Dear Margo: Of Blood and Turnips

When family and money get messy. Margo Howard’s advice

Of Blood and Turnips

Dear Margo: My mom and I aren’t overly close, but we talk about once a month. She has run out of money, having retired three years after quitting a part-time job, and says she doesn’t want to work anymore, that she has “worked long enough.” She has a small pension and Social Security, and I suggested she apply for food stamps, which she receives.

Mom has asked me to give her $100 a month, and my brother will match whatever I agree to pay her. I told her I would help out when possible, but I couldn’t agree to a monthly payment. We are a middle-income family of four. One child is a college sophomore; the other, a junior in high school soon to be in college. The money I make goes to their schooling and some of our bills.

My brother has two houses in two different states, owns several buildings and exotic cars, and has just a dog, no kids. I do not have the financial means he does. Now my brother is calling my husband at work and trying to talk to him about it. He won’t call me because the last time this issue came up, I told him I would talk directly to Mom because he tries to tell me what to do and that we “owe” it to her. What can I say to them without feeling guilty? — In a Quandary

Dear In: In tough situations where you feel you are not being heard, I recommend writing a letter. In your case, write one letter to your brother, with a copy going to your mother. You will have gone on record, the letter can be reread, no one can interrupt, and it short-circuits any efforts to talk about it.

The gist of the letter should be who can afford what. When you state that you simply don’t have the money to give your mother a set allowance per month, no one can tell you that you do. You might gently point out to your brother that, from all outward appearances, he is the better able to kick in an extra $100 a month. If he chooses not to, that’s his business. As for “owing” people, at this period in your life, the people you owe are your husband and two sons. — Margo, guiltlessly

Henny Penny All the Time

Dear Margo: “Selma” and I have been friends since college. Now we are in our 40s. She was always a drama queen in school, but I assumed it would taper off and tone down. It hasn’t. I find it increasingly wearing to have the most minor events turned into a dramatic monologue or a soap opera. Is there any approach I could take that would calm down some of these one-act plays? I mean, if her cleaning lady doesn’t show up, it is woe-is-me for 10 minutes. — Annoyed

Dear Ann: I am sorry that your friend is Moliere than thou. It sounds as though the dramatic instinct is just woven into her personality. This suggests a lack of balance, perspective and maturity, but there you are. Something has kept you girls friends for 20-plus years, though, so I would try to jolly her out of the next recitative by responding humorously. You might try, “You’re kidding, right?” or remark that her crisis of the moment is certainly on a par with Chernobyl (or the calamity of your choice). I don’t see anything wrong with letting her know you find her overreactions a little odd. — Margo, realistically

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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93 comments so far.

  1. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    With questions like these, I often notice that the ACTUAL question isn’t really answered. The LW didn’t ask for help with the rights and wrongs of her position. Her question is, ‘What can I say to them without feeling guilty?’. What the LW wants is a guilt-free solution. What the LW wants probably is impossible given that she intrinsically doesn’t want to give her mother money.

  2. avatar Rick S says:

    She made choices to be married,have kids, and send them to school.

    Brother made choices to be single buy cars and houses and a dog.
    Mom chose to retire on small pension and Social Security check.
    If there is a money need for any one of these the other 2 are not required to help.


  3. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – Are ya done? Feel better now? We get it. You’re the salt of the earth barely scraping by and your brother is a dog owning free spirit with nary a care and you resent it. Cool. Now, find a hundred bucks a month in your budget and send it to your mom. Just do it. She’s your mom.

    LW2 _ “Oh, my!  blah, blah, world is ending yadda, yadda, yadda….the pain…blah, blah, blah..the suffering and hardship….yadda, blah, blah . . . . . . . ………..ouch…………sky is falling…… is over …………..”

    “Selma! Shut up already”.

    That  was too easy.

  4. avatar CanGal says:

    Annoyed – Margo’s “You’re kidding right?” Should be followed up with – “There are a lot of people who can’t even afford food, let alone a housekeeper – count your blessings!”

  5. avatar Pmartino says:

    RE:  LW1  Regardless of past circumstances, I don’t understand why what the brother gives should hinge in any way upon what his sister gives.  If he wants to give his mother money, then do it.  Sister has already said she is in no position to give monthly, only occasionally, and this should be respected and reiterated.  With college tuition on her to-pay list, guilt should not even enter the picture. 

  6. avatar CanGal says:

    LW1 – At this point I don’t think either sibling should be giving the mother anything. Going strictly from what the letter says and no conjecture, the mother is young enough to still be working. From the letter she is about 62. the letter states she retired 3 years after quitting a part time job – not 3 years ago. The brother and sister should tell the mom she needs to get a job and they will help her out when she is no longer capable of working, by that time her kids will be done college and she will be more capable of it. If you are able to work and not in a position financially to retire, you should not expect others to take care of you.

  7. avatar Leajmom says:

    Brother agreed to MATCH the amount LW is willing to pay? What a dick. He knows how much more money he has. How about they calculate what percentage of her annual income $100 is, and then Brother can match the percentage? When he balks (and he will, it will be in the thousands for him *giggle*) have him calculate what percentage $100 is of his income, and then sister can match that. I’ll bet she can scrounge up 12 or so bucks a month!