Help a Reader: How to Balance Supporting Mom with Being a Spouse

by TTMK on September 1, 2015 · 3 comments

The following letter is from a reader who is sharing her story anonymously.  Please feel free to share your (kind) thoughts and advice in the comments below

Here is my story…

I’m Hispanic and first generation Mexican-American.  My parents immigrated separately from Mexico, met here in the US and had a family.  We grew up in a cross between being Mexican and American but very much American.  We were given the opportunity to complete college and some of us even went on to graduate school.  My parents did the best they could but supporting 4 children was expensive with their meager income.  Their retirement savings was very small, less than $100K in a 401K plan and the house they bought which is about 90% paid for.  In my mother’s mind, we are her retirement.  She invested in us.

I grew up and married someone who is a 3rd generation Italian/German but in all sense American.  We have kids now and have very successful careers.  In all respect (financial & non-financial), our marriage is very much a 50/50 partnership.  We tag team going home to relieve the nanny and while my husband does the laundry, lawn care, and scrubs the toilets.  I clean the rest of the house, grocery shop, tend to the kids, and prepare meals (although not enough, he would say).

My father passed away a couple years back, my mom now retired, has spent all the life insurance money on the funeral expenses and updating the house.  I personally didn’t think she needed to update the house.  But in her mind she won’t get ‘good’ money for it when she sells it if everything is falling apart.   She uses the 401K savings to pay the mortgage and has a meager social security payment to cover all other expenses.  She has started to feel short on cash so has asked two of her more successful and stable daughters to contribute $300/month each.  The other two daughters, one of which is a recently divorced single mom with two small children and the other is a struggling 20-something knee deep in college debt, have not been asked to contribute.

My problem, my husband does not want to contribute the full $300 because he feels (1) my mom has been spending recklessly the life insurance money and (2) I, along with my other sisters won’t demand a full accounting of her monthly expenses.  He’s not saying no, but will limit the contribution to $150 as all four siblings should be equally responsible. To not expect that of the other two siblings would be enabling them not to be responsible in the future.  He expects that if we contribute we should have complete transparency in all that my mother spends so she can be held accountable.

My thought on putting my mom on a budget is not that important to me.  My sister and I feel that asking her for it would be more of relationship strain than its worth.  We don’t do much for her on a daily basis to help her mow her lawn or clean her house, etc. and the $300 wouldn’t strain our daily finances or ability to save money for our kid’s education.  To put it into perspective, she is asking for less than 1% of what we make on a yearly basis.  To my sister & I, it’s not money worth straining any relationship for the sake of principles.  She isn’t asking for a lot of money in our minds.  But my husband feels its money we could be saving for our kids and he doesn’t want to fund wreck-less spending habits.  As for my other sisters, I wouldn’t want to be in their financial situations so covering for them makes sense.

I can say no to my mom and my sisters and push a solution of using her available 401K savings to meet her shortfall but I didn’t grow up being selfish and petty about helping those I love plus making her spend her 401K saving would only delay the inevitable which is providing some support.

Which takes me to the real problem; I’m stuck between a rock and hard place.  Which relationship do I strain, my mother’s or my husband’s?   Both are already strained and I know that my nuclear family should come first, but turning my back on my mother goes against how I was raised and is only going to leave me with resentment towards my husband which can’t be good for the relationship either.

In many respects it’s ironic, because my success has been built on being able to fund my retirement, my kid’s education and knowing ultimately that I would have to supports my parents in old age on some level.  Although I have succeeded in obtaining those means, I feel trapped.

Readers – what do you think of her situation?  Do you have any advice or other thoughts to share? (Please be kind)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

kevin @ Growing Family Benefits September 1, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Based upon your story it does not sound like your mother handles money irresponsibly, or makes decisions rashly. Committing less than 1% your resources to help out a family member in need is not an unreasonable request, and does not place an undue burden on your finances.

You do have two marital partners from different cultures with different expectations. Conflict will always happen in any marriage. Use this as an opportunity to learn work though the inevitable differences in opinions. Treat your husband with respect while you talk about values important to you.

Reinforce the importance of these values by identifying $300 of you own personal monthly spending (not his) you are willing to forgo.


joe September 28, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Two different culture’s? Really? Wow. What culture’s are you speaking of exactly there chief? Aside from the ones they make up to seem as if they aren’t really just mutts. Sound like the same “culture’s” to me. All makes combined aka Americans/humans. People who place any value on the location’s their ancestors used to live by calling it culture or heritage are insecure, hateful and willfully ignorant people. As are those who (like yourself) who use terms like “cultural differences” to separate and segregate different people based on skin tone alone when there really is no differences of any significance to warrant debate. (Psst I’m calling you a racist idiot). Oh have a great day Dr. Dippy do da lol haha.


joe September 28, 2015 at 2:34 pm

I agree with your husband and frankly I think he is being very understanding. Asking your children to pay 300.00 each when it is not needed but wanted is sheer selfishness nothing more. If she cannot or will not be a reasonable adult or willing to properly manage her own finances all you are doing is enabling/hurting her and hurting your OWN family. My advice is this. She can either handle her own finances independently and responsibly or give your husband power of attorney over her estate.(I say your husband not you because clearly you will be unable to make rational adult decisions) With power of attorney he can see all her income vs debt, make a long term plan to ensure what holdings she has now will not be squandered and last her as long as possible. When she gets to a point her liquid finances are depleted he can sell her house to pay to place her in a retirement home or assisted living. That or keep the profits from the sale put it into a trust and move her in with you. Using moneies from the trust and her social security to pay for her cost of living, food, shelter,, clothing and so on. Of course you will not heed any reasonable advice because you simply don’t want to. You like your dear mom seem to only consider what matters to YOU and how YOU feel. The cold hard truth is aging parent’s can be difficult to deal with. You love them and want them happy/independent as long as possible but the majority of the time this is not the best for them. She raised you and cared for you? Did she love you? If she did (sounds like she was a good mom) then even though she loved you and wanted you happy when you were younger I bet she told you no when it was needed. Not because she didn’t care but because she loved and wanted the best for you. The difference now is that roles have reversed (happens to us all) you must love her enough to say no. To look beyond her wants and see that her needs are met first just as she did with you make sense? Stand by and with your husband and make these tough decisions together as you do with your own children untied. Best of luck.


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