My brother lives in my mother’s house. He returned home after my father’s death when his marriage was in trouble. He is 73 and she is 94. He has paid her £400 a month rent for more than ten years, but has a sizeable pension. He uses my mother’s bank card to either buy fish and chips or to buy his gasoline. Him being home is a comfort to her, but he spends most of his time in her room or lying on the couch with her cell phone, so he’s not really company for her. She was recently in the hospital for three months and he didn’t pay rent, something she knows. We are five siblings, we have no power and we don’t know how to approach the issue with him or our mother. Can you help?
VICKY REYNAL REPLIES: I can see why the situation has raised a red flag as a potentially exploitative arrangement. I think it’s important not to make assumptions. What we don’t know is if your mother considers it exploitative or if she doesn’t mind covering your brother’s expenses.
Oddly enough, there’s a chance she doesn’t care: it could be a defense against her fear of being alone (her generosity keeps her brother close), or maybe she feels needed and useful by funding some of his activities. the costs of it. You wish you were better company for your mother and that she tried harder and cared more, but again, we don’t know to what extent your mother is experiencing this like you.
Money psychotherapist Vicky Reynal answers your financial questions
I suggest you talk to her first: have an open conversation. Start broadly: ‘How are things going with x (your brother)?’ She can tell him that she knows he hasn’t been paying rent and that he has been using her bank card frequently and that he wants to make sure she knows and is okay with it. Ideally, you shouldn’t put words in her mouth: ask open-ended questions like “how do you feel about this?” instead of “I imagine you must be furious,” which she says more about how you feel than what she might be thinking. If you feel uncertain about her response, you can gently ask, “Are you sure?”
If this bothers you, then it is important to understand if you have tried to confront him before and been undermined or rejected. Any of them would indicate possible financial abuse (this is where his financial freedom is compromised) and it would be important to expose it to safeguard it.
Divorced adult children can sometimes overstay their welcome after being forced by financial concerns to return to live with their aging parents (photo taken by models)
It could be that your mother is upset but has never said anything, so you could encourage her to talk to your brother or you could facilitate a conversation if you think she is unlikely to take the initiative. You could explore the idea of power of attorney with your mother as an option, if she feels vulnerable to being exploited.
If you talk to your brother, remember not to start with an accusation: listen to his version of what is happening. Refrain from using strong language and maintain a calm tone. Focus on what you and your mother feel as a result of her actions, so that it is clear what needs to change. “When you don’t pay the rent, she feels uncomfortable having to ask you,” for example, or “I worry about Mom’s autonomy when she sees you spending money with her bank card.”
In the event that you discover that your mother doesn’t really mind or even agree with the current arrangement, you may be left with a lot of feelings to deal with. Presumably anger towards your brother that he is not the son you wish he was. Maybe he also envies her because she gets her way on a lot of things (and I wonder if that’s “typical” of the past). You could also be angry at your mother, either for allowing this to happen; Does she often let people take advantage of her generosity? ?, or maybe because she hasn’t shown you gratitude for the effort you put in. After all, you tell me that you take your mother to all of her hospital appointments and manage all of her utilities and bills. And there may be jealousy in the mix if the money represents the love or attention you feel her brother receives now or received more in the past. Sometimes when present situations evoke strong feelings, it may be because they are hooked on emotional relics from the past.
Recognizing and making space for the variety of feelings this situation provokes helps you try to disentangle what belongs to the past and what belongs to the present, and what your feelings are about this situation versus your mother’s potentially different view.
Do you have any questions for Vicky Reynal? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org