Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Mother and the Mortgage

Every week, Danny M. Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the mother and the mortgage.

Nicole Cliffe: Oh, man, this will not actually help your mother. She needs professional help.

This is just so intrusive

Daniel Lavery: yeah I have no qualified financial thoughts about a 30- versus 15-year mortgage

but you and your father have really fallen down a rabbit hole with this one

Nicole Cliffe: It really wouldn’t matter if you did! It’s just no one else’s business

Daniel Lavery: you believe that if your mother is upset at someone else for making a choice that doesn’t affect her, it’s incumbent upon that person to make a different choice to preserve her comfort

Nicole Cliffe: it would have been better not to share the refinancing info in the first place but we are WELL past that


Daniel Lavery: that your father is willing to sign up for decades of giving someone else $100 a month just to keep his wife from feeling anxiety is so wrongheaded! They need to put that cash towards a therapist who can help her treat and manage her anxiety

Nicole Cliffe: It also really does not help people to let their unmanaged anxiety cause you to make completely unrelated decisions for your family

Daniel Lavery: anxiety is treatable! That doesn’t mean it can be magically done away with, or that it doesn’t cause her distress, but there is real, practical help available that will do much more to address and ameliorate her anxiety than just switching mortgages

Nicole Cliffe: She will not being able to control so many other things in her life, and that’s what needs to be addressed

Daniel Lavery: if your plan is to try to change the world every time the world upsets your mother

you are going to waste a lot of time and energy

Nicole Cliffe: and you are getting sucked into this

your brother-in-law is not the problem

Daniel Lavery: yeah, you need to drop this subject with your sister and her husband, and seriously reevaluate your belief that other people refinancing their own home is somehow “damaging” to your mother

Nicole Cliffe: “obstinacy” is not your brother-in-law refinancing, it’s your dad trying to loop you into the process of controlling a third party under the misapprehension it will help your mother

Daniel Lavery: it definitely makes me wonder what else you’ve collectively tried to pressure your sister/others into doing in the name of “sparing your mother from anxiety” in the past

Nicole Cliffe: just back all the way out and urge your parents to seek professional assistance

it does seem unlikely to me this is a totally isolated instance

Daniel Lavery: you say “we all know this is their decision to make” but I don’t really think you do know that

Nicole Cliffe: more like a lifelong project of sidestepping that you are now seeing cast into sharp relief by an “outsider” who Doesn’t Understand

Daniel Lavery: you and your parents are not acting like you think it’s their decision to make

Nicole Cliffe: yeah that disclaimer is pretty meaningless in the context of the letter

Daniel Lavery: “My dad’s plan gives them everything they want financially” not if what they want financially is to handle their own mortgage as they see fit!

I think sometimes people really pay lip service to that idea, and then immediately undercut themselves

“I know it’s your decision to make, but ____”

Nicole Cliffe: Your mother’s pain and fear is real. No one is questioning that. But creating a funhouse mirror for her to live in is so destructive

Daniel Lavery: Right

Nicole Cliffe: You just have to stop

Daniel Lavery: “I feel anxious” is not a blank check for you to control other people’s choices

if she feels anxious and upset, I want her to get appropriate support

“taking charge of our adult child’s mortgage” is not appropriate!

Nicole Cliffe: apologize if you have said anything to your sister or brother-in-law about this, and focus on addressing your mother’s mental health. No professional who treats anxiety would support this plan!

Daniel Lavery: right! you’re treating all of her fears like they’re perfect predictions of the future

No therapist or psychiatrist is going to tell her, “I think the best treatment for your anxiety is for your daughter to refinance her house”

Nicole Cliffe: RIGHT

Daniel Lavery: the voice of anxiety is not the voice of reality!

Nicole Cliffe: this just reinforces her false beliefs

and the next request will happen soon enough

Daniel Lavery: and just saying that something is “for my mom’s mental well-being” doesn’t make it true

that’s not a diagnosis or a recommendation by a qualified mental health professional

it’s just what she WANTS

Nicole Cliffe: bail out of enabling this, stat

Daniel Lavery: “giving me what I want is good for my mental well-being” is not something you need to buy into

it’s a demand, not a treatment plan

Nicole Cliffe: that’s why I feel so sure this is a pattern

Daniel Lavery: and it doesn’t have to be malicious for it to be damaging – I don’t know enough about your mom’s history to know if there’s some intentional manipulation going on here, or if she just generally isn’t equipped to deal with the intensity of her fears and is struggling to do the best she can. Either way, you can love and support her without trying to change your sister’s mortgage

Nicole Cliffe: because this is such a bizarre request and the LW is taking it in stride, I have to imagine you’ve all been adjusting your lives around this for a long time

Daniel Lavery: yes, it sounds like it’s gone unchallenged and unquestioned for a really long time

Nicole Cliffe: you are lucky a third party (your brother-in-law) has given you a reality check

try to be grateful for that and not bristle

Daniel Lavery: it sounds like he’s been very polite and kept his cool over a pretty invasive series of conversations

my guess is that your sister has asked him to run interference because she’s sick of it

Nicole Cliffe: this is just not appropriate on any level

I do hope this can be a turning point for your mother, a tipping point that can start real analysis