family

What It's Like to Live in Luxury When Your Mum Is Homeless

I've done everything in my power to change her situation, but you can't force someone to make the right decisions.
22 April 2020, 11:45am
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.

I don’t live like your average millennial. My fiancé and I have total financial security, including a five-bedroom, four-bathroom house; a 46-foot boat; and three luxury cars. We take at least two international trips each year, and eat at restaurants at least twice per week. We donate to struggling families and feed homeless veterans.

So I should feel good about my situation. But I don’t. I carry guilt about it every day, because my mother is homeless.

People who don’t know the ins and outs of my situation have shamed us for not taking care of her. But little do they know we’ve made countless attempts to get her on track, then each and every time she self-sabotages like it’s her profession.

A few months ago, my mum knew that she’d have to leave her temporary housing, but she waited until her leaving date was two weeks away before searching for a new place. She then took out a $7,000 loan, and instead of using it toward the move, she put it on a car loan. Weeks later, she was sleeping in her car with her two cats. Thing is, she already had a reliable car, one we had given her. But apparently it had “too many problems.” In any case, her new car was eventually repossessed, and now she doesn’t have a permanent place to live—or a car. She was lucky enough to be taken in by a kind couple she knew, who said she can stay for some months in a room attached to their garage.

It really never ends. Her conflicts at work, her trouble with cars, her trouble with men. They cloud my mind and heart and make me numb. I’ve been searching for mothers my entire life, seeking them in teachers, older coworkers, older family members, my friend’s parents. Only to be left feeling like an interloper, or deeply hurt by the loss of a temporary relationship.

My mother isn’t an addict. She’s never tried marijuana, and she’s Christian; the type who even judges people who drink beer. My therapists have suggested that she has borderline personality disorder, which could fit. She’s overly emotional, she asks for my advice but doesn’t follow it. She seeks out conflict that may or may not exist, and she demands to be in control. As a child, that made setting her off very easy. It could lead to a screaming match, or her on top of me, slamming my head into the floor tiles.

I’m certain that her issues stem from her own childhood trauma, which involved foster care and abuse. She had me at 17, and has said she didn’t want me. She was too damaged to properly raise me, and then my brother, who came along seven years later. She worked a string of jobs to survive, then, when I was a teenager, she discovered she had a knack for sales. She was licensed to sell insurance, and she did it with ease, as long as she could maintain a job. She is typically charming and intelligent and personable, until she isn’t; her employers adore her, until they don't, struck by her irrationality.

Earlier this year, when my mum had to return her recently-purchased SUV to the dealership, it was also the morning of a scheduled job interview. Of course, the logical thing would have been to return the car after the job interview, and thereby complete both tasks. Instead, she cancelled the job interview. She most likely would have got that job.

This has all been years in the making: in 2013, she lost my childhood home after defaulting on her mortgage. My fiance, a financial adviser, tried to help her save it through a loan-modification program. And yet, despite our efforts—including my literally running from building to building to obtain the right paperwork—she never filed the paperwork.

Despite this, I haven’t cut ties. But I have set boundaries. I only intervene now when there’s a real emergency, like paying her phone bill so she can get calls from potential employers, or saving her from losing everything she owns (again). And yet I am constantly stifling an overwhelming sense of guilt. If I don’t fight it, my empathy kicks in.

Ultimately, my mum believes she is a victim. She thinks bad luck has caused her situation, rather than poor decision-making. Even when she applies for jobs, then changes her phone number. Or gets a management role then loses it, yet again (“The boss says I didn’t seem happy here"). She thinks her coworkers are jealous, or out to get her job. She skips office get-togethers and keeps her office door closed.

How do I help someone who destroys every opportunity she gets?

Despite her skipping my engagement party, despite her cancelling our plans last-minute, I’m still by her side—but at arm’s length. She's not a mother to me, but I'm still here. I can’t force a grown adult to give me control over her life, one she continues to ruin, but I can stand by. And hope that maybe, one day, she will wake up to her mistakes.