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A few years ago I overheard my mom talking to her mom about removing the grandchildren from their will. My mom was making the point that she doesn't want us having everything handed to us, how we need to learn how to work hard. At the time I mentioned it to my sibling who brought it up to my parents. My mom defended herself by bringing up a motorcycle my sibling was thinking about buying and used it as an example of the kind of thing my mom didn't want us to waste money on. To be fair, my parents put both my brother and me through college, rent, food and all.

We were recently visiting my grandparents, and I overheard my grandma reiterating to my mom and her sister that she wasn't leaving anything to the grandkids. As it stands all money goes to them, and they can distribute to us as they wish.

Hearing this is very bothersome to me. I never had any expectations of getting money from my relatives and always just figured I would live off the money I earn myself. It bothers me that my mom thinks I don't work hard or that I would spend any inheritance inappropriately. It's like my mom is taking a gift from my grandma to me and saying I don't deserve it.

It really isn't about the money at all, I didn't even expect anything before I heard about all this. I would even be happy if they left me an old mug. It's more about my mom interfering and her interpretation of my work ethic. I sense that I may sound a bit like a bratty millennial here, so I'm looking for perspective. My goal is to better understand why my mom took these actions and to use that information to see if there is any action I should take to resolve my feelings about it.

How do I talk to my mom about the reason behind her actions and why she thinks what she thinks about my work ethic?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Oct 26 '17 at 18:54

10 Answers 10

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...its kind of like my mom is taking a gift from my grandma to me and saying I don't deserve it.

I understand your point. I sympathize and know how you feel. I also understand your mother's point of view.

Your mom is doing what she thinks is best for you and your brother, and she has every right to do that, even if her ideas about how the money would affect you are different from yours. And, no, she is not being unreasonable. She has a right to believe what she believes, as you have a right to disagree.

Your mom is talking to her mom personally. Your grandmother has that important relationship to consider, especially at her age.

Your grandmother's money is just that: her money. She doesn't owe it to anyone. A major thing many grandparents want to do with their money for their grandchildren is start a college fund for them. That's over now. You both have the means to earn a decent living. Sure, more money would give you benefits, but you have what you need.

Its more about my mom interfering and her interpretation of my work ethic... My goal is to better understand why my mom took these actions and to use that information to see if there is any action I should take to resolve my feelings about it.

Principles to apply when you want to 'have a talk' with someone:

  • Let the other person pick the time.
  • Give them an idea what it will be about.
  • Go in expecting to learn something potentially unpleasant about yourself and don't argue. You want her opinion. Keep an open mind.
  • Stay on track. Discuss principles and feelings, not a lot of examples.
  • Do a lot more listening than explaining. Your goal is to understand, not convince.
  • Remember that understanding is different than agreeing. This means that once you've said something a couple of different ways, if the other person doesn't agree, it doesn't mean they don't understand. It means they don't agree. Repeating yourself is detrimental to the discussion.
  • Remember that understanding is different than agreeing. Your mother may be wrong about you. You don't have to agree with her to understand what she believes about you.
  • Thank the person for taking the time and being willing to talk to you.

It might go something like this:

Mom, I'm struggling with what you told grandmother about her will. I would like to discuss this with you and understand why you believe the things you do. Can we do that? When can we talk? Thanks, I'm looking forward to it.

I'd advise you to talk calmly and respectfully to your mother about what you feel, the gifting, your work ethic, the whole of it. As a potential compromise, you can ask that the money be put in a trust for you both when you reach a more mature age. That's quite common. Don't go down rabbit holes (e.g. motorcycle/other potential "wastes of money".) Stick to principles. (Trusts assume you will be wiser when you finally inherit the money.) Then continue to live the way you want to live. It's your life.

My only other advice to you is that, once you've spoken with your mom, truly let this go. That money isn't yours, it isn't your mother's, it might not even exist by the time your grandmother dies. Or your grandmother might develop a passion for something and leave all her money to a school for the deaf, who knows? But it's not yours in any sense at all. Don't let the subject of your grandmother's money come up again if it's used as a tool to manipulate your behavior. Just treat it like it doesn't exist.

Don't let imaginary gifts mess with your relationships in real time. Cherish your grandmother. Cherish your mother, too, if you can. They will be gone someday, maybe sooner than you think. Money is a very poor substitute for good relationships.

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Other answers have given you good advice. I just want to add one point for you to consider.

Is it possible that your mother is nervous, perhaps unconsciously, about her and your father's financial needs in their own old age? It is a reasonable thing to be nervous about. I'm not saying your mother is being untruthful, but inheritances are fraught with opportunities to misunderstand oneself.

As for the motorcycle, this is a weak excuse. If your brother were thinking about buying a Ferrari, that is one thing, but a motorcycle for a young, unattached man with a full-time job is not unreasonable. This makes me think there are undercurrents, and you need to be very careful in your discussion with your mother. As for the mug, of course you will get some of her personal belongings as mementoes, and it is reasonable to tell your mother what you would cherish and ask that it be left directly to you. (As long as it isn't the diamond necklace. :))

Edit in response to comments: Two commenters pointed out the statistical dangers of riding a motorbike; one said his mother would go crazy if he bought one. The statistical dangers are real, but different from fiscal irresponsibility. The mother cited the motorbike as an example of financial irresponsibility to justify leaving the grandchildren out of the will. The mmotorbike is not a good example of financial irresponsibility, thus my statement that there may be undercurrents to watch out for. Moreover, this young man, unattached with a full time job, is probably able to buy a motorbike without an inheritance.

14

You asked for perspective, here's a possible one. This might get cynical, I obviously don't know you or your family, and I don't want to be understood as mean or rude, I just want to point out what might be the case.

Whatever you do, don't start arguing about money or inheritance with your family, because that's how "family" ends.

TL;DR

Some might be led to believe that a very intrusive mother thinks she still has to force decisions on to her adult children, and/or deserves that inheritance more than her sons. However not because she's the stereotypical "bad person", just because the proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions and too much hard work.

Sadly, it often turns out to be a total waste of time to get through to such control-obsessed persons. Your best bet is to calmly state your point of view and that what she did hurt your feelings.

Helicopter Mum

It seems that your mother has the habit of controlling people around her. Your brother's decision to buy a motorcycle is not even worth talking about. Your grandmother is the only one that has to decide where her money goes. Since you all are adults, each one of you has to decide for him/herself without your mother interfering or judging if it's good enough.

Nothing wrong with hard work and putting effort in what we do, but times change, and what 50 years ago was hard work, now is considered slave labor. Her views on this are probably outdated.

Unfortunately many parents don't understand that their children, even if they paid/pay for them, are not their property and have to start making their own decisions at some point. Dismissing your child's work ethics and obvious achievements, trying to influence family on where inheritance is going to end up, is not only wrong, but sad.

For some money is all there is.

You don't work hard because it's fun, you do it for the money. Money is a very important aspect for all of us, to your mother however, it might be a bit too important. Working hard all your life, growing children and paying for their education is by no means a small feat. Some people in such situations might be wrongly led to believe they deserve something in return, like retire and enjoy life with a decent sum of money.

You mentioned to have a good relationship with your father and grandmother, you didn't mention your mother, which, BTW, only enforces my idea of an over-intrusive parent. Since your mother might have had hopes, reasonably so, to get a big chunk of your grandmother's money, she might feel subconsciously threatened by the good relationship between you and your grandmother.

No, not because she's a bad person. She might simply think that, at this point, she deserves that money more than her children. Since she invested so much in her life, and in yours. After all, at some point she presumably will be in the same position as her mother, and pass her money on to you.


Again, while I think the first point is pretty accurate, it doesn't mean that what I said here is actually your case.

8

It's very natural to feel bothered by the situation. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that you probably feel betrayed, and disappointed.

Your mother is the person who should be most aware of your achievements, your work ethic, and your ambitions. And yet she seems to not only find you wanting, but seeks to force that viewpoint on other members of your family.

That's a harsh situation to handle at the best if times. Certainly, it may affect your relationship with her going forward.

Unfortunately, there's no great way to handle it. You may wish to approach her and express your disappointment in the fact that she went around your back and asked this of your grandmother rather than discuss her concerns with you openly.

You also have to explain that although she may disagree with some of your spending habits, or financial priorities, you are not her.

You did not grow up in the same social and economic environment as she did. You do not have the same personality, and have not been shaped by the same experiences and hardships as her.

Sadly, some people never accept the fact that their kids will go their own way, and make decisions (or indeed mistakes) that they themselves would have avoided.

As you how to handle the situation? Accept that your mother doesn't see eye to eye with you. Accept that she may pull stunts like this in the future. Don't come to rely on her for anything, and go about your life.

You don't have to (and it's arguably not healthy), to try and spend your life proving her wrong.

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    just a notification: the question has been edited, and now focuses more on 'how do I talk to my mom about it'. You might want to review your answer and see if it still answers the question. – Tinkeringbell Oct 18 '17 at 14:47
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Since what bothers you most is not the money, but your mother's actions, speak to her directly about that. I think you explained it to us very well: it feels like being punished for doing nothing wrong, and it seems like a violation of trust that she directly went to your grandmother without discussing it with you first.

I think if you don't have a goal of changing the situation, and you just want to explain your feelings, it will go better. Nothing may change, but at least you will have had a chance to explain to your mother how you feel. It is likely that she never looked at it from that perspective.

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How do I talk to my mom about the reason behind her actions and why she thinks what she thinks about my work ethic?

Well, start by stating your concerns, so that your mom knows why you're talking to her about it. Like what you stated in the question:

My goal is to better understand why my mom took these actions

Basically, when I 'confront' my mom about things, it works best to word it something like:

Hey Mom? I heard you discussing so-and-so lately with Grandma. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but I would like to understand the reasons behind your opinion on this, to better understand your actions. If you feel like it, and that doesn't have to be right now, could we discuss this?

  • I always add the 'I heard you discussing so-and-so' when it's not really my business. It makes it clear to my mom that I understand it's not really my business, but it also gives a signal that I overheard her and that if it really wasn't supposed to be heard by me, she should have done a better job of not discussing it when I'm near.
  • Always add the 'if you feel like it'. I've had talks on sensitive topics with my mom. It's nice to give your mom a chance to prepare for a talk that might be very difficult for her to have. And if your mom doesn't want to talk about her reasons (or feels like she doesn't have to explain to you), you're not coming across as 'attacking her'.

As for what you could say that causes your confusion, you've done a pretty good job of explaining this in the question itself:

  • I never had any expectations of getting money from my relatives and always just figured I would live off the money I earn myself.

  • Her interpretation of my work ethic.

If your mom agrees to talk, you can state this to her. Don't outright accuse her of interpreting your expectations or work ethic wrong. But if they come up, you can ask her if she sees problems with this that she thinks you can change. (your interpretations or work ethic). The 'that you can change' part is important here: it turns the question from an accusation into an honest request for feedback. Make sure that it doesn't turn into a situation where your mom has to defend herself: You want to know her reasons, so do more listening than providing counter-arguments. Asking more questions/feedback is okay though.

If your mom at any point shows signs of stress or of shutting down, it might help to check your own tone of voice. Are you still not sounding accusing?

And again: If your mom refuses to discuss this with you, or after you know her reasons, don't bring it up again. That said, I think you've got 1 thing that you can also ask your mom, regardless of whether she decides to talk about her reasons. There's something else in your question that strikes me:

  • I think what bothers me the most is that my grandma is probably the person in the family that I am closest with

  • It really isn't about the money at all, I didn't even expect anything before I heard about all this. I would even be happy if they left me an old mug.

It sounds like you and your grandma are very close, and that you're not so much worried about inheriting money, but that you don't want to miss out on having a keepsake, to remember your dear grandma after she passed. I'm already missing 2 grandparents and I can tell you that this is indeed more important than the amount of money they can leave you.

If your mom says 'no' when asked to discuss this, gently tell her something like:

Well, in that case: I'm not sure (and don't understand completely) what you discussed with grandma, but I would seriously like some simple keepsake to remember her by when the time comes. For example, the old mug she always served me hot cocoa in when I came to visit her. Just something to remember her, so that's her death doesn't obliterate her from my life. Please think about that possibility, it would mean very much to me.

4

If you're really just trying to understand your mother's position better, you could propose this as a solution to her problem, and see what her thoughts are. It should shed a great deal of light on the motivations behind the decision:

I understand that you are concerned that the money I might receive as an inheritance would hurt me. However, I'm having mixed feelings about this whole situation. I'd like to suggest to grandma that instead of giving me an inheritance, she wills that money to a charity of my choice in my name. That way she still can give me a gift, while preventing the harm you believe would come to me if I received the inheritance myself.

If your mother objects, or if this doesn't solve the problem for both of you then her motivation isn't entirely about preventing harm to you. It should present another perspective for both of you to examine the conflict and find out what the foundational reasons are so you can resolve the situation amicably.

3

Keep in mind that she may have lied to her own mother.

For one thing, grandparents can themselves be irresponsible when dividing up money by giving it prematurely to their grandkids instead of allocating it to their own old age, basic necessities, food requirements, nursing home care, medical/funeral expenses, or money to maintain aging assets.

Or as someone else mentioned already, your mother could very well feel she should receive that money herself, to pay for expenses already incurred for grandma or expenses that she feels she and her husband may incur in their old age, but instead of directly asking for that money, she chose an oblique approach that may have had nothing to do with you guys.

As to the motorcycle example, motorcycles are actually cheaper to buy and usually cheaper to insure (since you're most likely to kill yourself with them, not others). And perhaps, she believes that being in charge of the money will give her a way to control or mitigate some of the risks that your brother and you may take. And it doesn't have to be just the motorcycle, it could be your girlfriends/fiancees that she doesn't like, or doesn't trust them to marry you, or doesn't trust them not to divorce you after a few years. Or if she misses you, taking charge of the money could be just a way to try to increase her relevancy into both of your lives.

Whatever reasoning she gives you, understand that it may not be the truth, and that's fine. If I were you, the only thing I would check is the tax implications of her decision. If she knows what she's doing, then fine. But if she doesn't know what she's doing with regards to taxes, make sure that she doesn't lose a good portion of the inheritance by giving it to the government -- just because she's trying to control her two own adult sons with that money.

  • First: this doesn't answer the question. Second, you assume much about the mother. That's not what the question is about. Regardless, you don't know. I wanted to give my homeless niece a minivan, so she could sleep in relative safety. Her parents asked me not to. What kind of parents would want their daughter to sleep on the street, right? Turns out they had very good reasons, and I didn't give her a van. You never know, and assuming the worst is just unkind. – anongoodnurse Oct 21 '17 at 14:17
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    You're assuming that when I said she may have lied, that lying is negative. First of all, lying is not necessarily a bad thing. White lies are sometimes very necessary. Also, I didn't say she lied, only that she may have lied. Big difference. And last but not least, I'm taking the OP at his word that both he and his brother are both responsible working adults. The mother isn't here to say her side. I understand that. But then again, the mother isn't here, so it's not like I can offend her either. And second, you're the one who's currently assuming way too much about the OP, you're projecting. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 21 '17 at 21:25
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    The grandmother could have been lying when stating that she wasn't leaving anything to the grandkids, too. What is concerning here would be that the mother was insisting on that to the point the grandmother had to reiterate that statement. – Ángel Oct 22 '17 at 15:24
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Families and who gets money they didn't earn themselves can turn into a very toxic mix. Sometimes it's because one or another wants the money, which means hurtful priorities come into play. Other times there are long-standing issues of selfishness, selflessness, favoritism or justice/equity that bubble to the surface.

My advice is to try and go back to your previous status - don't think about the money, expect none of it, and don't care about it.

And, no, I'm not talking about ignoring the elephant in the room. I'm talking about not making the money, itself, a priority or issue.

Since it's not about the money, per se, and about your mom, whether it's controlling behavior when you are an adult, even beyond what should be hers to control, or what that says about her attitude about you, address that. Don't ask her to explain, defend, or justify, because if it's really about controlling behavior or an unfair or unflattering assumption about your character, the "defense" is only going to deepen any resentment. Instead, just let her know how it made you feel, and leave it at that. Maybe something like -

Mom, I understand the reasons you've said you don't want grandma and grandpa to leave us anything as inheritance. I never really thought about or counted on getting anything, so it's really not about the money.

However, the idea that you think we're so irresponsible and feckless that you have to go out of your way to make sure that grandma and grandpa cut us off from their chosen inheritance wishes is very disappointing to me, on a personal level. I hope you can understand why I'd feel this way, and I just wanted to let you know.

And if she wants to get into that discussion, and justify, don't go there. Say specifically that she doesn't have to justify, just that, as her adult son, you thought it was appropriate and necessary to let her know how that made you feel. And then do not keep it stored away to bring up, again, when family issues are aired. Put it to rest, for good, if you can.

As aside -

My father's side of the family went through a lot of that twice, when his father died (before I was born) and when his mother died (after I was a fully-grown adult). He and his two brothers had a lot of long-standing issues. Alarmed by the very un-familial feuding that went on, my mother asked all of my siblings and I to request/identify items we'd like to have, so my parents could ID who they go to and avoid any post-death sibling battles and hard-feelings.

The funny thing is, any items I really thought would be nice to have or had cultural value, were all met with the same reply "your sister already asked for that." My initial, gut reaction was "What? Why does she get everything that's worth asking for?" So maybe their solution had the potential to create the same problem, just a few decades earlier. I put that aside, because of the object lesson of the generation before me. I said "It doesn't matter, I don't need anything." This worried my mother. Eventually she said "What about this crystal punch bowl set?" - which I had no interest in. My response? "Wow. Yes, that's really fancy. I can't believe I didn't think of that. I want it."

Whenever my dad makes references to our "inheritance" my response is always "I expect you to enjoy your retirement enough to spend every penny you have. It's your money."

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First, it's entirely reasonable for someone to feel that bequeathing money to someone is not doing them a favour. Whatever your strength of character, having access to easy money changes your life and not always for the better.

Secondly, what your grandma does with her money is her decision and not yours or mother's. If you want to talk to anyone about this it should be a talk to your grandma to remind her that it's her money and she can do what she likes with it and she shouldn't let your mother bully her.

But don't harbour any resentment or suggest that you have any resentment if the money isn't going to you. You have no entitlement to it.

If you want your grandmother to leave you money, the best way to achieve it is to develop a good relationship with her: which is not best achieved by asking for money!

  • OP stated that they aren't concerned with their inheritance but is bothered by how their mother appears to perceive their work ethic and sense of responsibility. This answer doesn't seem to address that. – user61524 Oct 21 '17 at 0:23

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