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I'm asking this question on behalf of my girlfriend because she's asking me for help but I'm not sure on how to handle this situation.

A little bit of background:

My girlfriend's parents moved from south of the country and came here in the north for reasons of work. Her mom is a housewife (Let's call her Alice) so the only income is from her dad (Let's call him Bob).

They have 3 children (Jhon - 30 years old, Barb - 28 years old and my GF who is 18 years old).

Now, Jhon and Barb moved with their partners, so the family atmosphere is composed only of my GF and her parents.

The problem:

Every time one of their children started working, Bob and Alice saw them as a money cow.. and started milking them.

Literally, every time the monthly salary of one of their children arrived, they took a significant part of it.*

*By took I mean that they asked her to give them the money they asked for without accepting a "No" as answer, thus taking them. If she says a flat no, things will get only worse.

Jhon and Barb moved with their respective partners so early because they were tired and frustrated with this attitude.

Now it's my GF's turn: she's only 18 yet she works during the day and goes to school in the evening. She's doing the best that she can to build up her future, but we all know what can be done with little to no money.

She had to pay the school for herself, she's trying to save some money to get herself a driving license and so on. Whatever she needs, she has to buy it.

While she understands that Bob and Alice need help every month, she is really frustrated that they ask her more than half of her salary every month, and when she denies something, her parents turn to aggressive and she is judged as the daughter who doesn't understand and doesn't want to help her family.

To make things worse, Bob and Alice start to waste money in dumb thing when she helps: They start to go to the restaurant frequently, they buy silly things ( they just got an access point for their home.. 70 square meters. ) and so on.

The only way she found to save some money is to take her money from her bank account and give them to me, so she can't be forced to lend money (since she doesn't have them).

While I'm sure Bob and Alice are nice people, I find this attitude dreadfully wrong.

The question:

What can my girlfriend do/say to set some boundaries and avoid any repercussions and negative emotions? More specifically, she wants to help but how can she handle them and make them understand that she can help up to a given limit?

Since she doesn't own any car or driving license, she is still dependent on her dad (the only one with a driving license).

What's been tried:

She already tried to tell them that she needs some money for herself and that it's frustrating working to have nothing in return.

Her brother, Jhon, tried to tell them not to milk her as they did to him.

None of the above helped.

Answers to comments:

@Tinkeringbell:

What does your girlfriend get in return for the payments she makes to her parents (folded laundry, meals, internet, tv, space)?

She gets folded laundry since her mother is a housewife. She sometimes has to pay for meals because they borrow her money to do the shopping at the supermarket. She rarely is at home so internet is almost meaningless, but she gets it. She gets TV for sure. She gets space, yes, but if she needs to study, she has to go to the library because her parents are too noisy.

If she compares it to living on her own, is it more or less expensive to stay with the parents?

It would be less expensive, in fact, we already plan to move together but we need a solid base. (She needs the driving license and a car/moped/scooter plus some spare money to rent the apartment.)

Is the amount she pays a set thing, that was agreed upon beforehand?

It varies based on how much they ask her, but it's rarely less than half of her salary.

What is the cultural background of your girlfriend's parents, of your girlfriend and you?

In short, I live alone and I'm 21 and I like being independent so I planned my life with that in mind. She would also like to move and come live with me to gain independence, but money is a mountain to climb. She chose a night school just to be able to work during the day (she actually sleeps 6 hours every night during the week to maintain both things).

Also, do you have any more information on how your girlfriend tried to tell her parents she wanted more money for her own, how did that conversation go?

I don't have much information, but I know that it was never a peaceful conversation. It was more of an argument every time rather than a calm discussion.

  • Check out Craigslist, what is the normal rent for a "housemate share" comparable to what she is receiving in free lodging? How does that compare to what she is paying? – Harper Mar 12 '18 at 23:36
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    I'm not sure if you answered : What is the cultural background of your girlfriend's parents, of your girlfriend and you? – Sidar Mar 13 '18 at 3:59
  • @Sidar, I think that in a way he did. He said that his GF is from South Italy (Mediterranean culture), while he is from North Italy (European culture) – GilZ Mar 13 '18 at 10:53
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    you did not answer What is the cultural background of your girlfriend's parents, of your girlfriend and you? correctly. The focus is on cultural. Where are Bob and Alice from? – Sip Mar 13 '18 at 12:29
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    @GilZ Things are not so clear-cut. In fact I, as Southern European, find slightly offensive the opposition Mediterranean vs European – Miguel Mar 13 '18 at 14:28
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The varying amounts which your girlfriend is being charged, combined with the emotional guilt tripping ("not a good daughter" if she doesn't pay up) lead me to believe that this is an exploitative relationship, and not one meant to simply instill financial responsibility on her. You seem to have reached much the same conclusion.

While other answers describe some conversations that can be had with her parents, the first thing you need to realize when imposing borders on people who do not seem to operate on the same wavelength as you is that it will lead to strife. And often times, when tensions run high, you need to be able to promise retaliatory action, and actually follow through if you want the other party to take you seriously.

That all sounds pretty scary, so what does this actually mean?

1. There's a long history of abuse of the parent-child relationship at play here.

Her parents are used to getting their way not only with her, but with her siblings before her as well. None of their three kids have been able to stand up to them, and the two eldest ended up moving out to finally escape their parents' intrusion into their financial lives.

What does this tell you? That the cost of building those boundaries was so high that these people chose to pack their things and move away rather than try to impose them.

This being the case, what are the chances that your girlfriend will be any more successful than her siblings in standing up to her parents? Frankly, quite low.

It's important to understand this, because it awakens you to the reality that this will be a difficult battle to fight. Prepare yourself, and her (especially her), for some tough months to come.

2. There will be fighting - and it will not be pretty - however, she needs to stand firm on her position.

The first thing that happens when you confront a drunk about his or her drinking, is that they try to lie to you about it. And when you push the issue, they get manipulative (bad daughter! Give me your money!), and finally aggressive, and deceitful.

Why is this important? Because there's already signs of this relationship dynamic at play here (bad daughter!). Your girlfriend will definitely need to sit down with her parents and lay down the law. This is the way this conversation might go if her parents are at all reasonable:

Her: I will only be paying X per month from now on (you can determine X using some of the tips that the other answers give you).
Parents: What? We do A, B, C, D, and E for you! X + Y is the least of what you owe us!
Her: While I appreciate you having done all these things for me in the past, I can do my own D & E, and will no longer pay for that "service".

However, what are the chances of that being the case? Most likely, the first words out of their mouths will be:

Parents: WHAT? After all we've done for you, you're trying to set up some sort of limit? Have we ever done that to you as a child?!?! What a bad daughter!

This will, of course, completely ignore the fact that having chosen to have her, they're responsible for her well being, and upbringing. It's emotional abuse and manipulation.

This is where the going get tough, as your girlfriend will need to stand up for herself, and not budge on her position:

Her: Be that as it may, I will only be paying X from now on.

Note: if they're being reasonable, and feel that X is a little too low, you may wish to negotiate. However, I don't think that this conversation will flow along "reasonable" lines, and she also shouldn't agree on an amount that's more than 50% of what she makes. Heck, I would choose X to be something like 35%, and maybe go up to 40% if they negotiate, no more.

Note 2: If your girlfriend wants to be taken seriously, she will likely need to stand more on her own two feet. That means no more asking her father to drive her around, or expecting her mother to do and fold her laundry. She may want to start placing her laundry in a separate basket, and washing her own clothes, using detergent she buys for herself. This is an excellent way of setting boundaries, even though it's regrettable having to do so with your own family.

3. She will need to cut of access to her funds.

If her parents have any way of directly accessing her funds, she will have to make sure that this access is disabled before she drops the aforementioned bomb on them.

If she's sharing an account with either one of them, she will likely have to go out and get her own, and then instruct her work to deposit her paycheck there instead.

If that's already the case, but they know the PIN to her card, or password to her internet banking portal, then she will need to change those, and make sure that she doesn't keep them anywhere where her parents could get a hold of them.

At this point she will be capable of following through with only paying them X rent by virtue of having control over her finances.

4. This will likely not be enough - she has to stand strong.

Her standing up to them is likely to unleash a torrent of emotional and psychological abuse. Anyone calling their child a bad daughter for not handing over her paycheck on a whim is likely capable of no more.

Your girlfriend has got to stand firm on denying them access to her account, and only paying them X. If she gives in under the onslaught of emotional guilt tripping, then it will be that much more difficult to try and stand up to them a second time. Much like disciplining a child, once you've outlined a course of action you have to stick with it, otherwise the child will know that he can manipulate you into changing your mind if he cries loud enough, or makes enough of a scene in the candy store.

You're going to have to be on the ball throughout this period, as your girlfriend will likely need a lot of emotional support from you during this time.

5. This will likely still not be enough, and she will have to be ready to escalate.

If her parents come to accept the situation, and things calm down, then congratulations, the battle is won. However, chances are that at some point or another, the emotional warfare is going to reach a boiling point, and your girlfriend will have to be ready to use the nuclear option:

Her: I can see that there is a lot of tension between us over my recent decision to only pay a rent of X. I'm sorry to say that in light of these developments, I'm probably going to have to move out.

Once that bomb is dropped, you can't back down. If they try to talk her out of it, then she may choose to keep living there if things actually change for the better.

However, things may actually get worse, in which case she has no choice but to follow through with her promise and actually get a place of her own. Anything less is asking for trouble. Perhaps the two of you can move in together, or perhaps she can appeal to her siblings for a bit of financial help until she's making enough to comfortably live on her own.

Seriously discuss the possibility that she will have to move out before she gets the ball rolling, because if she's not prepared to pull the trigger on this, then she's probably not ready to stand up to her parents at all.

Best of luck!

18

We only have very indirect and incomplete information about the situation to go on. While we can provide advice, you can get far better advice from someone more knowledgeable about the situation.

Your girlfriend needs to ask Jhon and Barb for advice, and listen. They have have direct experience with the situation, the details, the personality quirks, the culture. And they have spent 10 years growing up since dealing with that situation.

If that won't work for some reason, there's the catch-all fallback advice when you fall out with your parents after becoming an adult: Move out.

11

Within any culture, families think and operate differently from one another. The fact that you don't find this behaviour normal would suggest that this is a family thing, not a cultural thing.

The education and working life of her parents is likely the biggest influence on them. If they had to work hard to support themselves and then raise three kids, they probably consider it normal and only right that working children begin to contribute to the family financially. Rather than ascribe bad motives to her parents by assuming they treat their kids as "cash cows" it may simply be that they may feel they are doing the right thing by asking for money; or perhaps they just cannot afford to support her in higher education.

You say you have already calculated that what they ask from her is less expensive than if she had to live on her own. From a purely financial point of view then, you couldn't argue that they were being unfair.

What seems unreasonable to me is that there is no fixed agreement. They ask for varying amounts, and then sometimes expect extra for food, or whatever. You also mentioned "folding laundry" as one of the things she receives in return for her payments, but that is not something one would normally pay for living alone.

What she needs to agree with them is a reasonable, fixed amount of board and agree on what she received for that amount. That may not be easy - families are not a business arrangement. What parents do for children isn't really quantifiable - if we actually monetised all the things they did for us between ages 0-18 we'd be in so much debt by the time our working life began we'd never pay it off!

Before she can set boundaries/limits on the amount she pays and what she gets in return, all parties involved need a frame of reference. Her parents aren't really calculating a cost, they are just making it up as they go along. She will never agree anything with them unless the parents consider the alternatives. For this reason I would advise she suggests to them that she is considering moving out. This shouldn't be posed as a threat, but if she tells them that she is mathematically calculating the cost of living alone then this gives them all something to compare against.

She could perhaps say:

I appreciate all the things that you do for me, such as my laundry. But if I moved out I would do those things for myself. I can't afford to pay you for things I don't need, so please can we agree a fair amount to pay you each month if I choose to continue living here? That way I can calculate if I'd be better off moving out.

When discussing, consider the actual cost to her parents:

  • The cost of food she eats*
  • Other items that she uses (eg toiletries)
  • Water she uses (if paid for by usage)
  • Energy she uses (electrical items, laundry, heating water for showers etc)**

(*)Food is often bought on an economy of scale. It may not cost her parents much less in food if she wasn't there. (**)Heating a house costs the same no matter how many are in it, unless she is heating it when they are not home.

Some other things to reason and negotiate on:

  • Could she do her own laundry?
  • Could she pay for food based on how many times she ate at home that month?
  • Could she buy her own items like washing powder and keep those separate for when she does her laundry?
  • What would her mother the "housewife" do once all her children leave home? Will she go out to work and earn money or will folding her husband's shirts keep her busy all day every day?

If they really are just after the money then they will probably not want to lose her. The actual cost of her being there probably isn't very much when you consider the points above. I believe they will be financially worse off when she leaves, unless her mother goes to work too.

But not assuming bad motives - they seem to be charging her for the cost of parenting her, which is why it is so unreasonably high. Find common ground and agree to pay a fair amount to cover the actual cost of her living there, and see if she can steer the arrangement more towards her ultimately gaining independence than them continuing with all the things they did for her as a child.

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    Just for the record, her living alone would be more expensive, her living with me would be less expensive.. plus, she knows she's spendig her money only for her ( and me ofc, but she does want to do that ). – A.Danzi Mar 12 '18 at 12:51
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    Decent suggestions, although unlikely to work. It sounds as of the parents are exploitative, & any suggestion that they stand to be cut off will likely not go over well. In other words, your answer might work well when discussing the situation with reasonable people, however these folks don't sound particularly fair. You also don't address how this conversation could, or should be brought about, or what to do if it falls through. That's pretty critical, as the OP asks how to set boundaries. Suggesting that they don't do certain things for her makes sense, but does not set boundaries. – AndreiROM Mar 12 '18 at 13:08
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    @AndreiROM If the OP was the daughter saying her parents were exploitative then I'd take it at face value, but I don't think we can be dogmatic about that when helping someone to understand someone else's family culture. On this occasion I haven't given suggesting wording for the conversation for the same reason - I'd be telling the OP what to tell his girlfriend to say to her parents. Too many filters. Instead I've clearly stated how to make way for a fair comparison (tell them she may move out) and what things to consider when agreeing what to pay, and what it covers (the boundaries). – Astralbee Mar 12 '18 at 13:55
  • "we'd be in so much debt by the time our working life began we'd never pay it off!" ....so, student loans huh? – kleineg Mar 14 '18 at 2:44
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Without stating where you're from, it's a little difficult to understand what the cultural acceptance of a woman living alone is. Since both of her siblings moved in with partners, it's not clear if moving out and getting a room/flat for herself is a viable option. I'm going to assume (possibly incorrectly) that this is an option and in a fairly western environment based on your question.

"Literally, every time the monthly salary of one of their sons arrived, they took a significant part of it."

You mentioned borrow earlier, but here you say they're taking it. If they have access to the money, that's the first thing to fix and should be something easily done by setting boundaries. What comes next depends on how much your girlfriend wants to risk offending her parents.

"*Since she doesn't own any car or driving license, she is still dependent on her dad ( the only one with a driving license )."

She won't be able to gain independence without learning how to set boundaries and prevent people from taking advantage of her. That's true regardless of culture, but how much is expected from her may vary significantly depending on your culture.

If you're in a location where a woman getting a small flat in a room share isn't entirely unheard of, I would suggest that you talk with her and find out what a room similar to what she has access to now would cost on the open market. Research prices, proximity to public transport, extra expenses, bills, etc. Then, once you have that price, you have a great bargaining chip. With that in mind, she can sit down with her parents and discuss that amount, how you reached it, and state, quite simply, that she feels it is an appropriate amount of rent to pay her parents. Her parents get the added comfort of knowing exactly how much is coming in every month and can budget appropriately, and your girlfriend knows exactly how much she has left over for her own pursuits.

While plenty of parents don't charge their adult children rent, it's a reasonable compromise if they are expecting her to start paying her own way. Whether they see it as extra income, or simply expecting an earning adult to start learning the responsibility of becoming an adult, it's better for everyone involved to quantify it and discuss it.

If they aren't happy with that, then she knows she has the ability to move out and pay that amount somewhere else under circumstances that are more in line with gaining her independence.

  • Actually, I'm asking how she should set boundaries, not how she should move or gain independence. I'm editing the question to clarify some of your points. – A.Danzi Mar 12 '18 at 10:05
  • @A.Danzi Well the thing is that she still lives under her parents roof and seems to be dependend on them. If they decide that this is their way of doing things you sadly cannot really do anything about it other than gaining independence. This may not answer your question but may be the only solution to the problem – MansNotHot Mar 12 '18 at 10:29
  • Rent is a very good boundary, and it's an expense she'll have one way or the other. By saying, "I'll pay rent, but the rest of my money is going to be used for this or that", that's doing both. Sorry if that wasn't more clear. – AHamilton Mar 12 '18 at 10:36
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(I'm answering as if I'm addressing your girlfriend directly.) This is a difficult situation. Not only can the parents claim that they were very generous, and now have the right to get something back, but they can also claim they've deferred their own wants for which their turn has finally come.

Perhaps they still feel they have the right to "manage the family finances" -- give all (or most of) the money to them, and they will pay for everyone's needs, based on their own perception of which ones have priority.

Yes, it sucks, studying for years, finally getting a good job with a real salary, but still not getting to spend it as you like. You want to allocate your funds without answering to anyone, one of the real rites of passage, and that's being delayed.

Are you letting them take what they want, then trying to figure out how to make ends meet with the remainder? Bad approach. Better would be to buy what you need first, then when they come with hand out, let them grab the remainder.

I'm not suggesting you go nuclear on this -- start small with something like a new briefcase or bicycle, then work you way up. But let them know the leftovers are for them, not you; and never cut back on reasonable expenses just because they got to the cash first. The only justification you require is that you needed it. May I suggest automatic payments?

All this reminds me of the old laws that allowed a parent to show up at the workplace, get Junior's paycheck, and walk off with it before anybody knew what was happening. The company would just take the attitude that you've been paid already.

As I was growing up, I had a series of part-time jobs that paid me a little money. My folks never asked for any of it; but I was now responsible for funding small wants like new records. Even though it was more or less a wash, financially, I had the delight of walking into the store and making my purchase without consulting anyone.

Any money your parents have gotten should be treated as a gift -- as in never expect to get any of it back. But maybe they'll take care of you if you have a sudden, major, expense such as being hospitalized. This alone can make it worth it; but I'd still work on separating my finances.

You don't give any location or ethnic-group information, but some cultures believe very strongly in the father continuing to be in charge until the day he dies. Or perhaps, in the case of daughters, until they move from one family to another at marriage -- at which time they have a NEW set of authority figures to answer to. I just saw the Italy tag which explains a lot. This is the one culture that I was thinking of when I wrote this paragraph. From ancient Roman times, society was based on the idea that everybody has to have somebody to answer to -- and you finally get your turn when you become the oldest in the extended family (if you're a man, of course). <--sarcastic

  • "the parents [can] claim that they were very generous, and now have the right to get something back" - that's a very deep philosophical question, but I think most people would agree that just caring for your child does not mean the child owes you something. The parents chose to have children, after all, while the child did not. – sleske Mar 13 '18 at 7:42
  • It doesn't matter what "most people" think. In this case it only matters what this woman's parents think. – Jennifer 442 Mar 13 '18 at 17:28
  • Well, it probably also matters what OP and girlfriend think :-). Seriously, I just wanted to point out that the feeling you describe, while widespread, is not universal. – sleske Mar 13 '18 at 20:32

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