Q: My parents keep borrowing against the equity in their home to bail my sister and her family out of debt. Mom and dad are getting older and I don't want to see them burdened by debt that they shouldn't need to pay. What can I do?
A: Many parents will do whatever it takes to help their children—even if that means bailing them out at their own expense.
If someone loses a job, work hours are cut or there has been an illness or injury, it's a relief when family is able to help temporarily. One-time help is different than the full-service Bank of Mom and Dad.
Ongoing problems occur when family continuously helps out. Those who receive the help begin to expect it and don't change their behaviours to manage more effectively on their own. Your sister clearly knows how to spend your parents' money—it's time she learns what to do with her own.
Your parents should ask themselves a few questions to help them decide if what they're doing is working:
- Is our help becoming an unbreakable cycle?
- Is our help teaching our daughter to be a responsible adult or enabling her to remain a victim?
- Are we feeling positive about helping, or are we becoming resentful?
- Is our help jeopardizing other family relationships?
- How else can we help so that we don't end up saddled with debt and unable to cope in later years?
Experts call it "tough love" for a reason. It's hard to set boundaries with family and stick to them.
But what would your parents rather have, a responsible daughter who can support her own family, or a dependent child who will always need rescuing and saving?
If a "helping hand" becomes a "handout," maybe the help has gone too far.