Secure Your Future Before Assisting Others

Reading the email message from Joann reminded me of the safety speech flight attendants give before takeoff. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.


“… In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you…. If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.”

That is an instruction with universal application because the foundational truth is rock solid. You cannot rescue someone who is drowning if you are injured or cannot swim yourself. Joann’s letter brought all of these images to mind.

“My mom is 85 years old and widowed. Mom has raised three of her grandchildren and now is trying to help raise a great grandson.

“Currently her grandson, his wife and their son live with her. Her only income is a $1,200 monthly Social Security benefit. Mom is disabled and unable to work. Her boarders do not work and are on our state’s Medicaid program. 

“Long story short, my mom has accrued much debt and now I am trying to help her. I considered bankruptcy for her, but after researching, decided that it’s not the best thing to do nor is it an easy thing. I am 67 years old, my husband still works, but all I have is my Social Security to use to try to help her. 

“Right now, my mom’s bills exceed her income. She has borrowed money against her home, and I recently found out she has borrowed money from a finance company which charges a high interest rate. 

“What would you suggest for me to do in order to get some relief for my mom? Any suggestions you may have will be appreciated.”

Joann’s mother ignored an important rule of personal finance. She did not assure her own financial future before attempting to assist others. Now she is drowning right along with those she tried to help.

The best advice I can give Joann is to learn from what she sees in front of her. Before she can help her mom, she must make sure her financial future is secure. 

Already I see signs that Joann’s attempts to help her mother, and those who have moved into the mother’s home, are pulling Joann down. How can she possibly rescue all of these people when she is not wearing her “mask?” She can’t, and she must not allow herself to feel guilty for that. 

By assisting herself first, she will eventually be able to assist others.

Until Joann and her husband have their financial situation well in control they simply cannot participate in rescuing others.

I see you nodding your head. It’s not difficult to see what Joann needs to do. It’s clear that her mom, out of love and concern, has managed to become a burden to her children. I’m certain that Joann would not characterize this as a “burden,” but that’s what it is and I see that all over her message. 

The distance between being of true help and enabling others to remain helpless is a thin line. It takes maturity and wisdom to stay on the side of authentic assistance while not slipping into the murky waters of enabling. 

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4 replies
  1. A-A
    A-A says:

    I think this woman needs to be concerned about the situation she will be facing when her mother passes on!! Her mother’s debts could very well become her own debts!!

    • Kim
      Kim says:

      the mother’s debts will only become the daughter’s debts if the daughter has cosigned on any loans, etc. so if joann hasn’t, then when her mother dies, no one has to take her debts on. what I would be worried about, is if joann is helping mom help grandson and family, that grandson and family will think that it’s fine to go and freeload off of her when grandma dies. assuming that’s what grandson and family are doing anyway. it’s possible that grandson and wife help out more than joann knows about, since it doesn’t sound like she lives with her mother.

  2. Darlene
    Darlene says:

    This is how I got into debt. I am trying to dig out of it after all these years of helping my mother. Ditto to the article. I have helped her for 20 years and she is still in debt because of her free loading children. I finally came to grips with it a few months ago. I always felt guilt but I have to let it go.

  3. Lisa Phillips
    Lisa Phillips says:

    This all true. But do you have some advice for them in this situation other than ,”She shouldn’t have done it and don’t endanger your own future trying to solve this mess.”?


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