Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: How to ask my son for money?

'He takes us out and spoils us rotten, but sometimes I'd just like the cash'


Dear Virginia 

We have fallen on hard times. We eke out a living of a kind in retirement, and we’re happy enough. But we have a very  successful son in London and he often asks us up and gives us a wonderful time – an expensive show, and a lavish dinner. But we often wish that, instead of eating lobster and drinking champagne at the Ritz, we could just have a pizza with him and have £100 to spend at Lidl instead. Do you think we could ask him? And if so, how can we put it without seeming mercenary? I know he loves to gives us a treat.

Yours sincerely, Jennie

Virginia says...

Sometimes, those closest to us are the most difficult to confide in, aren’t they? You’d think it would be easy to say to your son: “Look, we’re absolutely skint. You couldn’t help us out a bit, could you?” But it’s particularly hard asking a child for help when, as a parent, one’s role has always been as the one who’s been asked for help. It’s a big change, as one grows older, to find that the positions between parent and child can often start to be reversed. An adult child may offer an arm to help you down the stairs, or ring up, concerned, if you’re ill. In a way, part of being grown-up, for them, is to take the caring role, and I remember, even when he was 20 or so, my son being extremely solicitous about guiding me back to my car, or making sure I’d got everything before I left his flat. I sometimes felt it was as if he enjoyed looking after me, even though I was quite young enough to take care of myself.

Your son, by giving you both a good time every so often, when he asks you out and spoils you both rotten, is not only showing you love and affection. He’s also demonstrating his independence. Whereas, before, he’d cry to you, as you sat on the beach: “Look at me, Mum, I’m swimming!”, now, he’s saying: “Look at me, Mum! I’m not only able to stand on my own two feet financially, but I can afford to squander a bit of money on giving you both a good time.”

It would seem to me that he would absolutely love to help you financially now and again. But maybe he doesn’t know how, except by giving you these lavish outings.

I wouldn’t mention your straitened circumstances during one of these jaunts. And I certainly wouldn’t suggest that, instead of taking you to the Ritz, he takes you to Pizza Express and gives you the balance. But I don’t see why you shouldn’t write to him and explain your situation – perhaps at Christmas, for instance, saying that this year, instead of a present, you’d really appreciate some money instead, because things are so tight. I’m sure you can couch it in tactful enough terms, explaining your embarrassment, and saying how difficult it is for you to ask, and how you hate doing it and so on. And how you’ll quite understand if he’d rather not give you money and give you a present instead. Drenched in apologies, embarrassment and affection, I don’t see how a letter like this could be taken amiss. And you may find that he is just waiting for a chance to be able to help out.

I’m sure you’ve helped him out in the past now and again. Now, perhaps, it’s his turn to give back a little of what you’ve given him. He clearly loves you and is proud of you, so you’re not going to lose his respect by being honest about your needs.

Readers say...

There are lots of ways to look at money

You may view money as survival, food tokens. Your son sees money as wine/luxury item tokens, perhaps. So I suggest your respective views of money are poles apart. This does not matter a jot, as long as you accept your son’s largesse in the way I believe it’s meant.

Many parents of older children rarely see their children, sons in particular, so you are in a very fortunate family situation, in which, I believe, your son actually wants to “show off” his lovely parents to the world. Remember that many don’t. In addition, your social meetings probably have great emotional and stabilising benefits for him. Put simply, he loves you and he loves your company. Given this position of great mutual respect, why wreck things by mentioning anything as dirty as filthy lucre during a nice meal?

But at a suitable juncture, say something like: “We were given some store tokens recently, by Fred, he gets them as promotional items in his business, he says there’s some tax benefit for him.”

Then just say, perhaps, that they came in very useful for some nice food at Christmas, with things a bit tight. I fully accept that this is a little disingenuous, but at least you won’t be talking about filthy money during a meal.

Lee A, by email

Tread carefully

He probably has no idea that you are so hard up, and would be saddened if he knew. I suggest that you write him a letter explaining your situation in frank and full detail, and asking him for help.

What you must not do under any circumstances is criticise his way of trying to give you pleasure. You will hurt his feelings. It is also possible that he is asserting himself as a grown-up, and you should be careful not to belittle him in any way. If he helps you out with cash, then it is up to him to continue with the treats. I’m sure he will.

Janet Gordon, by email

He’ll be happy to help

I think there is a great deal of background you’ve left unsaid, such as how long ago it is that you fell on “hard times”, and why hasn`t your son realised your difficulties earlier? Does he not visit you at home? That aside, the boy is seemingly possessed of a generous nature and, far from your being “mercenary”, it would be entirely practical to map out your concerns.

PJ Hill, by email

Next week's dilemma

I used to drink a lot, and my husband and I were friends with a couple who were big drinkers, too. But now that we’ve both given up, frankly, I find seeing this pair very boring. Our friendship has dwindled and we hardly see them. But my daughter’s getting married and I know this couple will be very upset if they’re not invited, because they’ve known her since she was a baby. They’re local and will hear about the wedding. They came to my son’s wedding years ago. My daughter doesn’t want them to come because they’ll get drunk, but says it’s up to me. They’re good fun, but I know they’ll get plastered. What should I do?

Yours sincerely,


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