Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

The Parent Trap

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Total Black: $427.04
Total Red: $231,084.38

A few days back, a reader posted a comment accusing me of siphoning from my mother’s retirement nest egg.  It’s prayed on my mind for a while now, so I thought I’d address it directly.  Certainly it’s an area where I’m vulnerable.  I suppose in America, the land of bootstraps, leaning on anyone else leaves you open to criticism.

My parents have given and lent me money for my entire life.  Like many kids in America, as a child I earned an allowance for chores and other tasks I did around the house.  In I Need a New Gig I wrote about my mother’s efforts to get me employed when I was just thirteen years old.  And pretty much from thirteen on, I’ve been working in one form or another.  Along the way, however, my parents did continue to loan me money.  My father in particular used to sneak me a few greenbacks when I’d come home from law school to visit.  He loved doing it too.  He’d sneak a handshake or pull me aside before I left to return to school and pass me a few bucks.  More often than not, my mother knew or figured it out.  Now that’s he’s passed, thinking of those moments brings a smile to my face.  In Feelings and Finances I shared a bit of my father’s story, how he had been injured at work but didn’t report it and then ended up on disability leave and ultimately retired.  Being able to give his children a few bucks brought him great joy.

I don’t know why, but my parents have always equated money with love.  That statement probably speaks volumes to my money management difficulties.  It’s not something obvious or specific that I could point to, but throughout my life my parents have shown love through money: buying gifts, lending money, just providing for their children.  I think somehow the idea of providing a better life for your children got translated in their minds to financial betterment.  I suspect many families may struggle with this . . . misinterpretation?

My grandmother did the same for my mother and my mother’s sister.  She often loaned her children money.  I don’t know if they ever paid her back, but during times of struggle she did come to their aid.  When the time arrived, my mother did the same for her children.  In Venom and Vitriol, I noted that I borrowed money from my mother just after graduating from law school.  What I didn’t explain, however, was that my mother had taken an equity loan on her house to give my sister money for the down-payment on her own first home purchase and used the rest to lend me money and pay off her own credit cards.  A few years before my father died, my parents decided that they’d rather give their children what money they could now while they’re alive, so they could see us enjoy it, instead of leaving it to us in wills.  That was a significant change because prior to that moment, loans came with significant strings attached that my mother often tugged on.

This time, my mother took out a line of credit on the house.  So, despite my commenter’s assumption, I’m not squandering my mother’s retirement money.  I’m not in a state at the moment to repay her, but I will be soon.  That I’ve included my debts to her in my total red demonstrates that.  And if, God forbid, something ever happens to her, the money I owe her would be reduced from my share of the house, after it’s sold and my sister and I divide up my mother’s estate.  She’s not rich by any stretch of the imagination.  But she is a product of the hard work of her parents.  And my sister and I are like the compounded interest on that investment.  If the analogy holds, and children are investments of their parents, it certainly doesn’t make sense to abandon them during difficult times.  At least in my family, that’s how things worked.  I don’t know if my mother ever repaid loans from her mother with cash, but she certainly did in other ways.  My mother stayed by my grandmother’s side up until her last moments, visiting her daily at the nursing home, helping to care for her in the winter of her life.  It demonstrated to me what family means.

These are unprecedented times and I’m grateful for my mother’s assistance.  I know I’ll reimburse her for the money she’s loaned me.  And I’m hopeful it will only have to be in cash.  But if time demands more of me, I know I’ll return my mother’s help as she did for her mother.

Written by Laid-off Lawyer

November 15, 2009 at 23:25

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