I'm writing this after spending most of my weekend feeling some combination of angry and nauseous. My mother called to say that my dad, who'd been doing really well lately, was back in the hospital because he took a fall on the driveway and broke his shoulder. After my mother gave me the medical update we were just sort of catching up on other things. She told me they'd finally finished having the exterior of the house painted and mentioned that she also wanted to expand the downstairs bathroom to add a shower. Although this idea actually makes some sense, there are reasons it may not be possible and I also reminded my mother that we'd had this big discussion about the budget and that she really needed to hold off on any major projects for a while because they're running out of money too fast.
Well, I know it probably wasn't the best time to have mentioned it (though you'd think it was also probably not the best time for my mother to be regaling me with tales of home improvements), and sure enough, Mom kind of blew up at me, saying, more or less, that she didn't care about the money and was going to do these things no matter what I said... that they'd have to sell the house someday and it was important for it to have curb appeal... that she was stressed out from taking care of my dad and that decorating and renovating the house are her only pleasures in life... that somehow or other all the money stuff would work out because things just always do.
I started to remind her that things don't "just work out" and that she would be broke within a few years if she wasn't careful, but I realized I had to just shut my mouth and get off the phone or I'd say things I'd regret.
I was kicking myself afterwards and feeling guilty and doubtful. I felt like there was too much going on and I shouldn't have said anything about money until a calmer time. It's not like I want to harass my mother about her spending. I just want her to have a decent, comfortable life as best she can. And I began to wonder if maybe I was being too harsh. Maybe I'm too conservative, and was not taking into account that some of her expenses will lessen over time. Maybe things would work out.
I was mulling over all this until the next day when my sister ZZ and I were texting each other while she was at the hospital with my dad. I mentioned that our mother had an amazing ability to obsess about the house's curb appeal while her husband was in the hospital, and ZZ texted back:
F'ing serious?? Stupid driveway estimate why hes in hospitalSuddenly I didn't feel so guilty any more and was just angry. One of my mother's home beautification plans was to repave the driveway . Of all the items on her wish list, this was the craziest-- the driveway is fine except for a couple of minor cracks, and spending even a relatively low amount like $2,500 to repave a driveway is just stupid given that she is on track to potentially run out of savings and lose half her current income before she hits the age of 70. But despite telling me she'd hold off, she was apparently forging ahead, and I guess just shopping around for lower estimates. And I guess my Dad must have wanted to see what was going on and talk to the contractor and that's where he was when he fell. I guess my Mom felt guilty about it and wanted ZZ not to tell me how it happened.
I felt like I was in some kind of emotional butterchurn for the rest of the day, but in the end what upset me the most was that I felt my trust had been abused. My mother has had such a checkered history with money, but I used to think my dad was partially to blame for a lot of it. He treated her like a child; he was secretive about their finances, and never gave clear messages as to what they could afford and what they couldn't, other than to constantly complain that my mother spent too much. My mother became convinced that he was a rich miser who was witholding cash just to torture her.
So when my father got sick and I started organizing the family finances, I kept trying to clearly explain things to her. I walked her through all the bank accounts and bills. I drew up a budget and showed her exactly how much their income was vs. their expenses, and how the deficit was made up by drawing on their savings, and how many years those savings would last. And when I re-did the budget a couple of months ago, I sat her down again and showed her exactly what was going on. I didn't just tell her she was spending too much money. I didn't really tell her to do anything. I just explained to her that this was her current reality and that she needed to make some choices, and that if she could make some modest cutbacks now, it would save her from having to make devastating cutbacks later. I thought I could trust her to take this seriously if she felt like she was in control.
But now I feel like I've been lied to and that trust has been betrayed. I'm back to feeling like my mother is a drug addict or an alcoholic who swears they've cleaned up their act but keeps falling off the wagon.
Of course I keep telling myself that it's not MY money. But it's my father's money too, and he is too sick to control anything anymore, and I know that he would agree with me on all this if he had the mental energy to listen to any of it. And ultimately, if my mother really does burn through all her assets including any proceeds from selling the house, which I wouldn't put past her at all, then it will be my money that's at stake because I can't just let my parents starve. And then I see this chain reaction-- I'm trying to save all this money for my own retirement because I won't have anyone else to take care of me, and if that doesn't go according to plan because I'm supporting my parents, then will my niece and nephew be left holding the bag someday because they have to support me? I know that is getting a bit too gloom and doom and I can't imagine it would come to that, but it's hard not to feel angry about all the WASTE. My parents were never rich but they would have had enough money to have a perfectly comfortable retirement, and I don't understand why my mother prioritizes cosmetic enhancements to the house over things that would actually improve her life, like hiring someone to clean the house or help bathe my father.
I really don't know if I'll ever be able to get through to my mother. Part of me wants to just give up and let her suffer the consequences. Part of me wants to stick to my guns and tell her that she'd better not repave that driveway if she ever wants me to set foot on it. And then there are the crazy, desperate plans: could I send a letter to every contractor within a 20 mile radius of home and beg them not to return my mother's calls? Would it be worth the money to hire a lawyer to prove my mother is so insane as to be incompetent so I can take control of her bank accounts and somehow prevent her from doing all these crazy things to the house? But maybe other events will intervene: it's looking more and more like my dad could be in a nursing home soon, which means their money will evaporate a lot faster than even my mother can spend it. Will that be the thing that finally makes her wake up? Who knows... I just don't know how I'm going to deal with this.