How to Deal with Financial Unfairness From Parents

My fingers are hovering above the keyboard. I write a sentence then delete it. Type a paragraph and then make it disappear. I have thoughts swirling in my head but can’t seem to line them up in an orderly fashion.

I’m struggling with a philosophical question that has plagued me for well over a decade. Is it wise for parents to provide financial assistance to their adult children and if so is it okay for them to do so in an unequal fashion? Now I’m not talking about health issues that would result in one child needing more money for therapy or daily living. I’m talking about a family with two children who have similar capabilities and intelligence.

One child is a ‘go-getter.’ He worked hard in college and graduated with high honors. Before graduating he was offered a job at a company he worked for in college. His skills and knowledge from schoolwork and internships led to a high starting salary. As the years progressed his wages also rose. He took greater risks in his career by becoming an employee of smaller companies where he could learn aspects of running a business. He proved himself in the industry and ultimately formed his own company.

The other child did not take advantage of his opportunities. He failed out of college. Without a degree he started working at a much lower salary than his brother.

The good news is that the past is the past. It has been many years since the second child failed out of school. He has been working in the industry for quite some time now and earns close to six figures and well over $200,000 as a family.

The ‘go getter’ brother earns a solid income, but he is also wise with his money. He began investing in his 401(k) a year out of college, he drives old cars, he doesn’t spend money recklessly and he saves for both short and long term goals.

As a result he has been able to buy a primary house and a beach home. He paid for both houses with money that he and his spouse earned from their day jobs. (I should note that he purchased these homes at quite a young age and was making less per year than the second sibling currently earns.) He still has mortgages on both properties.

The second brother could not afford a house at this point in time, but his parents have offered to buy him one. The house would be his free and clear, but the parents would still make all decisions regarding the home and the contents that reside within it. In other words the brother will not have to pay to fix a broken refrigerator, figure out what type of couch to buy or determine when mattresses get replaced, but it will be paid in full and he would not pay a mortgage, property tax or homeowners insurance in order to use it.

So my question is this: Do you think the parents should give the house free and clear to the second brother?

I have actually changed my thoughts on this subject more times then I can count. On one hand I realize that the go getter’s life will not change on account of his brother receiving a house. He paid the mortgage last month and and will continue paying it next month. His brother’s windfall will bear no financial impact upon him.

However I wonder if a sense of resentment will not build over time for all that his sibling has been given. After all, imagine that you are paying a monthly mortgage payment, homeowners insurance, maintenance fees, property tax, etc, while your brother gets to enjoy his home free and clear. Without a $3000 mortgage payment think of all the money your sibling can save towards other things or spend how he chooses.

On the other hand you earned all that you own. There is a deep sense of pride in choosing which house you want to live in, picking out the furniture and yes even paying the mortgage. Certainly there is a greater sense of accomplishment. After all, no one handed you the keys to your home, you ran the numbers, arranged financing and managed to pay the bills and even reduce the mortgage term down to ten years.

So what do you think? Do you think it’s okay for parents to provide more financially for one sibling than they do for another? In this scenario do you think you would feel resentment towards your brother, ambivalence or perhaps pity for a sibling who willingly takes his parent’s handouts? Keep in mind that the second child is not in dire need of money. In fact he is now earning more than the first child was when he bought his first two homes.

Initially I was a bit turned off by the inequality of this idea, but as time passes I no longer have such strong feelings about it. I do not believe I would do the same as these parents, but my heart is warming to their reasons for doing it. If you have thoughts on the subject please leave a comment! I will write more on the subject but I don’t want to sway anyone’s thoughts more than I already have.

An Update: Parents Who Play Financial Favorites

These are complex topics that stir up a lot of emotions and heartache. Since the creation of this original post I’ve had a lot of time to ponder these questions. I’ve also corresponded with many readers struggling with sibling financial favoritism. Readers who want to know how to deal with financial unfairness from parents as well as parents who play financial favorites. If you want to learn more read my updated post: Financial Favoritism: Favoring One Child Financially.

Financial Favoritism: Giving More Money to One Child

31 thoughts on “How to Deal with Financial Unfairness From Parents”

  1. I believe you hit the nail on the head with this statement “keeping it in silence has made me angry with him, and our relationship is deteriorating.” In my experience it is the feeling that everyone is doing something behind your back that is almost more hurtful than having them say “hey I gave your brother more.” And even if your parents tell you upfront the silence between siblings usually continues as the more successful sibling knows there isn’t much they can say to the one who continues to suckle. Thank you for your comment.

  2. We all know that the world is not fair, but we expect our parents to be. When they aren’t it’s not because of some cosmic fluke, it’s because they chose, with their eyes wide open, to be unfair. That cuts right to the bone.

    My entire life has been one of being given less so my brother could have more. He was a miserable, howling child who measured his life by having more that what someone else got. If someone he knew got something new, he was a screaming monster until he had something that was even better. To shut him up, to appease his insatiable appetite to have more, my mother used me as the measuring stick. See, we will give you more than we have given your sister, aren’t you happy now? Don’t you feel how much we love you? We are wiling to cheat her to please you. I was the sacrificial child.

    I know this sounds dramatic, but it starts small and grows over a lifetime. A typical example was mom would give each of us $1 to go shopping., I would keep my dollar, brother would buy a toy. Later he would howl that it was not fair that I had a dollar and he didn’t. In my mind there was only one correct response: to drop his drawers and whip his greedy backside OR take him to return his toy and get his dollar back. But what my mother did was give him another dollar and say, there, now you’re equal, you both have a dollar. She glossed over the fact that he now has twice as much as me. Nothing equal about it. My brother’s greed was abuse, pure and simple. Her job was to protect me from it, to keep me safe and she never did. He was a predator, still is, with her helping him every step of the way. My brother and I do not speak. Not for years. My mother set that up, she built that wall of resentment with her own two hands.

    I feel parents should be able to help their kids with resources, with raw materials, and do so in equal measure. If you cannot afford to give equally to ALL your children, then don’t give to any at all. To me the level playing field is giving all kids an equal chance upfront, everyone gets an education, let’s say. What they do with it after that, is up to them. Or give everyone the same amount of cash and how they invest it, or spend it, is up to them. But to run in later to ‘make things even’ is a direct punishment to those who make good choices and a reward to those who maybe squander, linger and waste.

    In my opinion, the only way the parents can deal with this beach house issue. if they feel they must make the 2nd child equal with the other, is to allow him the USE of the second home, but not ownership. Upon death of both parents, when the estate is being divided, the beach house is to be sold and the proceeds split, taking into account that the second child had many years of free use and the other child should be compensated accordingly and then the remainder split. I think that makes it an easier pill to swallow. That one day there will be a balancing of the books and recognition that one was given the temporary use of more family resources, but not forever.

    Financial favoritism is like feeding one baby bird in a nest while starving the other. Sure, the other eventually goes off on its own and learns to fly and survive. But the question is, why would that bird every return to a nest that was willing to crowd it out to give more to the other bird? Parents need to realize that this alienates their children, breeds resentment and destroys relationships. I am shocked at how many parents are stupid to this truth.

    • I can SO relate to you!!! I have a greedy, entitled, narcissistic sister who has never been happy unless she has MORE than I have. She has always been my mother’s favorite golden child, showered with expensive gifts, dinners out with her kids, money. My mother won’t even loan me $50 in an emergency. I was once in danger of becoming homeless and my mother refused to help me. At Christmas my mother paid for my sister’s entire family’s presents but gave my husband and me a $50 gift card to share. (She is quite well off and my sister’s gifts were worth thousands). When she died, I saw her checkbooks and added up the several thousands of dollars she had given my sister. She left me a $5,000 life insurance policy. My sister complained about how unfair it was. She had also gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets from our father (he gave me $5000) and she complained to me that he had given me $5000. She literally felt entitled to all of their money. It was as if she felt like I had taken HER money! My father had paid for her kids’ trips to Europe, their cars, college education, ballet lessons, gymnastics lessons, private school, braces, etc. When we were kids, my mother would come home from the grocery store with a tub of ice cream and chocolate syrup just for her. Is it any wonder she became such an entitled asshole?

  3. I have been the sibling that always got screwed. My brother lived at home rent free until he was 35; I left home when I was 17. I bought a house at 29 with no help. My husband and I have no children; my brother and his wife have 2. My parents have set up college funds for them and put significant money away for them. They have helped furnish my brother’s house and helped him financially- not including supporting him for 35 years.

    I on the other hand get nothing. Not even a helping hand to help pay our way out to attend my mothers funeral last month which cost us $5,300. When I asked my dad (who is a man of a lot of means) to help out with just the hotel bill he flat out refused me and said I should pay for the whole thing because it was for my mother. That hurt a lot. Especially when he took my mother’s savings account that had $8,000 in it and split it between the two grandchildren and not her own children.

    Is it me or is this crazy? Has anyone else has this done to them?

    • This post is a few years old, but I’ve received a lot of direct emails and comments on it since it’s creation. It seems a lot of folks struggle with this inequality in their relationships with their parents.

      I am sorry that you feel your situation is unfair. While I have never personally lived with this I have witnessed it many times throughout my lifetime with friends and close family members. At the end of the day it often boils down to feeling unloved or at the very least less-loved by your parents. And let’s face it no one wants to feel that way.

      Please take my words with a grain of salt. I am not a therapist or counselor, but I can tell you that from what I’ve seen things rarely change in these types of situations. Parents rarely see an error in their ways and even if they do see the issue they are unlikely to change the pattern they established so long ago. The best course of action is often just to accept the situation. To make the best of your relationship while knowing that this will most likely never get rectified. Some people can look past this and continue the relationship and others move on from it.

      I have known parents who skipped siblings and provided gifts directly to grandchildren. As a parent myself I would not do this, but I think it is not as uncommon as you think. That doesn’t make it right, but sometimes misery loves company, so it might make you feel better to know there are others in a similar boats.

      I’m sorry I cannot provide more helpful guidance. I don’t know you but I am sure you are a lovely person. Try not to let your parents attitude and actions get you down.

      Wishing you all the best!

      • Thank you. I told my father, who abandoned me at the age of 2 and never paid child support but came back into my life in adulthood and then spoiled my sister’s kids, how hurtful it is but he doesn’t care. My sister’s kids are adults, too, but he gives them money to travel to Europe, buy cars, live luxurious lifestyles. I mean nothing to him and I just have to accept that. It’s a painful reality. The unfortunate thing is that he isn’t wealthy and he’s spending his entire retirement funds to buy their love. If his health declines he’s going to be in trouble.

  4. I am the in-law. My husband and I worked hard, saved money, stay married and have a comfortable retirement. we moved out of state which helped us with job security and promotions. My in laws were always helpful with college savings for our children, and they are truly wonderful kids. My husband was very good about doing athletics with them. However, I handled the school and homework while working full time and it was hard. They had their struggles with dyslexia but went on to college and have satisfying jobs. So we have a good life. The kids both worked jobs while in college. They graduated tuition free while mostly living at home to cut costs. My sister in law was always referred to as being really smart, and was sent to parochial school all the way. She got pregnant at 19, married and had the baby, while they both finished college and her husband joined the military. My in laws supplementing all the cost giving them money for vehicles, Christmas and for vacations. Always saying they were loans but admitting they never get paid back They went ahead and had a second child.. My sister in law decided to divorce stating the husband did not feel his job was as satisfying. She always claimed to be smarter than him and went back to get an Engineering degree with the in laws covering the cost. They also housed the two kids off and on as they went off to college and the parents had the wedding anulled, and the parents paying for it and the divorce. And the kids were also highly smart as well. She got remarried in the church to a man we all admire and like and they rather wealthy. The ex husband was very well liked and got along with the children quite well., most of the time better that the sister in law. The son did have some jobs through school, not sure on the daughter. One is a they are both dentist., I am certain with the cost being mostly covered by the grandparents.. They are both very nice kids., and costs obviously covered by the in law grandparents. Honestly, had I known the in laws had the money for all these educations I may have pushed my kids other ways. My son at one time wanted to go to photography school in California but it was a small fortune. Also, I am sure the grandparents would have looked at that as like and art degree, not becoming an M.D. Of course it was never my place to ask,. The sister in law can be quite condenscending and makes insensitive comments about people who don’t finish college etc….even made a comment about my son at one time. When we go to visit the in laws in senior care it is wall to wall pictures of the sister in law and her family. One or two of our kids when they were quite small. Really? Oh, but they love everyone the same. One time my mother in law said to give things equally so people are not punished for their success. When the sister needed money it was because they didn’t make much but when she made far above us then it was a different story, I never knew what the real truth was about when money got handed out. I really preferred to stay out of it but because of our kids, they deserve to be treated equal. When we purchased one of our first houses, I guess because it was a 4 bedroom My father in law complained it was a big house. It is like can’t they be happy and excited for us? But of course it was always different with the sister in law. I just think it is messed up how they handled the whole thing. My husband had also gone through quite a few medical procedures which can be stressful. You are so right, my husbands parents never saw this error and the others just seemed to be entitled to get more from them. I just think it is messed up and looking back it is easy to see. When we were all busy working and raising our boys I didn’t piece it together like I can now. It is just messed up.

  5. Just discovering this article and my situation is similar in some ways. My older brother is the go-getter – married, has 2 children. He’s smart with his money. I on the other hand, had a rough start to adulthood, but eventually found my footing. Graduated college, struggled in low paying job for quite some time. While I was struggling, I was living in a shack-like apartment owned by a dear friend who charged minimal rent, while working 60+hrs a week for very low pay. My brother on the other hand was given a down payment for an apartment for him and his wife to purchase. Eventually they had their first child, and with that came my father giving my brother his very nice, new, large SUV for traveling with the baby. Additionally, he gave a large sum of cash to start a college fund. Then came baby #2. Again, father gifted them his new SUV he bought to replace the one he’d given them previously & gave a hefty check to jump start baby #2’s college fund. My father also bought the home my brother and his family live in & pays the taxes associated with the home; my brother pays for utilities only. Now, he writes a check every Christmas for his grandchildren’s college fund, pays for their private school education, reimburses them for any travel when they choose to visit my parents. My brother has a very successful career, has always made good money & been great about saving it, yet he received all the additional help he can get. My brother decided a few years ago, to open a business and asked my father for $75k. My father wrote the check. That business failed unfortunately, and from what i’m told, the money was never paid back to my father. To clear his conscious, my father wrote me a check for equal amount, regardless of my insisting that he not. Unfair to be out double the amount originally loaned.

    Meanwhile, i’m single, not married, no children, and I live in a studio apartment, in which I pay $30k/year in living expenses. My father did help me years ago by buying my vehicle, which is now about 8yrs old; i’m extremely grateful for this gift – At that time I wasn’t as financially secure as I am now. He also reimburses my health care premiums – this was something he started doing when I was struggling financially & couldn’t afford healthcare, and has continued to do it. 10yrs ago he agreed to offer me a downpayment for a home, not purchase, but the down payment, came with conditions & stipulations – ultimately he wanted to control what and where I chose to live. Not something my brother had to deal with. I ultimately rejected his offer to help as a result, and continued to struggle making ends meet on my own, while watching the financial help continue with my brother & his family. Every Christmas, I receive the same amount of money / gift as my brother, his wife, and 2 kids receive. We all 5 receive the same amount of money. I received the same as my sister-in-law. This bothers me still, as much as I wish it didn’t.

    My mother fell ill at one point, and told my father, as she was in the hospital – “Do not let me leave this world without seeing my daughter with a roof of her own, over her head” – and with that, the discussion about purchasing a home again began, only this time, it would not be just the downpayment.

    My mother has always been a stay-at-home mom, my father being the breadwinner, so he makes all the financial decisions for the two of them. I’m not sure what the justifying logic is for my father, or why he can’t see that giving to one child may negatively impact the other. I honestly would be lying if I didn’t say that it affects me deeply. I watch my brother live comfortably, purchase fancy cars for hobby, take family vacations, and can’t help but think how some of these things may not be possible without the financial aid provided by my father. The financial support given to him by my father has afforded him & his family a certain, comfortable lifestyle.

    I wish I didn’t feel the injustice in all of this, but it’s becoming more and more painfully obvious with each passing year.


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