Do you think parents should provide financial assistance to their adult children? If so, do you think they should do so equally or is it okay for parents to give more money to one child? Is favoring one child financially ever fair? Is inequality always a sign of sibling favoritism?
Questions like these pour into my inbox each month. They come from distressed and heartbroken readers who want to know how to deal with financial unfairness from their parents.
What happens when parents financially support a sibling? Does that child become dependent on his or her parent’s money? Does he or she ever learn to break free from the cycle of handouts?
How do financial gifts impact the other siblings and what happens when that favoritism continues into adulthood?
Each time I open one of these letters I pause, reflect on my thoughts and respond as openly and honestly as possible. The first set of questions arrived in an email six years ago. Since then a slew of letters have trickled into my inbox including one I received just two days ago.
Why do they keep coming and what do readers hope to gain by reaching out to me? The answers may surprise you.
Parents Favoring One Child Financially
Six years ago I spent an entire weekend watching a close family member deal with the saga of sibling rivalry and financial favoritism. Wrestling with my own thoughts on the matter I wrote a short post about parents who continually give one child more money than another.
To be clear I’m not talking about grown children with emotional or physical hardships. I’m talking about two healthy adult children who have similar capabilities and intelligence.
The story plays out in families everywhere. One child works hard, saves his or her money and succeeds in life. From the disciplined sibling’s perspective the other child plays hard, has fun and struggles to pay his or her bills.
Parents fill the gap between the second sibling’s income and the life he or she wants to lead. As the days turn into months and years the depth of financial inequality grows. The rest of the children witness this financial unfairness. They continue to watch their parents financially support a sibling who is unwilling to make it on their own.
As the scale tips in favor of one child over another the resentment between siblings builds. When the emotional toll becomes unbearable relationships shatter.
Heart Wrenching Reader Stories
It’s been many years since I first wrote that post, but the old date doesn’t deter readers from reaching out to me. Every few weeks I receive a heartfelt email from someone who stumbled across that post feeling broken and defeated.
Readers reach out for comfort. They want someone to say I understand and I’m sorry. The pain in those letters is palpable. The raw emotions often bring me to tears.
One letter begins; “My parents favor my older sister and it hurts me to see them together.” Another says, “I feel left out of my own family. How can I deal with parents who favor my sibling and have favored her for years?”
I am not a trained psychologist. I’m just a blogger who writes about money. I read these words and provide my opinion when readers ask for it. We often correspond multiple times.
After years of reading those letters I felt the need to revisit this topic. I hope that others will stumble upon this new post and find an outlet to express their thoughts and feelings.
Example One: A Tale of Two Siblings
Let’s discuss a hypothetical scenario. Picture two biological sons raised in the same household by the same parents. The first child is a go-getter. He works hard in school, graduates on time and secures a decent job after college.
As the years wear on his salary increases. This sibling earns money and saves. He doesn’t live an extravagant life by any means. He eats at home, drives old cars and vacations close to home.
The second child does not take advantage of his opportunities. He fails out of college and begins working at a lower starting salary than his brother. He burns through money as quickly as he earns it.
When he runs out of cash this sibling is happy to spend his parent’s money. He consistently accepts their handouts and always chooses the pricier options in life. He owns a more expensive car and house and spends freely on extravagant vacations. Over time the parents financial support becomes a crutch to consistently repair bad spending habits and poor life decisions.
Example Two: A Tale of Two Siblings
Now let’s discuss a second scenario. This time picture two biological daughters raised in the same household by the same parents. This time the older child chooses a career in engineering while the other chose a career in teaching. Again the first child can afford the items she desires. The second child cannot.
In this case, should the parents provide financial assistance to the younger sister? Should they buy her sports equipment, summer vacations and a down payment on a house or new car since she cannot afford them?
If you were the parent in these examples would you offer the child with a lower salary financial assistance? Would you answer the same way for Example One as you did for Example Two or did the details of the story cause you to react differently?
Now imagine you are a sibling in these scenarios. How would you feel if your parents provided your brother or sister with a handful of cash, but didn’t offer you any?
Parents Giving More Money To One Child
As a parent would you be willing to give more money to one child than another? If you are willing to offer your adult children money you are not alone. Nearly 75% of parents are helping their children financially.
Many parents provide financial assistance to their adult children, but what happens when gifts aren’t handed out equally? What happens when parents keep giving more money to one child?
The other children eventually grow into angry, frustrated adults. Imagine yourself in the same situation. How would you feel if your parents gave money to one child without ever offering to help you?
The examples above are not fictitious stories. They are real world examples emailed by grown men and women.
Why do readers email me? Because it feels incredibly awkward and strange to discuss this topic in the real world. Admitting that your parents favor one child financially isn’t an easy task. It’s one of those dirty money problems no one wants to talk about. Once you utter this sentiment you can’t take back your words.
Many of my readers feel ashamed and embarrassed. They can’t talk openly for fear that others will judge them or perceive them as being greedy.
When they discuss the situation in real life friends tell them to keep their nose out of their parent’s business.
“You have everything you need,” their friend’s tell them. “Why are you asking for equality? Things aren’t equal now. You can pay for your own stuff. Why do you care if your parents give more money to one child? Why do you want more?”
Some you will agree with those sentiments. You are reading this post thinking “get over it” or “stop complaining” or quite frankly “it’s the parents money they can do whatever they want with it.” If you have those feelings you were probably raised in a balanced family where you felt appreciated and loved.
I have never dealt with financial inequality in my own family, but I have witnessed it many times through extended family members and friends. In all of those cases the favoritism was extensive. Parents didn’t just give one sibling more money. They gave more love and attention too.
Sibling Financial Favoritism
Financial favoritism occurs when parents provide unequal financial gifts to their children. Giving more money to one child may seem like a monetary issue, but favoring one child financially is often about more than math.
The hard working siblings in these relationships often talk about money, balance ledgers, inheritances, wills and other financial jargon, which makes them appear greedy and selfish, but in reality this isn’t about money. Complex family dynamics create a wide range of emotions including anger, sadness and distress.
In many cases the pain extends back through childhood. It involves sibling rivalries that began when they were small. It stems from the belief that their parents love their sibling more. As kids they measure their parents affection in hugs and kisses. As adults they begin to equate money with love. The idea of sibling financial favoritism weighs heavily upon them. It occupies their thoughts and leaves them feeling hurt and unloved.
Some of you are wondering, “Why would the successful sibling feel jealous of financial inequality? If the child is financially stable why would they care if their parent’s give more money to one child?”
The reasons are complex.
Helping One Child
Here is an example: One reader spoke at length about wanting to become an artist. Although she dreamed of creating art she choose a job as an accountant. She selected a stable, well paid profession so she wouldn’t have to worry about paying her bills.
In contrast, her sister studied writing and dreamed of becoming a novelist. While she wrote books her parents paid for her food and housing.
The ‘successful’ sibling was miserable. What would her life be like if she had pursued her passion? If she knew her parents would foot the bill she would have chosen a different profession just like her sister.
She was successful but miserable. The ability to pay her bills did not leave her feeling happy and fulfilled.
The same goes for many other readers who talk about working at jobs they hate while their siblings work in fulfilling careers. They trudge off to work, while their lower paid siblings live off their parents subsidies.
These readers feel less love from their parents. If they quit their jobs would their parents support them? Most of the people who write to me believe their parents wouldn’t give them a dime.
Sometimes parents gravitate towards children whose temperaments, behaviors, physical attributes and personalities are similar to their own. Other times they side with a child who is easy to get along with or one who can be easily manipulated and controlled. No matter the reason favoritism hurts and watching a parent favor one child over another can lead to lifelong resentment and pain.
When parents favor one child financially these feelings intensify. Sibling financial favoritism destroys relationships between family members. It’s incredibly difficult to watch a sibling get more love, attention and financial rewards too.
Complex Feelings: Jealousy, Sadness and Anger
It’s hard to stand idly by while a sibling continually receives handouts. Will your sibling ever stop spending your parents money? Will he or she ever stop accessing the bank of Mom and Dad?
It makes some adult children cry out, “It’s not fair!” Sure we all know life isn’t fair, but when the inequality stems from within the family unit it can be harder to bear.
Some of my readers are mistaken for being greedy. One reader said she didn’t really want the money. She wanted her family to recognize that she didn’t have an amazing life. Her parents kept telling her she had everything and to feel grateful, but she was horribly unhappy in her stable job.
She said, “My sister has it so easy. She works in a job she loves and my parents foot the other bills. In the mean time I stare miserably at the side of a cubicle all afternoon. I’m stuck in a job I don’t love.”
Defining and Judging Needs
Many of the readers who write to me live within their means. They carefully weigh their wants and needs. Many of them drive old cars and live in smaller houses while they watch their parents pay for new cars or bigger homes for their siblings.
They tell me their siblings convince their parents they need expensive sporting equipment or pricey sleep away camps for their children, while the more disciplined siblings buy used products and forgo camp for their kids.
Their definition of the term ‘needs’ differs greatly from their siblings and their parents. They want their parents to say, “no, you don’t need that pricey stuff’ and they feel hurt when that doesn’t happen.
Parents Financially Support Sibling
I have not experienced financial inequality from my own parents, but I have witnessed it many times via extended family members.
Conflict seems to arise when one sibling perceives the other as not trying hard enough in life. Readers say things like: If I work hard, stay on track and save my money I can afford a house in a nice community. If my sibling does not do these things does he ‘deserve’ the same life that I live? Do we not make choices in our life and have to live by the choices we made? What about the sacrifices I have made to achieve my goals?
If I choose to become a software engineer than I may earn a lot, but I might not enjoy my job. In that case money wins over enjoyment. If my sibling chooses to become an artist she may love her job but not be able to afford a house in a nice community.
I believe resentment grows when a sibling sees his or her counterpart getting the best of both worlds; a life they enjoy and financial success (in the form of money from their parents). The bitterness blooms when one sibling has to forge his own path in life while simultaneously watching his parents financially support a sibling.
Similarly if a child goes through his late teens and early twenties enjoying life and running up debt, while another sibling settles into a career and starts working, is it really fair to even the financial score.
That sibling had the time of his life and ends up right on track with his sibling who had to work hard. Many readers are resentful of their siblings. “I didn’t enjoy the last ten years the way my sibling did and now we are on equal ground.”
How to Deal with Financial Unfairness from Parents
How do you deal with unequal financial support from your parents? Do they divide their money in a way that feels unfair and unjustified? How do you handle their financial favoritism?
First, ask yourself what bothers you about your parents decision to give more money to your sibling? Is it really about the money or is there something deeper to explore? Why are you upset about your parents decision to provide unequal financial gifts to your siblings? Have you always felt less important than your sibling? Have your parents always treated your brother or sister differently? Do you think your parents love your sibling more than you?
What can you do in these types of situations? How can you deal with financial unfairness from your parents? First, try to accept your feelings. It’s easy for outsiders to say, “I wouldn’t be upset or feel angry.” Good for them. They are not you. You have a right to feel unhappy about the situation. Don’t let anyone shame you for the way you feel. Recognize the complex emotions for what they are rather than what others tell you they should be.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to change the situation. Most of the time you have to accept it for what it is without letting your negative feelings overwhelm you.
If your parents give more money to your sibling they will probably continue to do so. Unfortunately, once your brother or sister accepts your parents handouts he or she will continue to ask for more. It’s incredibly difficult to break the circle of dependency once it begins.
If you are able to pay your bills then the good news is that you don’t need your parents money. You made it on your own.
You can count the blessings in your life and focus on the positive things that surround you. Do you have a good relationship with your spouse or significant other? Are the people in your life healthy and strong?
How to Deal With Parents Who Favor Your Sibling
If you are struggling to cope with your emotions consider seeking advice from a trained therapist or counselor. Professionals can provide tools and techniques to help you deal with parental favoritism.
It’s not easy to deal with parents who favor one child over another. It may be difficult to watch your parents provide hand outs on a routine basis. Pain and resentment often grow with each passing gift.
Bitter feelings often arise when parents become a crutch for a sibling’s bad behavior. The angriest letters come from readers whose parents financially support a sibling. A little money here or there seems reasonable, but when the sibling can no longer survive without those hand outs the anger builds. Readers become downright irate at the thought of their siblings spending their parents hard earned money.
In these situations it’s important to keep a calm mind and clear head. Make certain to take deep breaths and reflect deeply on your thoughts and feelings before talking to any members of your family. Remember that your words and actions may impact your future relationships. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it should not be taken lightly either. Make sure you can discuss the subject matter calmly and rationally if you do choose to speak up.
I know that this won’t make up for the injustice you feel, but the truth is you have little to no say in the matter. If your brother or sister is willing to put his or her hand out for money your parents will continue supplying them with gifts. This will probably continue for most if not all of their adult life. Since the situation is unlikely to go away your best option is to do your best to look beyond it.
If you are unhappy with your current life search for ways to make it better. Learn about financial independence and strive to pursue your goals independently.
Sibling Spending Your Parents Money
How do you deal with financial unfairness? What can you do when you feel less supported by your parents than your siblings? How do you come to terms with parents who don’t treat each child equally?
I don’t have all of the answers. They depend on your family dynamic, your ability to speak openly with your parents and your belief that things could change.
Although it’s little consolation I do know that this family situation will provide you with incredible resilience. As your parents support your sibling they weaken his or her resolve. Over time it will become extremely difficult for your brother or sister to grow strong and capable. With each financial handout your parents destroy your sibling’s desire to work and succeed. Over time a dependency forms that cannot be broken.
You, on the other hand, have no choice but to make it on your own. So you will dig deep within yourself to achieve greatness. In many cases you will become more successful in life than your favored sibling. You will end up with more friends and deeper relationships outside of your family. Determined to be a success you will strive for feats your sibling will never take on.
It’s easy to become weak when you don’t have to work hard to achieve financial success on your own. Look the other way when your parents support your sibling financially. Be thankful that you can find the will and determination to successfully stand on your own.
Take Pride in Your Success
Be thankful for all that you have accomplished in life. Look around at your successes, write them down and read that list to yourself regularly. You are in control of your life and your finances. Pat yourself on the back for that, because many people are not in the same situation.
Recognize that your parents may continue to enable your sibling. As a result your brother or sister may continue to make the wrong choices and to act carelessly at times. Talk to them if you feel it will help, but approach your conversation carefully. Recognize in most instances they don’t want your advice and most likely won’t change their ways.
Accept the discrepancies. In all likelihood your parents will not be able to even the score. Your parents are probably not keeping a ledger of payments and in reality they may not be able to ‘even the score.’ Don’t keep a scorecard or lay your hopes on receiving more money upon their death. That’s just creepy, plus for all you know they will outlive you. Don’t waste your time on this Earth waiting to see what happens when someone dies. Make peace with the situation as it stands right now!
I realize this is all easier said then done. Believe me, I do, but in time it does get better if you change your frame of mind. Once you know you can’t do anything about it you can stop carrying the bitterness around with you.
Sibling Harmony and Balance
I hope to provide equal gifts to my own children, but as they are only four and seven I really have no idea what their lives will entail. I plan to talk to them about financial decisions. My goal is to avoid hurt feelings and pain. I hope to openly discuss our thoughts and ensure that communication remains open as much as possible along the way.
My mom served as a great example for me. She tried her best to create harmony in our family. As children neither of us suffered from emotional or physical hardships, which certainly made it easier to balance our needs.
Still I don’t want to diminish my mom’s efforts. She split her time, attention, love and money equally. As a mom of two children I know that’s harder to accomplish than it sounds.
Unfortunately, this balance isn’t always easy to achieve. Family dynamics are complicated and unresolved conflicts between siblings and parents can fester and grow well into adulthood. Add in the additional complexity of money and the lines between love and loved ones can easily blur.
Sibling Balance: My Story
My own memory of familial balance came at the age of four or five.
“Am I your favorite?,” I asked my mom as I climbed into her lap just before bedtime. I was sleepy from a long day of activities and in need of extra reassurance and love.
My mom’s expression grew soft. I paused quietly so she could answer. She looked down at me with her big brown eyes, pulled the hair away from my brow and spoke without hesitation. She didn’t have to ponder the question or think of an appropriate answer. “You know I love you and your brother equally,” she said. Her response felt like a simple fact; a truth that cannot be denied.
She gently cusped my face within her hands and planted a kiss upon my forehead. In that moment I wholeheartedly believed her. To this day I still do.
I hope one day my children can say the same. I know we all do.