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Out of the blue this summer, my parents offered to help me with my student loan payments. They’ve always been very financially comfortable, with zero debt, and I am not so I immediately said yes. I can manage student loans myself on a budget, and I’m pretty close to paying them down, but it would be amazing to not worry about them and fully pay off my medical debt. I was really excited. Loan payments resume this month, and when I called them to talk about it, they reneged, saying they’d actually spent the money on my brother’s upcoming wedding instead. Obviously they don’t owe me anything, and the money wasn’t mine, but I still feel hurt. There’s also a history of conflict between me and my brother, so I feel like I’m a teenager again. I’m trying to figure out how to gracefully let this go. They don’t break their word often, so it was a surprise but not a pattern. I’m upset though, and don’t know how to let go of how hopeful I was. I have a chronic illness, so money is always tight and I was excited to get a clean slate.
—It Wasn’t Mine
Dear It Wasn’t Mine,
How disappointing! It’s obviously your parents’ money and their decision, but I do think it’s worth asking a couple of questions. It wasn’t like them to change their minds and if they are as financially comfortable as you say they are, there isn’t just one single chunk of money sitting around. I don’t have their budget in front of me, but if they’re well-off and have income every month, I wonder if there’s something missing from this explanation. So the question might not be why can’t they afford to keep their promise, but why don’t they want to. Now, I can’t emphasize enough that they don’t owe you money or an explanation, so you have to approach this very gently and deferentially: “Hey mom and dad. Remember when you told me you wouldn’t be able to pay off the student loans like you said because you spent the money on my brother’s wedding? I accept the decision and I’m not trying to be difficult but I just keep wondering whether something changed between us, if I did something to offend you, or if you two are dealing with something I don’t know about, because it just seemed so unlike you. If there’s anything you can share, I’m definitely open to hearing about it. And if not, I understand!” Just see what they say.
Maybe you RSVP’d no to their Halloween party and they got mad. Maybe your cousin started a rumor that you’re making tons of money on OnlyFans. Maybe your dad has had significant medical expenses that they didn’t want to mention to you because you’re already dealing with so much. Maybe your brother actually stole their credit card for his wedding charges. Maybe your mom is dealing with cognitive decline and can’t manage the finances the way she used to and they’re not sure where their money is going. And of course, maybe they really and truly just had exactly $10,000 sitting around and changed their minds about how to use it for no particular reason.
If it turns out that’s the case, see if you can find a way to be proud instead of resentful when it comes to sticking to a budget and taking care of everything you need on your own. You should really feel good about yourself for being so independent despite really tough circumstances. It’s admittedly not as enjoyable as wiping out your student loans with a check from your parents would be, but it’s something to celebrate.
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My mother and I have a complicated relationship, for reasons that aren’t worth getting into. As a result, I’m not as close with her as my siblings are (to their credit, they recognize and understand the reasons for this). I’ve managed to forge a “call her weekly, see her annually” relationship with her, largely by accepting that she will never acknowledge her part in why we’re not closer. Lately though, she’s been experiencing serious health issues that may indicate the end is near, and… I’m OK with that. My wife has gently asked if I want to spend more time with her before the end, and I’ve told her that I’m fine with things as they are. What I’m finding harder to navigate is how to talk to friends and co-workers.
If things become imminent, I would like to let my boss and coworkers know that I’ll need time off soon (I work in a very collaborative field where an unexpected absence will definitely impact others). But when the time comes, I plan to attend her funeral and then go back to work the next day and just get on with life, which I know is going to shock a lot of people. That said, I’m still going to have emotions around it, and I’d rather not even have to explain things as far as I have here. What can I say to them to acknowledge that they would not/could not do the same if one of their family passed, but that my relationship with her and my feelings about her passing are my own?
—Not That Broken Up
Dear Not That Broken Up,
“Grief is a strange thing. I’ve decided it’s best for me to be back at work.”
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I raised my son as a single mother in a two-bedroom condo. He is currently 25 and in his wanderlust phase. He comes and goes as he pleases and mainly uses his room as storage. I love my son and raised him to be selfless and considerate, which is why his behavior shocks me to my core. A long-term friend and co-worker has been given only six months to live because of a brain tumor. Even with aggressive treatment, her chances are low. She has a 9-year-old daughter, “Annie,” who was conceived by sperm donation and her extended maternal family isn’t there. At best a second or third cousin might be available. I have known Annie since she was born. I am in my 50s and never imagined being a mother again, but the thought of Annie being alone in the world is too much for me to bear. I agreed to take guardianship of Annie and have her stay over with me while her mother is in treatment.
My son is completely up in arms about this. He says I am kicking him to the curb and that there is no way he could “afford” a place of his own. I reminded him that we had a couch and that maybe it was time to settle down some. I had Annie over one day he visited and we got into a fight. I put Annie in my room but my son kept raising his voice. When he left, Annie came out in tears saying she didn’t want a problem. I tried to reassure her but I am furious at my son. Annie is in counseling but there isn’t much anyone can do from shielding her from the truth that she is losing her mom. And my son is not acting like the man I raised him to be. Help!
Dear Six Months,
You’re doing the right thing. You know that. You say your son is not acting like the man you raised him to be but perhaps you can think of allowing him to witness this huge gesture of compassion and love as part of the ongoing work of raising him. Yes, he’s 25 but a few of those years took place at a time when the pandemic made life abnormal, so in my mind he’s actually 21. An adult, yes, but he’s still very young, and clearly hasn’t quite launched into his grown-up life yet. His “wanderlust” could be covering for feeling rudderless or even depression. I don’t think now is the time for tough love in terms of how you talk to him or the advice you give him about settling down. You might, if you have any free time outside of Annie’s care, probe to find out whether anything in particular is bothering him or reassure him that you’re not going to abandon him emotionally, or even in terms of providing a safe place to sleep. But because you’re a person who cares about your friend and her innocent child in addition to caring about him, that place will be a couch.
My boyfriend of eight months wants to hire an ex as his cleaning lady. We don’t live together. They dated briefly and have remained friendly. She needs the money and asked him for the job. I hate the idea.