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ASK AMY

Enabling parents look for a way out

Q. Recently, our adult daughter “Clare” asked us for $4,000 to help her daughter attend an extremely expensive college ($75,000 a year) on the East Coast. We had just given Clare $5,000 (for another purpose), and we offered tuition and housing for community college. She refused.

My husband and I are retired public school teachers. We sent all three children to universities. They graduated debt-free.

Our monthly expenses exceed our teachers’ retirement, but we have some savings and a little bit of income. Things are tight.

Clare has not managed her money well. When she was in college we sent her $500 a month and she immediately quit her part-time job. She has squandered literally millions on pricey schemes and expensive homes. She now finds herself divorced and close to penniless, yet she refuses to find a job and relies on us for help.

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Now her daughter is making similar choices.

Clare and her daughter have not been close or kind to us, and have never stepped up during those rare times we’ve asked for physical assistance.

Both have lied about our treatment of them and have ridiculed our gifts and lives on numerous occasions.

I feel used when they come asking for financial help. Yet I feel obligated!

How do we say, “This is not the kind of help we can easily continue to give?” How do we say “no”?

TAPPED OUT TEACHERS

A. If you and your husband saw a child in your classroom whose parents always swooped in to complete their homework, you would see how destructive this behavior is and how it impedes the child’s ability to handle challenges.

You have the spending problem.

Your lifetime practice of enabling “Clare” has helped to create an entitled, incompetent, needy, and angry adult who lacks basic judgment — and is
now passing this on to the next generation.

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You enable her because you are too anxious or afraid to face the discomfort you would feel if you stopped.

And then there is this: Clare isn’t even nice to you! She isn’t nice to you when you give, and she won’t be nice to you if you don’t.

You launched all three of your children into a debt-free adulthood. That’s more than many parents can do, and you did it.

Your duty at this stage of life is to take care of yourselves responsibly. (Will Clare take you in when there is nothing left?)

All requests should be met with: “We’re not giving any more money to you. You can solve your own problems — we believe in you!”

Don’t supply excuses or explanations.


Q. I chat with my sister a few times per week on the phone. We usually call each other on a whim.

More and more lately, she multitasks while we are talking, either preparing and eating a snack, or driving, etc.

The problem is that these activities create a lot of noises, some of which are quite distracting or even grating through the phone.

When she’s driving, the call often cuts out. She has even called me while at a cafe, then asks me to hold on while she orders or pays.

If I am in the middle of something when she calls, I ask her if I can get back to her in a few minutes. If I notice she’s multitasking when I call, I offer to call back later, but she usually says no and carries on with what she is doing.

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What is accepted modern phone etiquette?

HANGING ON THE LINE

A. It’s not necessarily “modern,” but basic good manners means that you don’t talk with your mouth full of food, initiate a conversation when you’re in the middle of a transaction (or vice versa), or choose to contact someone when you can’t pay full attention.

Don’t offer to call back. Ask your sister if she could call back when there isn’t so much background noise.


Q. I applaud your response to “Regretful,” the gentleman who has been divorced from his first wife for many years and wants to apologize. I wholeheartedly agree with your encouragement regarding this apology.

When my first husband and I had been divorced for 34 years, he called out of the blue and apologized for everything. I didn’t realize I needed to hear that, but I did.

He died unexpectedly six weeks later.

I’m thankful that he passed with a clear heart.

JUDY

A. “A clear heart.” That’s what we should all strive for.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.