Since we’re all living through fairly doomy and gloomy times, I want to occasionally slip in a question that’s firmly in the category of a nice-to-have problem.
Just such a question appeared in our Patreon inbox this week. (Patreon donors get direct access to the single glowing brain that Piggy and I share, and can ask us questions directly, which we are guaranteed to answer!) Since this question involves some venting about their family members, I’ll protect their identity by calling them Fran.
Hey Powerful Sunflowers,
I’m a financially secure adult in my late twenties. My husband and I are homeowners and prolific savers. We’re doing great! However, my parents still insist on treating us like kids.
My father loves to give me money anytime I go to visit. It was awesome when I was in college, but started to feel infantilizing as I’ve grown. So I started to refuse to take his unwanted monetary gifts, but he sneaks it into my purse!
It’s always more than a hundred dollars. Sometimes much more.
I donate it when I find it, but it’s still frustrating! I really do not need or want my parents’ money. So it’s partially a money question and partially a relationship question. Is there anything I can do to stop taking the unwanted monetary gifts? And if not, is there a better way to be using the money?
Thanks Bitches.– Patreon Donor Fran
“Thanks, but I got this!”
Obviously, congratulations to Fran and their partner on setting up what sounds like a really great life for themselves! Even if you have helpful parents, that kind of stability still requires a lot of planning and work to maintain, so kudos to them.
I’m loud and proud about the fact that I’ve become very comfortable, both financially and physically. (Haven’t worn a bra in months, thanks for asking!) This month marked the first time I didn’t have to write anyone a rent check since I was, uh, 17? It’s a wonderful feeling.
… I mean, I think. I haven’t fully processed it yet. But I’m sure it will be wonderful once I do!
So I empathize with Dad’s behavior! The other day, when I was grabbing a socially distant dinner with a friend who is furloughed, she had the audacity to try to pay for her portion of the meal. I launched her into the sun with the force of my powerful “THANKS, BUT I GOT THIS.” I am here from the future to tell all of you that the best part of being financially stable is the ability to extend generosity to the ones you love.
If you’re familiar with concepts like love languages, you know that for some people, giving gifts is truly an important way that they communicate their love and esteem for you. I think it’s pretty likely that Dad keeps giving Fran unwanted monetary gifts not because he thinks they need it, but because it makes him happier to give it to them than to spend it any other way.
Generosity versus control
That said, it’s easy for financial generosity to cross the line into something that feels unwanted and unwelcome.
We’ve written a few articles on the topic of financial abuse. Taking money, or denying access to money, is definitely the more common form of financial abuse; but it can also go the other way!
Abuse often follows a cyclical pattern, where the abuser alternates scary, violent, controlling behavior with “love bombing,” or initiating a “honeymoon phase.” They’ll shower their victim with attention, praise, and (sometimes) unwanted monetary gifts to trap their victim into staying close enough to repeat the cycle of abuse. Strategic, manipulative generosity is the other, shinier side of the financial abuse coin.
- When Money is the Weapon: Understanding Intimate Partner Financial Abuse
- How Can I Tame My Family’s Crazy Gift-Giving Expectations?
- Season 2, Episode 3: “Why Is My Girlfriend Pissed at Me for Being Generous?”
- Ask the Bitches: “My Friend Is Going Broke Dating a Mooch. Should I Say Something?”
- Ask the Bitches: How Do I Say “No” When a Loved One Asks for Money… Again?
Now, unless they left out some really important details, it doesn’t sound like Dad’s abusing Fran! And thank goodness for that. But I think it’s helpful to remind our readers that if someone else’s generosity makes you uncomfortable, it’s worth it to pause and deeply examine why.
Don’t immediately write yourself off as being an ingrate. Always listen to your gut! You gut’s good at telling you things your brain ain’t ready to hear.
How important is it to push back against unwanted monetary gifts?
So my first suggestion would be to look inward and analyze the situation deeply.
Unwanted monetary gifts can feel (as Fran said) infantilizing—especially when the giver is the parent of an adult child. Dad’s desire to push money into Fran’s hands may just be his clumsy way of saying “I love you.” But it could also be a manipulative way of reinforcing his power or control over his adult child. Fran has to listen to their gut on this one.
Depending on the answer, it’s time to decide how important it is to push back on this.
You may decide it’s not worth it
My grandpa tells me that he loves me by giving me REALLY TERRIBLE old fashioned life advice. (“If you need a new job, just put on a suit and walk in to a business and ask to speak to the owner! They’ll probably hire you on the spot if you make a good impression!”)
When he starts up, I just let him do it.
Well, my grandpa is an anxious and thorny old man who isn’t good at articulating his emotions. He doesn’t know how else to say he cares. If I slapped his hand for it, I’d not only hurt his feelings, but I’d be taking away the best tool he’s found for expressing himself. I just won’t do that.
If Fran chooses this path, I highly recommend painting on a beatific smile, nodding and winking knowingly at your partner, and accepting Dad’s money only after an initial refusal. (I guarantee he loves the song and dance.)
At this exact moment in time (‘RONA 2020), I’d recommend using the windfall to extend a little stability to people around you. Make it rain on the next person you need to tip, or to shop at a local place to help keep your community members in business, or make it a donation to a food pantry. Helping to keep someone else employed and/or fed is a beautiful way to express self-reliance and magnify the impact of your dad’s generosity.
We’ve got a whole list of ways you can pay it forward in our coronavirus masterpost!
You may decide it’s worth it
My partner’s parents are wonderful people: welcoming, nurturing, giving. They used to always insist on paying for everything when we dined out.
This was very welcome when my partner and I were underemployed, dating post-grads, but felt lopsided when we were established, married adults. I would offer to pay the bill, or just cover half, but they would adamantly refuse. And I started to realize their largess may represent a mental barrier: that their son was still, in some ways, a child.
This really mattered to me. Because here’s the thing: if all goes well in a parent-child relationship, the parents eventually need to cede caretaking roles to their children. If my partner’s parents weren’t comfortable with their son buying them dinner, how could I be sure they would be forthcoming if they needed support for medical, financial, or logistical issues as they aged?
So I waited until we went to a very affordable restaurant together, pulled the server aside, and insisted he hand me the bill at the end. When he did so, my in-laws squawked out a protest, and tried to physically pull it away from me, but I held it to my chest.
“I insist that you allow me to contribute,” I said firmly. “You have bestowed years worth of generosities upon me. You will embarrass me if you don’t let me repay the small portion it is well within my comfort to repay. You bought us lobster last night and this is pizza. You will allow us to buy you pizza!”
They backed down. My partner’s dad had a dazed “who is this man and what happened to my baby boy?” look on his face the whole drive home, but it was totally worth it. We’ve been at a very comfortable dinner bill détente ever since.
My script for pushing back
If you find yourself in a situation like Fran’s, and you decide that it’s worth it to push back, here are my best suggestions. It may be a tense or awkward conversation—that’s okay! Commit to it fully, and make it productive and impactful so you only need to have it once.
1. Have a conversation before “the moment.”
Don’t wait until Dad is approaching you, money-in-hand, to have this conversation. It’s gonna be harder to refuse, and more awkward for everyone, ending the visit on a sour note.
2. Acknowledge that the gift is meant in love, and has been very appreciated in the past.
When you’re trying to convince someone to see things from your perspective, I’ve found it amazingly helpful to lead by seeing theirs! Acknowledging that they have good intentions lessens the likelihood that they’ll feel misunderstood and get defensive.
- “I know you love me a lot, and giving me money is one of the ways you show me that you care.”
- “I know you really struggled financially when you were younger, and you want to save me from going through what you did. And that money was so meaningful when I was still scraping by in school.”
- “I’m sure you left money in my purse because you thought it would delight me to find it.”
3. Articulate the reasons why it does not make you feel loved to receive it anymore.
Don’t settle for logistical reasons like “I don’t need it.” They’re too easy to disregard. Just as a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man, a sweaty fistful of Benjamins embiggens even the most cromulent emergency fund.
Instead, make it emotional. Stick to “I” statements; don’t infer their motives. Just talk about how their actions make you feel.
- “I take a lot of pride in my self-sufficiency, and I can’t feel that pride if you’re always giving me money.”
- “I feel so guilty when you give me money that I can’t enjoy spending it—in fact, I really dread it.”
- “It’s frustrating to me when I feel like you’re not listening to me or taking me seriously.”
4. Offer a compromise.
Give the person you’re speaking with a way out of the conversation that clarifies your expectations and preserves their dignity.
- “You can’t stuff money into my purse anymore, but I won’t stop you from giving me money on birthdays and Christmas if you so choose.”
- “If you’re worried about me, I don’t think you have to be—but I promise that I won’t hesitate to come to you if I’m ever in trouble!”
- “I don’t need the money myself, but it would make me so happy if you donated it to this charity I love.”
- “I don’t need the money now, but it would make me really happy if you put it in a retirement fund I could use to help take care of you later.”
5. Reinforce your boundary before the next visit.
When you call to arrange the next visit, remind them of your agreement, and implore them to leave their wallet at home.
If all else fails…
Some people were born to steamroll.
If you’re in this situation with someone, and the tough conversation you initiated seemed to have no lasting impact, it’s time to take it to the Uncomfortable Zone.
You’re both gonna feel bad about it. Their feelings will probably be hurt, and you will probably feel bad for hurting them. But if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes! The discomfort the stubborn gift-giver feels will be a direct consequence of their actions; it’s nothing you’ve imposed unfairly.
In Fran’s case, they could…
- Keep their hands closed into fists when Dad tries to push money into them.
- Step back and tell him “no” with the clarity and forcefulness usually reserved for counter-surfing dogs.
- If he persists, let the bills fall out of their hand onto the floor.
- If he hides the money, and you find it later, mail it back to him.
- Donate it to a cause he isn’t enthusiastic about, and send him a copy of the donation confirmation, promising that this is the destination for any and all unwanted monetary gifts in the future.
And if all else fails, there’s always the nuclear option: leave a huge dildo in your purse. If that doesn’t deter a father’s boundary-stepping purse-diving, absolutely nothing will.
Just as I finished writing this article, Fran wrote back with good news! They said…
I took your advice to heart and did not confront my dad about his behavior and took it as the love language it is. He’s an immigrant who went through hell to get to where he is, and he’s fucking made it in this country. I should see his perspective. He wants to care for me, even as I become an adult.
I went out for (masked, distanced) lunch, then drinks, at two separate places for the first time since the pandemic started. I left both of my waiters $100 cash tips. Which honestly felt better than winning an argument with my father ever could.
Literally spreading the wealth. Thank you for the advice, genuinely.– Patreon Donor Fran
I’m so touched by this update.
Obviously the ethos at the core of Bitches Get Riches is, well, bitches get riches! Regardless of their actual genders, we encourage all of our readers to be Strong Female Characters: willing to embrace life’s necessary conflicts head-on, advocating for themselves and others ferociously, hoarding all the fucks they have to give for the time and the place allotted by destiny.
But life is a rich tapestry, and sometimes the best way to win is by quietly acquiescing to your closest patriarchal figure. Who knew?! Thanks to Fran for her patronage, this excellent question, and the highly satisfying insta-update!
Bitches, does this nice-to-have problem resonate with any of you? Have you ever had to draw the line with a stubborn giver of unwanted monetary gifts? How did you handle it? Tell us about it in the comments below!