Transforming your relationship with your parents about money is not an easy task. With the right tools, though, you can do it. You will be able to discuss issues and topics that were previously off-limits and figure out ways to work in tandem with your parents to improve, modify, or change their financial circumstances. You will have a new sense of freedom in your communication with each other and no longer fear the forbidden topics of money and death.
But to get to this place, you will have to take a series of well-planned steps that require your patience and persistence. The first step is to plan out a Family Meeting to sit down with your parents, review their finances, and help them make plans for their future. This family meeting is an integral part of your new relationship and has a number of different pieces that need to be put in place before the meeting occurs. If these pieces are not prepared properly, the Family Meeting can become a disaster; resulting in hurt feelings, anger, and possibly the breakdown of all financial communication.
The Family Meeting should be planned well in advance to avoid any such nasty surprises. One of the most important things to do first is to identify who amongst the children is most appropriate to coordinate and lead the meeting. This is the child that parents can easily communicate with, the child that they are comfortable discussing their personal affairs with, and the child that has no fear in asking them important questions.
The second person you want to involve in the Family Meeting is one of your parents’ trusted advisors. In your own case, your most trusted advisor might be your financial planner or your accountant. But that might not be true for your parents. In their generation, they might not have had much contact with a financial planner. They may never have used an accountant to prepare their taxes. Take a look at their situation. Who did they turn to when they had a family crisis? Who have they sought out when they had financial questions? That is the person you want. It may be a family lawyer, a local bank executive, or even a minister, rabbi, or priest. The important thing is that your parents are comfortable with them and trust their advice.
The trusted advisor’s role will be to present the idea of the family meeting to your parents and convince them (if necessary) that it is a good idea and will benefit the family. He or she will also share with them a list of topics to be discussed at the meeting.
In Part Two we will discuss the Agenda of the Family Meeting.
Who is the “Alpha Child”?
The Allianz Life Insurance Company conducted a study they defined as “The American Legacies Study”. They gathered information by conducting over 2000 interviews with Baby Boomers and their parents. One of the findings their study revealed was the existence of the “Alpha Child.” This is the child that keeps the family connected, who is always the first to make sure that family gatherings occur on a consistent basis, and communicates often with his siblings and parents. He or she is the child who the parents are most comfortable discussing money issues with. This is the person we want to organize and co-facilitate the Family Meeting.
The Alpha Child in your family may be you. Examine your relationship with your parents. If the above listed characteristics describe you, then it is most likely that you are that person. But don’t let your ego get in the way. Be objective in your evaluation of your relationship with your parents and your siblings’ relationship with them. If you are married, discuss it with your spouse and ask for his or her feedback.
Obviously if you are the only child, you may think that you don’t have a choice. But in some cases if you are the only child, your spouse may act in the capacity as the Alpha Child. Your parents may have more confidence in talking over issues with him or her than they do with you. After all you are their child and they may never give your opinions the same weight as your spouse or another person outside the family. Your husband/wife might be brilliant in your parents’ eyes. There is no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of this situation.
I am an only child and I have acted as my mom’s financial advisor since my dad passed away almost 10 years ago. But every time I give her an investment recommendation and it works out, she seems to remember that it was an idea my wife came up with. So whenever we need to discuss an important financial issue with her I discuss it with my wife first and she will often propose it to Mom. It has a much better chance of getting adopted than if I brought it up.
Approximately one year ago I learned what it was really like to be a caregiver and the receiver of care. In December of 2007 I had ankle surgery and was told by the Doctor that I couldn’t put weight on the ankle for six weeks. As a result I was confined to a wheelchair and a walker ( I had a terrible time using crutches) I needed help taking a shower, getting into the bathroom, couldn’t negotiate stairs and generally had a difficult time taking care of myself.
I was home and away from work for over a month. During that period of time my wife had the primary responsibility of taking care of me. I learned how frustrating it was to be relatively helpless. But more important than that I realized the pressure I put on my wife to take care of me. Every time I needed something I expected her to be immediately available to get it for me. I often found myself calling out her name ( sometimes yelling it) and waiting for her to arrive to fulfill my request. One time when she was in the basement washing clothes I yelled her name for a good twenty minutes. I thought she had left the house and gone somewhere, I panicked. I found that I often became irritable and grumpy when it took her more than a few minutes to respond.
Our caregiving experience only lasted about 30 days. I imagined what it would be like if Mary had needed to take care of me for months and even years. Then I thought of some of my client families with one spouse debilitated by a stroke, Parkinson’s Disease or dementia. And of course you know who the caregiver is 90% of the time. It is a wife, daughter or daughter in law. How many of us men would have the stamina and patience to take care of a spouse or our parents?
These women are angels. They take better care of their parents and husbands than themselves. But unfortunately this takes a toll. They often have to leave the workplace to take care of a family member. As a result they often lose income, retirement benefits and seniority inside their company. But worse than that they often suffer physically from being a caregiver. Stress and physical exhaustion takes it’s toll, often making them sicker than those they take care of.
We must take care of these angels, our wives, daughters and daughters in law. Because we know that they would take care of us.