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Dealing with Guilt


When my husband turned 18, his parents took out credit in his name.  Their credit was in shambles and his was new but spotless.  They racked up $5,500 in credit card debt and $1,000 in cell phone bills.  My husband, wanting to help his struggling parents, paid the minimum payments for four years.  We married when he turned 22.  Suddenly we had rent, groceries, and utilities and he could no longer afford those minimum payments.  He asked his parents to start paying their debt.  A few days later, his father gave him a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet outlined all the things they believed he owed them.  They decided he should have paid rent the day he turned 18 up until he moved out at 21.  They decided he should have paid a rental fee each time he borrowed their car and loads of other silly things they could think of.  Total everything up and not only did they not owe him, he owed THEM $1,000 by their estimation.  Not a single mention of the four years of minimum payments he had been paying for them or, crazy thing, the fact that rent or any of the other bogus charges were never discussed or agreed on.

CIT Bank Money Market Account


That spreadsheet resulted in the biggest fight we’ve ever had in our marriage.  I declared it was hogwash and he said his parents had no money and the spreadsheet was what helped them sleep at night.  “We aren’t getting a dime from them anyway.  It’s water under the bridge.” (Before you roast him for saying that, remember, he was 22)


It took us four more years to pay that debt and some months, we couldn’t afford it at all.  My husband’s credit was completely destroyed.  Our home loan is in my name only because his credit was too terrible.  Our interest rate was insanely high because I didn’t make enough on my own for a decent rate.


It’s been nearly 20 years since this all happened.  We didn’t say a word to anyone in the family.  It was this weird secret my husband wanted to keep to protect his parents.  We thought our silence was OK.  It didn’t hurt anyone but us right?


I went to dinner with three of my sister-in-laws.  It was a great night, we all shared a bottle of wine and stories late into the night.  One of them is buying a house and we were lamenting about the process.  My husband and I had moved in with my parents for a short period to save a down payment and it was hard.  “At least they didn’t charge you back rent years later!” my sister-in-law said.  “Huh?” I asked.  “Oh!  Did I not tell you?!?  J’s mom and dad came after us for rent!” she exclaimed.  There was silence at the table.  “You too!?!” another sister-in-law exclaimed.  One by one, the stories came out.  His parents did the same thing to all their kids.  The weird secret we were all carrying.  My husband wasn’t the only one, he was just the first.


Later that night, I cried as I told my husband what happened.  We never said anything.  We didn’t protect his little brothers.  We just assumed it wouldn’t happen to anyone else but our silence hurt them.  Here’s the thing, I can be furious at his parents, and I am, but the weight of guilt that I’m now carrying is huge.  I’m furious at myself.


Money and family is a tough subject.  My husband has believed for years that he was protecting his parents’ reputation.  They were poor.  They needed money.  They didn’t know how else to get it.  It made sense…


Until we had kids.


“Chris, would you take out money in the names of our kids?  For any reason?  Would you watch them struggle under the weight of it?”  I asked.


He stared at the floor for a long time then answered, “I don’t think I could.”


It’s too late now.  All his siblings are grown.  All of us are adults with strong hands on our purse strings.  The secret is out.  We all know what happened.  It won’t happen again.  But it doesn’t fix my guilt.  I’m going to have to live with that.  I know my husband’s family isn’t the only one like this.  Perhaps if this happened to you, you’ll think about speaking up.  It could save a lot of hurt.


  • Reply T'Pol |

    I am so sorry you had to go through this. I think burying something and not dealing with it right away causes that thing to become a bigger trauma as time goes by. I always go back to whatever thing I buried and work myself up on it. However when you are young, you do not think like that. It was a hard thing for a 22 year old to deal with it especially with a spouse in the picture. I can imagine he was not only upset but also embarrased on behalf of his parents. I do not have kids but, if I had, I would teach them not to bury something but rather speak up and deal with it in a civilized manner.
    Having many kids can be a big expense for a family that is not financially strong. From what you wrote I guess they had at least four kids. Religious beliefs aside, I think people should have as many kids as they can comfortably raise. Not more.

    • Reply Beks |

      I agree, I think he was terribly embarrassed and he hid it to protect his parents. Looking back, I’m so sad for his 22 year old self. I could have been kinder but I was young too.

  • Reply Lisa |

    I hope these adult kids have had some counseling or in some way come to terms with this parental manipulation, and have established healthy boundaries with their parents. Your husband could halve had them prosecuted for identify theft and they thanked him by presenting him with a bill for use of the family car! The guilt should be all be felt by them, not by you.

    • Reply Beks |

      Boundaries is something we are still working on. Is it sad that 20 years later, we’re still working on it?!?

  • Reply Cheryl |

    My daughter’s inlaws were very much like this. My son in law’s credit was terrible from his mom taking out a credit card and he never knew. One son found out about his mom’s creative borrowing when they tried to buy a house. You shouldn’t feel guilty your husband’s parents should feel nothing but guilt but they believed they did nothing wrong.

    • Reply Beks |

      Ugh. I’m so sorry! I think there are more of us out there than we think. We just keep it a secret.

  • Reply Margann34 |

    Beks, this is not your guilt to carry. YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY OF IT!. You did not steal your husband’s identity, you did not “charge” Him rent after the fact, you did not decide to keep it a secret. Had you convinced your husband to tell his siblings, it is very likely they would have accused you of trying divide the family. Your husband was a Victim of financial abuse. You just got dragged into the financial drama because you married him. Please stop carrying guilt over this!

    • Reply Beks |

      I didn’t even think of that! It definitely would have been spun into I was trying to divide the family. It helps to think of it that way.

  • Reply Kiki |

    These kinds of stories come up ALL the time on financial sites–parental financial abuse. Parents who trash their kids’ credit and most of them by ILLEGALLY stealing their children’s credit card and social security numbers to use for themselves. The advice is always to get the police involved and report them, but most children not want to do that. So they are stuck paying it.

    The next piece of advice is to protect yourselves financially. Be sure your parents do not have access to your credit. Contact all the credit reporting agencies. As a parent of four adult children, this makes my blood boil. Your job as a parent is to help your child navigate life inasmuch as possible, not steal from them. My husband and I cannot imagine abusing our children like this. It’s disgusting.

    • Reply Beks |

      My husband insists they would never do it again but you can bet I check his credit and my credit monthly (it’s a good habit anyway!)

  • Reply Kike |

    PS I do not understand why you are saying you feel guilt. The fault lies completely with his parents. They put their children in a difficult situation. Honestly, there are people who just should not bring children into the world.

  • Reply Jen |

    While I understand why you may feel guilt, I agree with other posters in that you no real reason to feel that guilt.

    Your husband and his brothers were abused and manipulated. If you had tried to warn the brothers, the more likely outcome would have been further manipulation by the parents to make your husband the “bad guy”. Neglecting to tell the siblings about this abuse probably didn’t change the outcome.

    I’d focus on what actually happened. Your husbands parents abused your husband and his siblings, and their families by extension. Forgive if you like, but don’t forget. Don’t let them do it again.

    And if they try to steal his identity again, report it. I know it’s hard, but you have to protect yourself and your kids.

  • Reply Angie |

    I would be concerned as his parents are aging. If they pulled that stuff while they were younger, and to their own kids no less, what will they try to do when they have no money in retirement? Will they rack up credit card debt? Take out loans in your name? Burn all their bridges with friends asking for money?

    I know this is an event that is probably decades old at this point. But make sure you don’t give them any info on your kids for them to open a savings account or “donate to their college fund”.

  • Reply Katie |

    YOU should not feel guilty. Your in-laws were identity thieves and manipulative. It’s really hard for anyone to accept that their parents would do that to them. And, not only can I not imagine doing it to my kids, I really wonder how two people agree to do it to theirs. But, I think walking away from that toxicity is your best bet. Unfortunately, money and families is complicated and usually doesn’t end well for anyone.

So, what do you think ?