I am a stay-at-home mom. My husband is a police officer and is mandated to work between 10 and 16 hours a day. Our oldest child is a sophomore in high school. She is a straight-A student with a lot of extracurricular activities. Our son is in elementary school; he struggles with school and needs tutoring outside of school. Our bills cost $4,000 to $5,000 a month.
Yesterday, we received a call from my husband’s sister stating that his parents’ car had broken down. She point-blank asked if we could give them a car. We have two cars, which are both financed, and my daughter has a car that is paid off for when she gets her license. If we couldn’t give them a car, they said, we need to give them money. My husband and I said, “No.”
Neither one of my in-laws held a job for very long. Their children have always bailed them out. For example: When my husband and I moved in together, I was called a gold digger. I had a good job and health insurance. My husband confessed that he paid everything from rent to their groceries. If his family needed money, they would scream, cry and yell at him until he gave in.
My husband vented to me about how his family controlled or spent his money when he lived with them. He went out to the gym, and when he came back he said he wasn’t upset anymore. I am worried that he is going to use any extra money from his paycheck for his parents. I am also worried that they will try and take the car away from my daughter. How do I protect what little assets my kids and I have?
Any thoughts would be great.
Lost in Pa.
Your husband has taken the first step. He said no, he felt the wave of guilt at refusing his family’s demands and anger at them for asking, and he took the time and space to process the rock (you, his family and his limited resources) and the hard place (a family of origin that is not used to hearing the word “no” and even less used to taking it as a final answer). But he did it.
Your husband must now navigate this new territory. Stick to your guns and respond to demands with the same statement. Families are essentially an ecosystem where members cooperate to uphold shared beliefs and values and, unfortunately in this case, financial demands. That can lead to some members putting undue pressure on others. If they do, refer them to the policy you and your husband have agreed upon.
Putting boundaries in place does not mean that your husband cannot assist his parents in other ways. That may include helping them organize documents such as wills, life insurance and end-of-life directives; putting in place a budget; deciding whether or not they need to downsize their home; and naming a healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney and executor.
“Families are essentially an ecosystem where members cooperate to uphold shared beliefs and values and, unfortunately in this case, financial demands. ”
You may need to enlist the help of a mediator through Mediate.com or the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, which offer online listings, to come to a shared understanding. It’s your husband’s duty to do what he feels willing and able to do for his parents and siblings. Any help, financial or otherwise, must always be compatible with his own financial and emotional health.
The feasibility of any of this depends on how capable your husband’s family is in building and maintaining some semblance of self-sufficiency, and whether they can accept help without crossing the boundaries your husband puts in place. You have your own bills, responsibilities, children and plans for the future. You and your husband need to continue putting those priorities front and center.
The angst your husband feels now is that tug of war between his old life and sense of responsibility, and his new life and responsibility to you and your children. You must be prepared to stand united without fear of angry reprisals. The sooner you both agree on just how much time and money you can give to his family of origin — and it may be that you have no extra funds — the easier it will become.
You have a right to build a life for yourselves. The most important obligation you have is to each other.
You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.
Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.
The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.
By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.
More from Quentin Fottrell:
• ‘We’ve been left out in the cold’: My mother named my sister beneficiary of her estate, but wrote a letter wishing to divide it among her 3 children. What now?
• ‘We’re concerned this woman may persuade him to leave his house to her’: My father, 85, moved in with a female friend. How do we stop her taking his money?
• ‘She had a will, but it was null and void’: My friend and her sister are fighting over their mother’s life-insurance policy and bank account. Who should win out?