Photo: Marc Royce
Q: My 75-year-old mother is totally irresponsible with money. Her only savings was a $16,000 IRA, which she spent needlessly in the past few years. She has a minimum wage job and rents a modest apartment. She won't tell me if she has life insurance, a will, an advance medical directive, or any funeral requests. I know she expects me to assist her financially, but I want to retire soon. I resent supporting someone who has been so careless with her money while I've been working for 28 years to put away a small pension. What should I do?
A: I get that you're feeling resentful, but I think your resentment may be misplaced. You're blaming your mother when in fact, she didn't make you give her any money. You've decided to put her needs ahead of your own, and that isn't serving either of you. The problem is that you lack what I call harmony: when your actions are in sync with your gut. In The 8 Qualities of a Wealthy Woman, I discuss how every woman can summon the strength to speak the truth, particularly when it comes to money.
My sense is that you haven't fully explained to your mother how you really feel about her behavior. Have you told her what a drain it is on you, or how you're sick with worry? Since Mom has had a tough time opening up about her circumstances, maybe she'll be more receptive to what you have to say if you put it in a letter. Choose your words with love; attacking her isn't going to get you anywhere. Explain that you want to help, but not financially. What you have to offer is emotional support once she decides to take control of her life. Let her know that aid is available. Through the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC.org), you can locate trained advisers in her area who can help Mom straighten out her relationship with money. Services provided by NFCC-affiliated agencies are often available for free or a nominal charge.
I hope reading your heartfelt letter will inspire your mother to change her ways, but I want you to prepare for the possibility that it won't. If that's the case, please don't waver; it's critical that you take care of you. Withholding generosity isn't going to be easy, but it's the right thing to do.
From the June 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine