No two families are exactly alike. Each has its own unique culture and expectations. This is true for your family of origin, your spouse’s family, and the family you’re creating. In order to protect our personal and family values, we must be able to articulate our boundaries. This is especially true when it comes to finances.
Like most things I write and coach about, there’s no right way to do it. I share our story to offer insight on how we’ve dealt with challenges. My hope is that it inspires you to create your own story that’s a perfect fit for you and your family. While this post was intended to address financial matters, this information can be applied to many other areas of our lives.
For many of us, boundaries are tough. Particularly when it comes to family. Boundaries get extra complicated when it comes to money. Money can be an emotional topic that causes some of the most rational people to fly off the handle.
Before we dive in, let’s define boundaries. I love Brené Brown’s simple definition: what’s okay and what’s not okay.
It’s up to each of us to define what this is for ourselves and our families. Then we need to be able to state these boundaries and hold others accountable, which can be hard. Especially for those of us who grew up in families with weak boundaries. For further reading on the topic, I recommend the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud.
Boundaries or Resentment?
Unless you clearly define what is and is not okay when it comes to family and finances, you may be setting yourself up for resentment. Here are three common causes of resentment.
1 – Expectations
Expectations, spoken or unspoken, have caused deep resentments within families. This gets especially dicey when there’s money involved. I’m sure we’ve all heard of blowouts during a reading of the will or splitting up an estate. Countless celebrities have complained about their families treating them like ATMs. And other’s complain that they’re not getting their fair share. While you can’t control the expectations that family members have of you, you can choose to let go of your expectations toward them.While you can’t control the expectations that family members have of you, you can choose to let go of your expectations toward them. Click To Tweet
2 – Manipulation
Manipulation is another common cause of resentment. I’ve seen families use guilt, threats, lies, blame, and bribery to get what they want from family members. When someone is asking you for something and you get that icky feeling, it’s best to say no. There may be tension at the moment, but being direct upfront will prevent future resentment.If it doesn't feel right, say no now. Discomfort today could prevent years of resentment down the road. Click To Tweet
3 – Lending
Another leading cause of resentment is lending money to family members. A friend of mine was once asked, “what are your three biggest regrets?” The first thing he listed was lending money to his brother. He went on to explain that he’ll never see that money again and it didn’t fix the problem. Not only did he feel resentment toward his brother, his brother resented him for not continuing to bail him out.How would you feel if you loaned someone money and they never paid you back? If it would cause the least bit of resentment, just say no. Click To Tweet
So how do you honor your boundaries and avoid getting stuck in resentment?
Let’s start with lending—Don’t do it!
If you want to help a family member, give, don’t lend. Give because you want to help them and believe in what they’re doing. Give without the expectation of getting anything in return. Give freely and joyfully, not because you feel guilty or manipulated.If you want to help a family member, give, don’t lend. Click To Tweet
When you consider giving, make sure it aligns with your values. If you are disciplined with money, would it challenge you to give to someone who spends frivolously and irresponsibly? I know someone who loaned money to their father because he was having trouble covering his mortgage. The following weekend he took a trip out of town and dropped hundreds of dollars on hotels, restaurants, and bars. As you can imagine, this created tension that rippled throughout the entire family.
Similarly, we choose to avoid giving money that supports unhealthy behaviors. If the family member in question has an issue with drugs, alcohol, gambling, or hoarding, it’s best to find other ways to help. Giving a hoarder money to buy more stuff hurts them more than it helps.
Help Without Hurting
In situations where you feel the money would be used in a way that is harmful to the individual, consider other ways you can help. Buy them groceries, bring them home cooked meals, or a bag of clothing. Offer to help them better manage the resources they do have. Volunteer to help them create a budget or manage their bills and expenses. You could even offer to pay for a class to help them learn the skills they need to get back on track.
ALWAYS put the ball in their court when it comes to taking action. Ask them to send you an email with dates when you could schedule a sit-down. Have them gather statements and send you copies before you meet. If you’re buying them a course, have them sign up for the class and cut them a check immediately upon receiving the receipt. Their action on the front end is a good predictor of future follow-through.
There are few subjects that are more complicated than family and finances. It’s safe to say that it’s something we all encounter at some point in our lives. If not with family, most everyone has had that friend that never paid them back.
The important thing is that you stick to your boundaries and do what’s right for you and your family. If you don’t feel good about a situation, you’re not obligated to do it. It’s better to be direct and say no upfront than dealing with resentment that could fester for years.
What important life lessons have you learned about friends, family, and money?
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