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Mother's money comments insensitive, but not a surprise

Mother's money comments insensitive, but not a surprise

Q: My parents are in their mid 60s. They're retired and having a wonderful time, which I'm very happy about. Recently I was visiting them and, out of nowhere, my mother said, "I hope you kids know your father and I aren't going to be leaving you anything when we die. Our legacy to you was raising you well and loving you the way we do."

I wasn't sure what to say, so I made some nondescript response to see if she would continue, but she changed the subject.

My parents both received money from their parents when they passed, which allowed them to retire early. My parents didn't pay for our college tuition, nor have they helped out with weddings, home down payments, etc. My siblings and I have always done fine as adults without their support.

I guess I'm just not sure what to think about her statement. I feel a little slighted, which makes me feel guilty. Should I bring it up with her, or with my brothers?

S.

A: I realize what you mean by "out of nowhere" — your mother lobbed it into a conversation about something else, right? — but in another sense, her comment came from a long-established somewhere.

Your parents set two clear money precedents: leaving you to your own devices after you turned 18, and not laying issues out for familywide dissection. In that sense, there are no surprises in her words. In their coming from the mouth of someone living fat on inherited money, though, her words pack an unpleasant surprise. My own view happens to be that a parent's money is a parent's money, and there's no obligation to leave anything to kids — and that they did you a favor by expecting you to be financially independent.

Yet I still think your mom's remark breaks some insensitivity records. While it's important for parents not to spoil their kids, and to equip them to stand alone, that has always been a tough line to walk for parents. It requires a balance of being generous in sharing good fortune while modeling discipline in their lifestyle and emphasizing the importance of investing hard work into individual interests. Parents who say no to themselves ground and validate the word "no" for their kids.

Enjoying luxuries they didn't earn while leaving their kids to earn their luxuries? That's some rich soil for resentment.

This could, of course, be Mom's way of warning you the inheritance is running dry. If so, though, there was better phrasing available. For example, the truth: "The money we inherited is starting to run out so I wanted to make sure you're secure without it." Certainly don't feel guilty for wishing your mother had some tact.

But don't dwell on her lack of it, either. Again — your parents have already established that explaining themselves isn't their thing.

So you have two nonspoiled choices. You can accept this as consistent with the parents you know and decide on your own what to do with the information. Or, you can talk to your mother to make sure all is well. "What you said the other day about not leaving us money is still on my mind — actually, more the fact that you even brought it up. Are you guys having financial trouble? Is there something we should know?"

She can tell you it's none of your business, and you can agree that it isn't, as long as they're flush. Otherwise, it's fair for you to follow through on a concern that your mother planted herself.

Mother's money comments insensitive, but not a surprise 07/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 30, 2011 5:30am]

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