is stealing from my parents
Dear Rabbi, Susan, and Happy Warrior Community,
I’m searching for some wisdom. I’ve been asked by my parents to keep the lines of communication open with my sister; however, her husband is trying to destroy my parent’s financial life. I’m not ok with his behavior, but to keep communication open I have to be a “neutral third party”. She has been told many lies, but she has largely excused his behavior.
I’m trying to be a neutral third party, but I can’t ignore that he has stolen $130,000 from my parents and is actively trying to destroy their businesses.
Do I call out evil when I see it, or do I play the role my parents have asked me to play and act like Switzerland?
Any insight is appreciated.
Scenarios similar to what you describe are among the most challenging letters we receive. Sadly, there is no, “how to live happily ever after” solution. It is more a case of doing the best you can with a terrible situation.
We are going to assume that your parents are in good mental health. In other words, this isn’t a case of elder abuse and taking advantage of people who are not capable of overseeing their own affairs.
You posted this question in our member discussion board and received a variety of wise answers. Other Happy Warriors empathized with your pain at the same time as they queried whether your brother-in-law’s actions are certifiably criminal and recognized your parents’ desire not to tear apart the family. From the comments you made in response, we pray that the situation is resolving in a helpful direction.
Here is something that may help your frame of mind: please consider adjusting your thinking about your brother-in-law. Is he really “trying to destroy your parents’ financial life”? We don’t dispute that he might very well be imperiling their financial security. But is it possible that his motivation is improving his own financial situation rather than harming his in-laws? He may be financially desperate. In any event, you will find yourself better able to deal with this problem if you confine yourself to what he is doing rather than imputing to him motivations, the details of which you can’t possibly know.
And, did he really steal the $130,000 from your parents? You may well be right in that this is how it will turn out at the end of the story, but right now, it is possible that he, your sister, and your parents would all say, “Steal? What are you talking about, John? We loaned it to him and here is the note he signed.” Your language reveals considerable unhappiness and even resentment towards your brother-in-law, which we certainly understand. But please do try to overcome the emotional element as it will turn out to be an almost insurmountable obstacle to a good resolution here.
What is left for us to add? Perhaps your Switzerland metaphor was well chosen. Switzerland may be unswervingly neutral, but it does maintain an army of upwards of 100,000 men and even an airforce of about 100 jet fighters such as the F-18 Hornet. Which is to say that perhaps being neutral isn’t the same as being supine.
How about putting your arm over his shoulder when the two of you are alone at the next family gathering. Smilingly, and in a friendly manner, say, “You know, Fred, you and I haven’t ever really got to know one another. I don’t think you know what makes me tick, and I certainly don’t know what enthuses you. How about we go out for lunch next week and spend some ‘man-time’ together? Would Wednesday work for you?”
Assuming you can successfully get him to a private meeting, you can then feel free to mention (after pleasantries) your concern about your parents getting the $130K back. You could gently explain that your interest is legitimate, even if it is uncomfortable for which you apologize, because your parents’ ability to sustain a comfortable retirement weighs heavily on your shoulders as the only son. From a Biblical perspective, a son’s responsibility to his parents vastly exceeds that of a son-in-law. Explain that as distasteful as it is to have to discuss these things, they are a part of being a family and you respect him enough to treat him as any other family member. Hence this conversation.
That is quite Switzerland-like.
Remember that one of the hardest transitions parents have to make is recognizing that their children have grown up. Parental advice, if unsolicited, is no longer a parent’s responsibility or prerogative. It is incredibly painful to stand aside and watch a child marry someone we think is unsuitable, or waste time pursuing unproductive vocations, or walk away from faith. Yet, once a child is an adult, standing lovingly aside is what is (almost always) necessary.
The counterpoint to this is that adult children must recognize that their parents, while growing older, are still independent adults. Sometimes children watch as a divorced or widowed parent begins a new relationship that they deem unsuitable. This is often complicated by interlocking financial decisions. It is painful for children not to step in and “save” a parent.
In both these scenarios, parents granting respect to adult children and children honoring parents, (the fifth of the 10 Commandments has no age expiry date) granting respect is paramount. Sometimes, the secondary party is even wrong because the active party actually is not making a terrible mistake. Other times, it is simply a sad situation.
In instances like the one you describe, it is possible that your parents are much more aware than you think they are. They may be dealing with the excruciating pain of watching their beloved daughter living with an unworthy spouse. In their hearts, that overshadows serious financial considerations. Their primary concern is that she gets through this challenge knowing that their love for her, as well as yours, is rock-solid. They may even be dealing with it in ways they do not want to share with you in the hopes that you won’t be angry with your sister.
We pray that this situation concludes with your family’s relationships and everyone’s finances intact.
May you see the sun behind the clouds,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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