(800) 973-1540

Dear Family Advisor

My nieces constantly prey on their grandmother for her for money.

By , Caring.com contributing editor
Last updated: November 25, 2008

My mother was in business for herself for 60 years. Now it's just her and me, and I own a small business and work five days a week. My nieces know the situation, but they still sneak in under the radar and hit their grandmother up for money. Last week it was for $500. When I'm not home, they call and put ideas in her head and that's all I hear when I get home.

I've been able to keep it under control by watching my mother's checkbook, but these girls just won't quit. If I try to take legal action, it's going to make my mother go off the chart. And I'm headed there myself. Help!

This situation can only be resolved by bringing it out in the open, so be prepared for the possibility of rough waters ahead.

First, you need to sit down with your mom and show her on paper just how much money she's giving her nieces. Go back through her finances at least two months -- or better yet, a year -- and also let her know what they're using the money for, if you have a record of that. Show her how it's hurting her financially and how much she'll lose if she continues to do this during the next year.

Don't trash your nieces to your mom or make the discussion confrontational. Just present the facts. Maybe she just doesn't realize how much is going out and what that means over time.

After she gets a clear sense of her financial situation, talk to her about why this is happening. You want to get at the reasons behind this, so be understanding. In fact, you might want to save this part of the conversation for another day, to keep the tension down.

Your mom obviously has a connection to your nieces, her granddaughters. Her reasons for shelling out cash to them may be as simple as the fact that grandmothers often want to spoil their grandchildren. Or she may be lonely and likes feeling needed by them. Or maybe she's a bit of a pushover and is just afraid to say "no." She may worry that they won't come to see her anymore if she refuses.

As difficult as it may be for you at this point, try to be sympathetic so that she can open up and talk. Forcing your opinion on her won't help and will embarrass her. It's not as important that she's giving you her reasons as it is that she's saying them out loud. That often helps people truly come to grips with their reasoning and emotions. If she reaches the conclusion that her granddaughters are using her, it will hurt.

After a couple of talks, you might make a suggestion to your mom. She obviously cares for her granddaughters, and money seems to be something they want and need from their grandmother, so why doesn't she offer to pay for college or for furthering their education in some way? It would be a lot smarter to give them $500 a month toward school than toward clothes or movies.

Is this financially possible for your mom? Even if she can't afford that much, she may want to offer something. Paying for guitar lessons, ballroom dancing, or yoga -- something they'd really like to do but can't afford -- can have its benefits. She would be giving them the opportunity to learn and grow, and they could talk to her about their dreams and accomplishments. Ideally, she would offer to pay for one semester (or class) at a time, and if they work hard and are ready to move on, she could then pay for the next.

Have you ever had an honest discussion with your nieces or their parents about this? I'd suggest that you level with them about it too, simply explaining the financial situation and why your mother could very well need her savings for the future. You should also tell them how their grandmother still wants to help them out. They may not go for this, and if they stop coming around, it shows that they were really just using your mom. But hopefully, even if they're initially angry, they'll come back around and forge a new, more meaningful relationship with their grandmother.

You haven't said that you actually suspect your nieces of stealing from your mom, so I hope this isn't an issue. If it is, you need to watch her money and accounts closely and confront your nieces and their parents if you have evidence that this is going on.

Don't just blame your nieces for this situation, by the way. Your mom has played a role in creating this type of relationship, as have their parents, and they all need to learn how to have a healthy relationship that includes boundaries.

Are you your mother's [link]guardian[link to: Conservatorship and Adult Guardianship: A Beginner's Guide] or is your name on her accounts? Someone should be, before all the money is gone. This sounds like a good time to start taking steps toward that, too.

It will help if you stay involved as this situation unfolds. Your mom needs to be strong and give of herself in a way that doesn't jeopardize her assets, and the girls need to learn not to take advantage of her. It sounds like you're the only one who can keep a level head and monitor this situation.

You may end up being the bad guy for a while, but in general, people get mad and then they get over it. If they continue to hold a grudge, that's their problem. Money shouldn't be equated with love. You're doing everyone a favor by shedding light on this situation and protecting your mom.