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Money vampires: When a parent is the predator

| August 23, 2018
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When we think of vampires, we think of unearthly beings who feed on our blood, returning again and again to sate their appetite. But when it comes to money vampires, there’s another kind, as well.


These vampires prey on their victims, but in a different way. Rather than taking your money, they use their own money to extort other things that they want: obedience, loyalty, obeisance, attention, respect.


And often, these vampires are the people you might least expect to prey on you: your own parents.


The parent trap


Parents (and grandparents) can be the worst kind of money vampire, as they use money (or the promise of it) to reward behaviors they like and withhold money (or threaten to) to punish behaviors they don’t like.


Recognizing their acts and intentions as predatory can be difficult. Aren’t our parents supposed to nurture and care for us? And maybe they weren’t always so manipulative, such as when we were young and they had all the power, anyway.


But parents and grandparents are people, too, possessing all the good and bad qualities that we find across the human spectrum. One of yours may be a narcissist, thinking the world rises and sets (or that it ought to) at their whim, and expecting to control you, as well.


To help you recognize the parental money vampire(s) in your life, let me offer up 10 common characteristics:


  1. They talk about their wealth. A lot. They remind you frequently that they have money, as though net worth equals human value.
  2. They talk often about their estate planning, alluding frequently to what you’ll inherit or, conversely, threatening to “cut you out of the will.”
  3. They’ve set up a trust for you with stipulations, wanting to control you beyond the grave.
  4. They promise money, for instance offering to pay for your children’s education, but don’t follow through.
  5. When you have success, they make it all about them, taking the credit rather than acknowledging you.
  6. They talk about family members (including you, you can bet) openly and judgmentally.
  7. They lie and then, when called out, claim they were joking.
  8. They talk endlessly about money: how much things cost, how much they have saved, etc. Money is the most important thing to them, and they love to judge your (and others’) purchases.
  9. They hoard their money, rarely giving any of it away even to charity. When they do make charitable donations, they speak in terms of their status or recognition rather than whom their money is helping.
  10. They attach strings to their gifts or loans. Money vampires never give without expecting something in return.


Stopping the bloodletting


Parental vampires can be the most destructive kind: taking while presuming to give and using their wealth to control you and your family. Almost anyone else who behaved this way you could simply ignore or walk away from. But family is family, and you don’t get to choose your parents or grandparents. You can, however, choose how you interact with them.


Here are some strategies:


  • Expect nothing. When they promise money, acknowledge that it would be nice if they helped you—and then forget it. Remember all the false promises in the past, knowing that they are gratifying their need to feel and look generous in the moment but will not follow through.
  • Guard your space. Just because they are calling doesn’t mean you have to answer the phone. Many narcissists, when bored, will reach out for emotional energy—another kind of vampirism. Instead of playing into their cunning hands by rushing to speak with them, let them leave a message.
  • Expect nothing, ever. If they leave you nothing in their will, so what? If you’ve set financial goals and are meeting them, you won’t rely on them—and they will lose their power over you. “Living well is the best revenge,” the English writer and speaker George Herbert said in 1633. It was true then, and it’s true now.
  • Keep money worries to yourself. By confiding in them, you give them power over you. Structure your life and your finances so that you don’t need their help, and when money problems hit, resist the temptation to ask them for a loan, gift, or even advice (which they won’t keep confidential). The price, from obligations to judgments, is too high. Taking care of yourself is the best form of empowerment.
  • Just say ‘no.’ When they try to give you something you don’t want, tell them, “no, thanks.” When they offer you money, demure. When they try to talk about money or make negative remarks, shift the conversation. And keep visits, including their duration and frequency, on your terms.
  • Love them. If you can, reach out in love to your vampire parent when it is convenient for you. Forgiveness and compassion can free you from the energy-sucking effects of anger and resentment.

Being born the child or grandchild of a money vampire doesn’t mean you must be their victim. With firm boundaries and a clear strategy for dealing with them, you can minimize and even avoid their harmful effects on you and your family. Released from their clutches, you will then be at liberty emotionally and financially to live your best life.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

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