Dear Thelma: My family members are making life hell for me


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Dear Thelma,

I used to work in Singapore but due to sickness I quit my job and came back to my hometown and stayed with my mother. My eldest son and youngest daughter live with us in Penang.

My second son and mother-in-law live in Johor Baru. My husband works and lives in KL. My family is all over the place.

My mother said that as a daughter I should be taking care of her. Even though I'm not working, all household expenses in Penang and JB are paid for by my husband. Yet my mother still feels that is not enough and always asks me for more money which I really can't afford.

If I don't meet her demand, she threatens to go to work. How could I let her work when she is already so old?

Both my brothers don't help much.

Recently, another problem arose – the car that my mother used to drive was taken away. That car belongs to my niece but the car loan instalments for the past five years were paid for by my husband. Before agreeing to pay for the instalments, my husband asked that the owner's name for the car should be changed but my mother didn't allow it.

My niece cheated me of my insurance money which I surrendered recently. She also cheated my eldest son of his money. I knew deep down I wouldn't get the money back. I needed the money to pay bills but now it's all gone. I blame only myself for trusting my niece too much. I really don't know what to do now.

Then my mother keeps asking me to buy her a car. Why can't she be more considerate? I can't afford it.

My husband washes his hand off this and says he is not going to help me anymore. Living with my mother is hell – she is constantly nagging, scolding and cursing me and my family. I find that she is very ungrateful.

I'm so lost and stressed, and every day I have sleepless nights. I feel as if my head is going to burst. I don't know what to do now. Please, Thelma, I need your advice.

In dire straits

I'm glad you wrote in because this is quite a common issue. Look, it's normal to want to help out a family member, especially an older person. However, children are not insurance policies or cash cows.

In healthy relationships, the focus is on respect and balance. I don't see a case for either, in your family.

Your mother is telling you that you exist in order to provide her with unending money. As for your extended family, your niece is stealing from you and your son. Both relatives are perfectly OK with your husband paying up.

I'm very glad your husband put his foot down. If he had not, your mum and niece would bankrupt you.

You are the target of financial and emotional abuse. So stop and make changes.

First, you describe living with mum as hell, so I urge you to move out and live with your husband. The second you're away from the constant harassment, you'll feel better.

Second, as this financial abuse has gone on for some years, I don't think you can handle this on your own. Please talk to a mental health professional, one who is skilled in dealing with abuse.

It will take a few sessions to get you into a happier space. Start off with learning how financial abuse works.

Basically, your family use fear, obligation, and guilt (FOG) as emotional blackmail. In sessions, you will learn how to recognise this and how to push back and maintain proper boundaries.

As you are a mum, you already have some of those skills. Remember when your kids screamed and kicked up a fuss as toddlers when they didn't get their own way? They were just tiny tots but you trained them to behave nicely.

Your mum is acting like a toddler, yelling and screaming so she can bully you. She's also gaslighting you into thinking her behaviour is OK. It is not. You need to use your parenting skills and learn to push back when she's acting up.

I'm not sure how your niece works it, but it won't be much different. You need to learn to say no and to maintain a hard no.

As your son was cheated too, please share this information with him, and get him to go for his own sessions. Financial abuse is crippling and it's absolutely vital your boy doesn't end up in real trouble down the road.

Finally, if you want to give mum a little money every month that's fine, but don't bankrupt your family to subsidise others. Put your husband and yourself first, otherwise you will end up old and poor.

Don't make any agreements now because you haven't the mental strength for it. Leave, recover, sign up for therapy and when you're feeling better in a few months, figure out what you want to give. Stick to it.

You've had a rough time, so reach out please. You deserve happiness. Know I'll be thinking of you.

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Financial woes , family conflict , abuse


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