8.01.2016

Elderly Parents and Their Malingering Children


More than once, I have found myself counseling elderly parents that have found themselves in a financial and emotional dilemma as a result of their adult children’s poor behavior.
It is surprising how often I hear that the parents, usually in their 70’s, have indebted themselves beyond repair, to rescue or bail out their adult child - either by paying their rent, continuing to pay for student loans (new or old), employing them regardless of sub-par performance, co-signing on car loans, or simply handing cold hard cash because “he needed it.”
Sadly, along with this emotional entanglement, if that wasn’t bad enough, there is often a threat of physical harm, or bullying.
The conversation looks like this:
“Well, he has PTSD from his time in the military. He needs support.”
“He’s been depressed all of his life. He just cannot keep a good job.”
“She is so talented. She wants to work for herself.”
“He is off drugs right now.”
“I want to pay for just one more rehab.”
“She has been looking for a job but the pay is so low. I feel badly for her children.”
“He’s almost done with school. We owe it to him.”
“I made a promise on the day she was born to always be there for her.”

Even with my best power point presentation and the sound advice of every Financial Planner that exists, this couple will not be persuaded to change their lending/bending ways.
It is truly the most difficult case to intervene upon because this psychological triangle creates great stress in the elderly marriage. Usually, one partner is hawkish (tough love) and the other is peace-keeping (enabling), however, certainly, both parties are equally involved and responsible for different reasons.
Once the threat of physical harm is introduced, the couple have become held hostage and an emotional blackmail is occurring.
Sometimes the threat is simpler: “I will need to move back home then.” Or, as the language becomes courser, “Get off of my fucking back!” the parental unit is subtly being made aware that their kid is not coping well.
Even in cases with a blatant verbal threat (“I w
ill hurt you”), this couple w
ill rarely notify police or seek a restraining order, as their physical health is deteriorating, and the emotional stress is adding to an already difficult phase of life. 

In a perfect world, this dyad would have additional family members that might be reeled in as emotional reinforcement and safety, but sadly, that is usually not the case. I can never know where the basic foundation of respect began to unravel, when boundaries and limits were not adequately established; beginning that process at this late stage is difficult, but it can be done.