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Woe Is Me! “My Parents Financially Blackmail Me If I Don’t Suck Up to Them!”

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Nov 1, 2020

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Image credit: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.


Whenever I have a quarrel with my parents they blackmail me by saying they’ll restrict my purchases. It feels like the value of money is greater than the value of relationships in this house. I almost feel like this is a typical work environment, where I have to suck up to people in order to survive. If people teach us to not suck up to power, how do I follow that rule if I can’t survive at home without doing so?

— Pocket Money Freeze

RD: Alright, you gotta get out. Plain and simple, remove the hold they have over you. Financial control is the single biggest way a person can curb another person’s agency, freedom, and independence, and it seems like that’s what they’re doing to you.

They may have their reasons — I don’t know you, maybe you’re frivolous with your purchases, and they want to instill some semblance of responsibility in you, who knows? — regardless, being financially dependent on people who uses your dependence to get you to behave a certain way is toxic and manipulative, and should not stand. Do you have a job? Can you get a job? Or a freelance gig? Save up, move out, pay for your own self. Good luck.

RP: When you say they will restrict your purchases, you mean they won’t let you spend their money? You want them to value relationships above money — in other words, they should take care of you financially, but they shouldn’t decide what behavior they accept from you? I am all for having the freedom to be yourself around your parents, but don’t assume you get to do the fun part of adulting without the rest of it. If you continue to let them pay for your purchases, you’ll have to deal with the possibility that they treat you like a kid in other ways, too — including not seeing your viewpoint as a peer’s. It sounds like this isn’t a work environment but one where you want to pick and choose how they parent!

Whether we like it or not, financial independence brings about other forms of independence. The way to survive without “sucking up to power” is to have your own. If you disagree with them and want them to see your side, then it shouldn’t matter whether they share their money with you or not. It feels like your parents use this tactic because they know it works. If you have an argument, they know that if they threaten to not buy you things, you’ll come around. If you remove that from the equation then they have to face the actual issue and try to understand your viewpoint.

LG: It sounds like your whole relationship with your parents needs a reset. I’m going to guess your parents feel cutting off your money is the only way to get through to you, and they’re probably not enjoying the relationship right now, either. I’m also going to guess you’re either an adult, or close to being one, and are financially dependent on your parents. The change from child to adult is a difficult transition for families to make. Without a positive, mutually respectful relationship between you all, money is the last, tenuous way your parents have to exert their influence. Clearly, it’s not working! For any of you! 

So, the adult thing to do is to talk to them about it. Tell them how saddened you are that your relationship with them feels transactional and controlled by money, that you’d like a better, more communicative relationship. The current relationship feels disrespectful to you — and acknowledge it probably feels disrespectful to them, as well; they’d probably like to be heard without having to resort to financial manipulation. Ask them what they think would reduce the quarrels between you (and really listen), and then communicate what you think would reduce the quarrels. Discuss and agree on areas where you can make your own decisions without their input. Think carefully about what you want these areas to be, before discussing — if these areas involve spending your parents’ money, then, well, it’s a bit unreasonable to expect them to take a hands-off approach; perhaps, then, you could jointly set an amount up to which you can spend at your discretion without consulting them.

Also, discuss what happens when you reach an impasse — clearly cutting off your money isn’t working for anyone, so, is there another way you all could agree to resolve a quarrel? Perhaps, after calmly explaining and discussing your respective sides, you try to find a compromise?

Failing a reset that opens the communication between you all, one that acknowledges and makes room for your burgeoning independence, while still maintaining respect for their input and financial support — get a job. If you can support yourself financially, no one can control your purchases or your decisions. Good luck, teen angel.

KB: WOW. My overwhelming response to reading this question is that it must be nice to live in a cloud of entitlement and delusion so thick that you can’t even sense your own privilege or how poorly you come across. Unfettered access to your parents’ money is not, in fact, your birthright. From your question, I would presume you’re an adult living in their house, likely benefiting from the food they buy and cook, and the various comforts of a fully stocked, furnished, functioning home they provide. Do you contribute anything, financial or otherwise, to the successful functioning of this household? Or do you sit and whine about “sucking up” to the people who provide all your sustenance and creature comforts? From your tone, it sounds like the latter. You accuse your parents of reducing your relationship to a transactional one, and yet you’re the one that defines it by what they won’t give you materially.

Should you decide to ignore this wake-up call and remain blinded by your own entitlement, I’ll just offer you one super simple, easy trick for never having to be nice to your parents in exchange for money ever again. Are you ready for it? GET A JOB AND PAY FOR YOUR OWN SHIT. I understand that might be difficult for you, given that you believe work environments are ones where you have to “suck up in order to survive.” It’s hard to be a functional participant in any social ecosystem when you have such a horrible, narcissistic attitude. Honestly, you need a serious attitude readjustment. You won’t find fulfillment or healthy, mutually supportive relationships if you see the world through this lens. I hope for your parents’ sake you find a paycheck and some gratitude and humility soon.

DR: Hey! I understand it must seem really unfair. But at the end of the day, it is their money, and they do have a choice in terms of whether or not to indulge all your requests. As long as they’re not refusing to buy you medicines you may need, books for your curriculum, or anything as basic and important simply out of pettiness. As difficult as it may be for us to grasp, parents also have financial constraints, and they can’t afford to buy us everything we want.

However, parents aren’t necessarily perfect human beings either, and I don’t want to assume that of yours. So, if you think they’re indeed being petty, or are using finances as a means to ensure you don’t hurt their ego and get away with it, then … well, I’m not sure whether pointing this out to them, implying that their whole approach to parenting is wrong, would help stroke their ego much.

So, for lack of a better solution I can conjure up at the moment, why don’t you study hard, choose a career that would ensure you don’t have to depend on them to fulfill your needs, and get away from the house? Or, you could start participating in competitions in any subject of your interest and win some prize money to buy yourself the things you want. In the meantime, why don’t you offer to do small chores around the house for pocket money? In that case, instead of learning “how to suck up,” you could end up learning the value of hard work, time management, how to be more responsible — things that would be useful for your future. Or, if you absolutely need something, maybe try having a calm conversation with them and telling them why the thing you need is so important to you. You’d be amazed at how agreeable people can be when tempers aren’t flying!

ADT: Only you know the type of purchases that your parents are restricting and how much access you have to both employment and moving out. If your parents attempt to restrict food, clothes, education fees, and basic recreation while you’re a minor and can’t get a job — that’s financial abuse. In this case, please get in touch with another adult you trust — a teacher, a friend’s mom, and let them know what you’re going through. If as an adult, your parents are using your own money that you earn and give to them to control you — that’s financial abuse. Or, your parents won’t allow you to move out, that is a violation of boundaries. If you’re an adult, let your friends, colleagues, and/or partner know and look into legal interventions to keep your parents away from you.

But, if your parents won’t get you a new laptop because you’re rude to them, or don’t get good grades, that’s just them letting you know that you have to live by their rules to receive gifts. Unfortunately, this also applies to doing suck-up nonsense like telling your parents you’ll ‘never date’ or telling them you agree with their political views. Some parts of this might feel weird and unfair, but that’s just how it is. When you’re an adult and earn the money to do what you like, you don’t really have to listen to them. Work towards that — be patient, keep the peace, and leave the minute you can.

If don’t have either of these problems and simply live off your parents’ money or live with them rent-free, please get a job and move out.

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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