There’s been a lot of reaction to We Need to Talk about Mam, Brendan Courtney’s TV programme about securing a financially stable future for his mother, Nuala, much of it along the lines that it should have been called We Need to Talk about Me.

Whether you agree that it was all about him or not, the question Courtney asked is a pertinent one, and one that you may have asked yourself. How much responsibility do we need to take for our aging parents? Well, it seemed to me that he already knew the answer; in his case, none.

His mother Nuala is still grieving the death of her husband Frank, who was the subject of We Need to Talk about Dad – Courtney’s first foray into personal documentary – about the struggle to find full-time care for Frank Courtney, who had suffered a second serious stroke.

The impetus for the ‘sequel’ was that Nuala, now widowed and in her 70s, needed help, at least in Brendan’s opinion. He seems to think she is in a financially precarious situation, yet she owns her home, and still enjoys working. There is money coming in in the form of Frank’s pension.

Pot, kettle

In many ways, he is in a worse state. It emerged during the programme that Brendan, 47, has no pension. I nearly choked when I heard this. The guy is rolling his eyes at his mother’s failure to plan for her later years, while failing to plan for his own.

There were hints that this lack of planning is a family flaw.

“We didn’t prepare in any way for the possibility of him getting sick again, even though we’d been warned he probably would,” said Brendan, referring to his father’s debilitating strokes.

But this is what happens when people are thrown into emotional turmoil by illness, or death. It becomes so much more difficult to plan or make a decision because your emotional needs are all-consuming.

This was clearly the case for Nuala. By her own admission, she was struggling to find herself, struggling with the freedom, missing her husband, feeling a lot of fear.

In short, she was very vulnerable. A less confident woman might succumb to the wishes of a pushy son or daughter in the same circumstances.

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You’re not moving in with me

Was it just me or did Brendan badger his mother to do whatever possible to prevent her from being a burden to him?

His plans never seemed remotely suitable for Nuala.

Did he really think she’d be prepared to uproot her life, in her 70s, and move away from family and friends to Spain or Florida, or even Naas? Yet he was fixated on her selling up and moving somewhere where her money would go further.

How many times did she say, “I’m not ready”, or “I don’t want to talk about it anymore”?

About the same number of times he said, “You’re not moving in with me”.

What would happen to me if you died?

The failure to plan was the tragedy of Nuala’s story. The planning should have started years earlier, when her husband was healthy, and they had time on their side.

Frank was the money man in the relationship. He always provided for Nuala, who has a tendency to live beyond her means. All the more reason for her to ask him “What would happen to me if you died?”.

Every couple needs to ask that question of each other.

Nuala and Frank clearly didn’t, and she and her family are left having to deal with the consequences.

Like mother, like son

It was clear that Brendan approached his mother’s situation from the wrong angle; his, not hers. Until he really tries to see things from where she is standing, he won’t be able to help her.

And when he gets that glimpse of what it feels like to be her, the penny might just drop that he is heading for exactly the same fate.

There’s a third part to this series; it features fashion designer and TV presenter Brendan Courtney realising how exposed he is and making plans for his own old age. You can guess the title.

Start planning today.

Bob Quinn of The Money Advisers in Naas

Hi, I am Bob Quinn, a fee-only independent financial adviser in Naas, Co. Kildare.

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