention that it may be going on in other situations. More about financial abuse of elders.

  18. Faculties says:

    A problem even closer to home is a spouse or boyfriend who supports adult children from a former marriage. I have several friends who are in this situation right now. For instance, one is living with a man whose adult daughter (in her 30s) has a drug addiction. The man spends a significant amount of his income paying the daughter’s rent, making her car payment, and enabling her to continue living without a job. It’s harder to sit by and say nothing when your partner can’t go on vacations with you or otherwise contribute equally because they’re paying out so much to an adult child. I can see the dilemma from the father’s point of view, but also from the new partner’s. Difficult situation.

  19. Ro says:

    This post really hit home with me. My alcoholic brother, who refuses to acknowledge he has a problem, lives in a tiny guest house on my mother’s property and doesn’t pay her a dime. Neither of them view him as living off her. Half the time his electricity is off and she pays to have it restored. He eats there almost every night and pretty much looks through her pantry when he wants something, and takes it home. He won’t file for divorce from his second wife because he knows if he does, he’ll *have* to provide child support, while at the present he can throw her fifty bucks every few months and think he’s doing great. My mother enables him at every turn to her own financial detriment and it breaks my heart to see him mooch off of her so much. He is an able bodied adult who not only has a college degree but also is a master plumber so he could be doing really well but they think he’s doing well when he manages to get up at noon and work from two pm until 8pm. “Working really late again” as they say.

  20. Anna says:

    Have you read Dear Abby today?

  21. escapee says:

    My grandmother did this with my uncle as well. All went well until she died. The he disappeared without a trace for over 5 years. When my family finally located him he was living in a filthy property that was condemned. He had no money having promptly blown what my grandmother had left him, and has mental and many physical health issues (he just had hear surgery a few days ago as a metter of fact). Now the burden of his care is mainly resting on my mother. She can’t afford the expense and drain of taking care of someone with his sorts of problems and it has caused her no end of grief, and loads of time and money. She loves her brother and that is commendable, but I am constantly worried about my mother’s wellbeing.

    Just thought you might want some perspective on how this situation *could* turn out in the future for your family so you can take steps to either ensure that it doesn’t, or prepare for it.

  22. k says:

    Do you think these situations are happening more frequently than in the past? I have a couple of situations like this in my family circles.

    Even worse is when these “children” have children. My boyfriend’s 28 year-old sister can’t even take care of herself and is now having a child with an inconsiderate and jobless mooch. Not only are the parents’ finances being strained, but the stress is hard on the father’s bad heart. From this side, I can only pray for the best and be there to support the boyfriend (a big stress for him,too). Thanks to reading blogs like this one, I have approached the issue in terms of our future together and we seem to be on the same page.

    It’s still a hard page to be on. While the boyfriend has told the sister repeatedly that he will not support her financially, he still feels a strong calling to make sure his parents are taken care of. Oh yeah, and then throw an innocent child into the mix.

  23. KellyKelly says:


    Is there a way you can help her with material goods instead of cash?

    For example, I help an elderly member of my family by buying high-end vitamins and private health consultations for her, as well as other “things,” such as super-expensive shoes (for her very wornout feet) that she would never buy for herself. I don’t give money.

    Would something like that make sense for your grandmother?

  24. Grace says:

    Interesting post. I AM a grandmother, and right now, I am reluctantly housing one of my daughters and her family–five people altogether. I know that my other daughters feel as you do about the situation, and personally I’m not happy about it, either. I do not intend that this be permanent, and I’m open to advice on how to end it. BUT it is MY life, MY money, My house. I can do what I want with all three while I’m alive, and I can leave my property as I wish when I die. It may not appear fair to the other heirs but it is not likely that a will-contest will get them any more than I chose to leave in my will. There are more emotional issues at stake than you, from a distance, may be able to understand. From your grandmother’s perspective, there may be guilt, shame, compassion, knowledge and facts unknown to you or misunderstood by you. As long as your grandmother is mentally competent and not complaining about the presence of her son, and if she is not asking for your advice or interference, I’d tell you to stay out of it, no matter what it looks to you from the outside.

  25. jmacdaddio says:

    The Millionaire Next Door had a great chapter about this. Successful people do not subsidize their adult children, period. While every parent would help their children through a rough patch if they have the means, the book profiled many families where the children lived a lifestyle beyond what they could afford because mom and dad subsidized it. Once a parent starts to subsidize an adult child, it’s hard to stop as your grandmother no doubt realizes. At this point it’s hard to ask her to give her son the boot, so maybe it’s best to focus on damage control by getting him to contribute something. Maybe she can be convinced to draft her will so that the house gets sold and divided among her heirs, and if he wants it, he has to get in gear and buy out the others. Even if he gets it, he’ll need to get in gear in order to pay the taxes and upkeep – the party is ending for him sooner or later. Good luck with it, and I hope it works out.

  26. clevelis says:

    On thing that has not been brought up in relaying these cases but is also an issue is “squatters rights”. More and more the rights of “live in” people are being enforced to the detriment of the homeowners and such.

    This is a sensitive topic. Thank you all for sharing.

  27. michael says:

    I would agree with you had you not included this line: “and personally I’m not happy about it, either.”

    I question the competence of someone who does something that makes them unhappy — that they know is wrong — but who tries to justify it anyway. You’re enabling a leech and trying to pretend that it makes you a better person (assuaging the guilt you admit to feeling).

    Yes, it is your money — so do something good with it. Give it to charity or use it to live a great and full retirement. Only children and slaves are forced to do things that make them unhappy.*

    Those who CHOOSE to do things that make them unhappy are simply fools.

    (note: Yes, adults sometimes have to do unpleasant things like paying taxes and such, but if these minor annoyances cause you to live an unhappy life, you have serious emotional problems).

  28. Sarah says:

    Michael, if you’ve never had to face a responsibility that fulfilling makes you unhappy, you’ve led a remarkably lucky life.

  29. Grace says:

    Michael, check out my blog. There are three small children involved in this decision–but I absolutly agree that it was MY decision that has led to the intrusion. I don’t plan to be like Trent’s grandmother and have these folks in my home forever (or even another month). But responsibility does sometimes mean making a decision that makes one temporarily unhappy.

  30. Caroline says:

    Michael, I see the point you are trying to make, but until you have walked a mile or two in Grace’s shoes, you should not judge.

  31. Bill says:

    Sounds like grandmother could use some more cash flow.

    How about other famiy members get together and buy her home via a private mortgage?

    She holds the note but gets the monthly mortgage payment so more cash flow for her, and the buyers aren’t out a lump sum (which could be dissipated by the stay-at-home child)

  32. yvie says:

    Well said, Grandma Grace!

    You are a responsible grandma and no one should be making decisions for you, even if they don’t like the decisions you are making.

    I think you said it all when you said, “There are more emotional issues at stake than you, from a distance, may be able to understand. From your grandmother’s perspective, there may be guilt, shame, compassion, knowledge and facts unknown to you or misunderstood by you.”

    Good luck with everything!


  33. Gayle RN says:

    For Ro at commment #18

    My husband tried the same trick when he walked. He quit his job saying he could not afford to make child support payments. The state informed him that he had no excuse as he was perfectly capable of working and had demonstrated it in the past by making x dollars. Therefore he was liable for the child support whether or not he chose to work, based on the figure of how much he could earn at his profession. He chose to work in a hurry because the alternative was jail time. He was also liable from the moment of separation. That wife needs to run, not walk, to an attorney.

  34. gr8whyte says:

    I fully agree with Grace’s comment #22. Taking action’s always risky when one is on the outside looking in because of incomplete info. One should only act on solid info, preferably confirmed by an independent source.

  35. MoneyBlogga says:

    That’s a smart post and a smart attitude towards handling the situation. Are you sure that you have all the facts though? Does the adult son suffer with ADD? If so, it will certainly affect his ability to hold down a job. Does he suffer from a mild form of autism? Same thing. Not making excuses for him here BUT mild brain damage often cannot be discerned by outward appearances. Your grandmother may feel a need to protect him because you can be sure that she’s known for a long time that something’s wrong IF indeed something IS “wrong”. It’s a shame that she is still having to support a child at such an advanced age but something tells me that something may not be right. You’ve made it clear that you are there if your grandmother needs you. You need to find a way to keep on top of her situation because, with old age, comes senility. The whole situation is a difficult one.

  36. yoth says:

    I’m a little puzzled over this issue because the dilemma expressed seems like only part of the story. On the one side, I can understand the concern for the grandmother and the interest in protecting her. On the other side, I see a woman who is in possession of her faculties and has made a decision.

    The son living with her doesn’t appear to be endangering her and I would imagine that he provides her with some camaraderie in exchange for his dependent status. I’m assuming that he can assist her and cannot tell whether he actually does assist her in any non-monetary manner from this entry. While I don’t think that she needs to defend her actions, I would be interested to know whether she refers to it in the same way as Trent does, draining away her golden years, or whether she sees it in a completely different manner. Does she see it as a drain or is this perspective inferred by Trent?

    There is an interest in helping the grandmother but also an interest in not doing it in a way that would assist the son. The argument associated with this appears somewhat circular, IMO, without more information; the interest is to not assist the son because he is draining the grandmother’s golden years however he wouldn’t be draining away her golden years if he were provided with correct assistance and became a viable employee.

    Is it possible that one solution is to provide her son with the opportunity to either gain a skill, trade, or somehow provide him with the opportunity to survive independently from her? Is this something that was already done? What was the result? Have you, yourself, also tried to assist him? What was the result? How did your grandfather handle this issue, when he was alive? Was it an issue then?

    People want to serve a function in life and I have a hard time seeing this person proud of leeching off of his mother like this unless he is suffering from a mental disorder, maybe just poorly socialized, or there is much more to the story that is not being stated. One thing I would be interested in is knowing whether the son’s siblings are concerned about the grandmother? What have they done to manage this situation?

  37. Ro says:

    Gayle RN, Comment 31,
    ITA and do not know why his wife has not filed. She and my nephew have been living with *her* parents for the past 18 months. She’s been fired from three jobs in that time so it may be a money issue. Basically her parents support themselves, her, and my nephew, with a few odd payments from my brother here and there. My parents went on a trip to Florida and her parents made a big stink about how they should have used that money for my nephew. It’s honestly like none of them see that barring some type of big emergency, my brother and SIL should be the ones supporting their own son.

  38. Antishay says:

    That’s a difficult situation to deal with, and I think you’ve approached it well. I have aided all of my family members in different ways with financial advice, but yours is very sound – don’t intrude, just offer help if they want it. Some of them took me up on it immediately, most notably my younger sisters. My mom took a little while to come around, but she’s really excited to be making changes now. I think it’s all about being open and being a giver, a teacher. There’s something to be said for offering help and then being patient :) Thanks for this post!

  39. Lynn says:

    Good topic Trent!
    This also hit home with me.I was in the same situation with my mom. I would give her money every month($200 to $300 monthly) while I worked, and she would spend it on my crackhead sister and her smart-mouthed 21yr old granddaughter (sister’s kid).
    I stopped giving my mom money.
    My Mother passed away in may 2006.
    I wish now that I would of kept giving her the money! Why…………..
    It made her happy and more independant in ways I didnt realize before her death.
    Grandmagrace is right-on with her comments.
    Its not up to us to decide how someone lives their lives or spends their money, or who lives with them!
    There are many factors going on that have nothing to do with us personally. And we will never understand unless we walk in those folks shoes.
    So if you have the funds, give it to them, let it go,and feel good that you have at least made that special person in your life feel like someone cares.
    As Jesus said “If you are without sin, then cast the 1st stone!
    Hope i didnt offend anyone, just my 2cents.

  40. Annie says:

    This hits more than one nerve with me. My husband is one of those enablers that continues to send money to his 24 year-old daughter and son-in-law who manage to hold a job just long enough to rent a new dump, and then quit, or get themselves fired by not showing up. They are about to have their second child, and can’t even keep themselves up. What happens to them when he dies? I will not be supporting them, you can bet your bottom dollar. I really think he feels he failed her in some way, and this is his way of making up for it. And she will continue to mooch off of him til he dies. What a sad relationship. Not father and daughter, but user and usee.

  41. Kandace says:

    Obviously many of us have similar family situations that Trent described. Doesn’t anyone else get angry? When I look at my own family situation I get very angry that family members don’t use their means responsibly, then complain of not having enough money, and throw the fact that I have “money” back into my face. I have money because I practice living within my means.

    How do other people deal with this? I’d like to see a column addressed at anger that can come within families for those who do practice careful living and those who don’t.

  42. Hear about it every day says:

    My husband works for the Dept on Aging, the abuse that is heaped on the elderly because they saved their money is terrible. As long as this is her choice I suggest you do nothing, but during your weekly talks if she implies things aren’t going well or you visit and things don’t seem right I suggest you contact your States Dept on Aging 800 help-line. Many of these people are great con artists and make them feel guilty into caring for them, threat of physical abuse or abandonment (“I leave and you’ll be all alone”) even though it’s not true. The stories I have heard make me physically sick so I asked him not to tell me anymore. What you hear on TV is only a fraction of what really goes on, but what these people are doing is against the law. Please go to your states home page and look for the Dept on Aging (every state has one but it might have a different name) and know the signs, it’s no different then child or spousal abuse, it happens slowly over time. This is IL’s site.

  43. Millionaire Mommy Next Door says:

    When my mom was diagnosed with cancer and moved into our home so that I could be her caregiver, my husband and I faced a similar dilemma. Mom’s illness had bankrupted her small business and exhausted her savings. We supplemented her Social Security disability payments with our own money — and mom then passed our money on to my 40 year old sister.

    We discussed our financial intentions with Mom, yet she refused to discontinue siphoning our money and enabling Sis. So we stopped giving Mom money.

    Instead, we paid some of Mom’s bills directly and gave her specific gifts, like a trip to Hawaii with us. And we backed off, realizing that her SS disability payments were hers. If she chose to continue enabling and providing for Sis – consequently limiting her own resources – that was her choice; not ours.

    Unless you have reason to suspect elder-abuse, my suggestion is to let go.

  44. Macinac says:

    I have seen this over and over. Currently it is my “ex-mother-in-law” age 90; her daughter age 67; and grandson age 44. Neither daughter nor grandson works. Mother-in-law has two pensions from working many years — even to age 70 — plus Social Security. On the plus side, she does have company all the time, two drivers, housekeeping help, and a young man capable of doing anything heavy. She probably views this as a reasonable tradeoff.

  45. Sharon says:

    There are a whole host of medical and mental and emotional conditions that are invisible, often undiagnosed, and almost always un- or under-treated. If you have gone to doctors and been told hundreds of times that it is “all in your head” because you have something that doctors have problems identifying it, you give up.

    Being called “lazy” when you are suffering from depression or undiagnosed sleep apnea with your O2 saturation levels dipping into the 50% levels isn’t helpful. Getting diagnosed and treated is.

    Perhaps readers with this type of issue should look into getting a COMPLETE physical for the “lazy” relative, getting them help and letting them get healthy enough to get productive might be a more useful approach.

    For those who choose to not get help with substance abuse or gambling, enabling is not helpful. For those with mental or emotional disabilities, getting them on disbility, either social security or some other plan if they have coverage can be a positive step to help everyone.

  46. Mary says:

    Trent, I think it’s great that you respect your grandmother enough to stay out of the situation but, do you really think that turning a blind eye to the situation is the right thing to do? Please don’t take offense,I just think that you might want to think about this a little more. Even in the most close-knit family, there can be things that are shielded from the rest of the family. And, I think there is more to this than appears on the surface.

    For one thing, it seems like she is being the chief enabler, letting him be a leach of sorts. It could be that he has a drug problem (even if it’s alcohol, it’s still a drug) or depression/other mental illness and may need help. But it sounds like he isn’t grateful since there is no reciprocation; he is taking advantage of her. He could be threatening her, using emotional abuse, guilt, etc. This could be so subtle that she doesn’t realize it’s going on. Nevertheless, he’s taking advantage of her. Or she might be afraid to do something about it. She may need some help.

    I hate to say it but, by not doing anything you could also be enabling it to continue. You should at least explore this a bit more. I know that it’s uncomfortable and you may feel like you are intruding but if you care (and I know you do or you wouldn’t have written this post) you will try to help.

    I would consider having a private discussion with Granny. Visit her, take her to lunch, for a ride, spend some time with her. Don’t start by bringing it up. Ask her how things are going, how her son is, etc. try not to get too emotional or start saying how wrong the situation is. If she expresses any concern, distress, etc. about her situation, tell her you understand, ask her if she thinks she should do something about it. Be encouraging. If this is a deeper problem than you initally thought, you may want to consider getting adult protective services (or whatever it’s called in your state) involved.

    It’s hard to do and easier to avoid (avoidance is the most common defense mechanism). However, in the end, you will be glad you did, it is the right thing.

    And you know, I’ve been in similar situations where I had someone living in my home, wouldn’t leave, ate my food, ordered me around, broke things when I tried to stand up for myself. In the end, I had to work up the guts to kick him out, even though it was dangerous. I resented the fact that my close friends saw what was going on, expressed concern, knew it wasn’t right, but didn’t do anything to help, even when I told them how scared I was, felt like a hostage…And I’ve had friends who were financially irresponsible. It’s one thing when it’s only affecting them. However, they would come to me, broke. I certainly don’t mind helping when someone is going through a tough time. But many of these friends would waste $ and get into a bad financial situation. This one guy bought a $300 gizmo, played aroud with it and said he would sell it (an investment of sorts). When he did, he got $100 for it. There have been times when I tried to talk to him about these things, even offering to put some of his $ in the bank and give it back at any time. Instead he would make a lot of irrational decisions, waste $ and wonder why. These kinds of people tend to be a drain on you. I have had to set some boundaries with these people (sounds like something your Grandmother hasn’t been able to do). I tend to step in a lot more now. One friend will sit there, smoke only 1/2 the cigarette and go thru a pack while at my house and start bumming off me. I tell him to smoke the stubbies; I’ll tell him he’s being wasteful. Or call 411 with a phone book sitting next to him. Then he complains about his phone bill. I know I come across as a royal B—- but it ultimately affects me. So I know what it’s like and, your grandmother is in a bad situation and needs someone to step in. Think of it like this: Someone in an abusive relationship finds it hard to leave, becomes victimized, and becomes helpless. There needs to be some intervention here Trent. Please do something about this. Even if it means involving authorities, getting others involved, whatever it takes. It’s not meddling but rather helping someone who is unable to help herself.

  47. Anonymous says:

    First, I think you are really brave to write this post, as surely many people will respond with advice on this topic. It involves family and money, two things that are quite personal and sensitive.

    My family raised me to be pretty smart with money – I stumbled along the way, but in order to become debt free, my husband and I adopted a frugal lifestyle. We live within our means.

    I married into a family that is horrible with money. My mother in law, an aged hippie, seems to have accumulated a mountain of debt on her own and now my husband gets calls from a collection agency looking for her. She spends money on things at the dollar store and on the youngest child, who ruined her credit, but has a decent job. She is just an ungrateful mooch, in my opinion. (She mooches off of us as well – taking anything we offer and never giving in return.) No one in that family talks about money problems until it is too late.

    I believe my MIL has nothing saved, even though she is a couple years away from 65. I am worried that someday she will show up at our door, evicted, penniless and expect that we will take care of her. I want to nip this in the bud, but obviously this is not for me to do but my husband. After the collection agency call, I have asked him to have a frank discussion with her about money and to lay out the premise that we will do whatever we can, but we are not able to support her financially.

    I wasn’t there for the conversation, but he said he “discussed finances” with her. I didn’t bug him since I told him what I thought needed to be said. It’s really all I can do. But every time she shows up with bags of cheap junk that no one needs, I cringe.

    Thanks for reading and letting me vent in your comments!

  48. Been There Done That in New Jersey says:

    Intrude. And do it now.

    My widowed mother bankrupted herself, financially and morally, to keep my youngest brother (a drug addict/dealer/alcholic/criminal), his equally addicted girlfriends, their children and other assorted followers-on with an enviable lifestyle for years. She mortgaged the house that was hers free and clear to support them. She maxed-out credit card after credit card. When the foreclosure documents, collection letters, tax lien and other final notices started arriving, she threw them away. If my sister hadn’t accidentally found the foreclosure notice in the trash we’d have never known.

    He died two years ago at the age of 42. He was a college-educated professional (unlike me) who made six-figures every year he was able to work.

    And every month I have to write the woman who never had time for me a check to help her meet basic living expenses.

  49. gr8whyte says:

    Without actually knowing Trent’s grandmother’s view of the situation, it’s impossible to determine from a distance whether her relationship with her son is symbiotic or parasitic. If symbiotic, she’s getting something out of it that may not be immediately obvious to third parties. If parasitic, even parasitized hosts have the right to spend money as they see fit on family members in difficult times regardless of third party opinion. Parasitism can turn into elder abuse but Trent’s post doesn’t suggest elder abuse is an issue for now so I would urge caution. Trent’s weekly contact with his grandmother is a good way of monitoring the situation and I’m sure he’ll take action if warranted. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. All situations are unique and only somebody with good data in real time (best if independently confirmed) can make the decision to intervene when the time comes, if it ever comes.

  50. Sue says:

    I am one of those grandmothers that help out her kids when they are having trouble. I have had my other kids get on my case because I have let my daughter and granddaughter stay with me. I was raised to work hard but to give help where needed. Most of my kids work hard and wouldn’t dream of coming back, yet some of the criticizers still like to ask for money.
    The one that I am helping out now has my only granddaughter. I have taken care of her probably at least half of her 10 years. When I tried to say “no” someone else was always willing to step in and undo what I was trying to do. The last time I even had my neighbor offer to keep my granddaughter (because I said no) so her mother (my daughter) could go with her boyfriend. Quite frankly, as a mother, if I am not taking care of my family, I am embarrassed. It makes me feel like a failure even more than my child not growing up and being responsible. Family should be there for you no matter what. That is one of the difference between family and friends.
    Financially, how much is he draining her? She would have the household bills anyway. One extra person doesn’t usually eat that much. And she may actually find some satisfaction out of cooking for more than one person. Think about your single days and what you ate. Is that what any grandmother wants to eat?
    Mentally, she has someone to keep her company. If she is getting old, she may want to know that if she was sick or hurt someone would notice faster than a week or two. I’m not that old but I still think that if something happened to me, it might be 2 weeks at least before anyone would notice me missing. That is not a very comforting thought. You could look at his being there as keeping her out of a nursing home.
    Anyway, I just wanted to give an “older” (50) person’s viewpoint.

  51. claymeadow says:

    whether to intrude or not is your decision but consider maybe having a less biased third party be the intruder. a third party could be a buffer for you and your closeness to the situation. also, keep in mind, grandma may like the company even if she is paying.

  52. Teri says:

    This really hit close to home for me! My 50 yo brother and his 2 children ages 22 and 20 have been living with my elderly parents for over 3 yrs. now. In addition, my brother also has a 4 yo son from his current marrigage (he has been separated from his wife for over 3 yrs. but chooses not to divorce her) who is at their home every other weekend or more. My brother hasn’t held a job in about 5 yrs. and my father worked until this year (age 77) when he could no longer keep up and finally retired. He is supporting my very ill, elderly mother, my brother, niece and 2 nephews. And does this upset the rest of his kids?! Yes indeedy it does! Not because we disagree with his “helping” my brother, but because my brother has made it clear he will NOT get a job because the state would garnish his wages to pay his 1st exwife alimony. My parents house is a mess, toys and junk everywhere, and kids running in and out. They have a cleaning lady come in once a week and a handyman to mow the lawn while my brother and his 2 adult kids “help” out by hmmmm lets see…occassionally making dinner and some minor chores here and there. It makes me and the rest of my siblings sick at heart to see this but after an almost verbal blow out with our brother about this, which landed my father in the hospital from stress, we’ve decided to say nothing else on the matter. My parents have made it clear that they will not have my brother be “forced” to have a job, nor will they ask him for help he doesn’t offer. They do however, fully support him and his 2 kids and pay the child support for the 4 yo. And my brother feels no guilt or shame and frankly, it makes me sick that we can’t protect my parent’s who don’t feel they need protecting!

  53. bouncing betty says:

    Trent, this is a great post (as was Grace’s) about family, finance, enablers, love,etc. My adult brother has been supported by our mother for many years (and by default his total of 6 children). My mother never saved for her retirement and currently spends all her extra income on my brother. He does have some learning disabilities, but is more than capable of working. He knows from past experience that his mother will bail him out with a place to live, money, food, etc. She has in the past, she does now, she will do so in the future. He manipulates her with children as well, he denies her visitation to her grandkids if she can’t pay for the trips or send money.

    For a number of years I helped out my mother by assisting with bill payments, allowing her to have a credit card on my account (stupid of me, way stupid), lots of support via the telephone until I realized that all the money I was sending her was not benefiting her, but going directly to my brother and his kids and she still had bill issues.

    I had to step back when my own finances took a dive south and my withdrawl of money was seen as me turning my back on my family. I just could not continue to enable my mother who would then enable her son. My terms and conditions for continued financial support were shot down (have a shut off notice? Send me the bill and I’ll pay the utility company directly, I won’t send a check made payable to a person anymore.)

    Great post and lots of great comments from folks.


  54. Benn There Done That in New Jersey says:

    Just wanted to add a thank you to Trent and to the other writers who described similar situations to my Mother’s – – – It kinda helped my other siblings and I to know that our situation is not unique.

    Oh, and Sue, 50 is not “old”. We’re the new 40, didn’t you know?

  55. Darla says:

    I wonder how much security plays into this? Perhaps having a man in the house provides allows her to feel like someone breaking in is less of a threat? Perhaps he provides a service after all.

  56. Been There Done That in New Jersey says:

    Or maybe the threat is living in the house now.

  57. Bill says:

    Such a sad situation for your grandmother and a pathetic situation for her son. I am involved in a similar situation. The advice of Dave Ramsey is ringing in my ear about the need for well defined boundaries in our personal lives.

    Not surprisingly, whenever callers to his show mention such situations Dave recommends that the caller and all parties involved read the book “Boundaries” (Cloud/Townsend):


    I think it is next on my reading list.

    Good luck to you and all struggling with this difficult issue.

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