Unequal Gift Giving and Financial Handouts

unequal gift giving

I want to thank all of the readers who left comments on last week’s posts: What Do You Think: Unequal Financial Handouts From Parents and Unequal Financial: Handouts Would You Turn Down a Gift From Your Parents? I appreciate the honesty and sincerity in your words.

Before closing this topic, I wanted to leave a few last remarks. First, I’ve never dealt with financial inequality in my own family. For the most part, my parents treat my brother and me equally. If my mom buys something for me, she makes every effort to purchase a gift of equal value for my brother or his family. 

There is only one time in my life that I can remember my parents not evening the score. They once paid for gutter covers for my brother’s house but did not offer my husband and me any money in return. 

When I brought the inequality to my parents’ attention (I only mentioned it because the discrepancy had gotten into my husband’s craw), they offered to write me a check for the same amount of money. (I did not take them up on that offer.)

My brother and I hold/held down high-paying technical jobs and are both careful with money. Thankfully neither one of us has ever needed to rely on my parents. 

When we were growing up, my father stressed the importance of a college education. My parents paid for our college expenses. Once we received our diplomas, we would be on our own.

As for my immediate family, I have only one child, so I cannot comment on financial equality among children in my household. Though I hope I would always be fair, I’m sure that many other parents who mistreat their children once believed the same thing. Wouldn’t we want everyone to be treated equally in an ideal world?

Unequal Gift Giving

Although I haven’t dealt with financial inequality in my own life, I have witnessed it with other family members. Regardless of the reason for unequal financial handouts, the result is usually the same: someone gets hurt.

No matter how strong and capable you are, it can be challenging to watch a sibling receive financial handouts from your parents, especially when that sibling does not appear to work as hard or focus on saving as much as you do.

There is nothing worse than seeing a loved one hurt by their family members. Parents may feel that they are simply providing more money to one of their children, but in reality, the other child feels unappreciated and unloved.

In my heart, I like to believe that most parents do not willingly hurt their children. I like to think parents don’t understand how their children perceive unequal gifts. I hope that they want the best for all of their children, not just the one who is always holding a hand out for them to fill.

Am I being naive? Perhaps parents know what they are doing and proceed, knowing that one of their children will be hurt. Maybe they think their other child is strong enough to handle their decisions. Perhaps they don’t care.

Gifting Money to Siblings

From what I’ve seen in families where financial inequality exists, there is also a lack of communication among family members. The golden child continues to receive handouts while the other child sits by, unable to speak up about the situation.

Of course, in these situations, communication may not matter. When broaching the subject, parents often have one reason or another to continue favoring a child. While parents try to legitimize their actions, the other child may hear nothing but excuses.

The best course of action in this situation is to try and release the bitterness you feel. You have to accept the case for what it is and try not to let the negative feelings overwhelm you. 

You have no control over the way your parents dole out their money, so your best action is not to brood over their unfair treatment.

Unequal Financial Handouts and Bitterness

If you are successful, 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 surrounding you. Do you have a good relationship with your spouse or significant other? Are the people in your life healthy and strong?

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 their hand out for money, your parents will continue supplying them with gifts. 

These behaviors will probably continue for most if not all of their adult lives. Since the situation is unlikely to go away, your best option is to relax, breathe and do your best to look beyond it.

I realize this is all easier said than done, but in time it does get better if you change your frame of mind about it. I am thankful that we do not need the support of other family members. 

It doesn’t make their actions right, but it does feel good knowing that we don’t need to rely on anyone other than ourselves. These days I’ve changed my perspective on the topic of unequal financial gifts from family members. 

I know I can’t do anything about it. As a result, I’ve decided not to carry all of that bitterness around with me anymore.

12 thoughts on “Unequal Gift Giving and Financial Handouts”

  1. How were you able to let the bitterness go? I have a similar situation in my own family – my husbands brother and his brothers wife constantly have their hands out to my in-laws, who don’t want to enable them but fear getting cut off from their grandkids so they keep handing over money. My SIL doesn’t work and openly brags about how the money she does have she spends on things she wants, like coach purses, since all the necessities are covered by the in-laws. It kills me, mainly b/c my in-laws are delaying retirement b/c of this, and also b/c I fear I will be left picking up the tab for both my in-laws and my brother-in-laws family if my in-laws run out of money.

    • Thanks for your comment Jenn. It has been a very long process in letting go. I’d like to say I meditated and prayed on it. I took long walks and thought about all that was good in my life and decided not to waste energy on things that couldn’t be changed. I have a good life though, so it’s easier to turn the other cheek most of the time. Have you (or your husband) ever spoken to your fears to your in-laws? I have had a few discussions w/ mine and although I do not agree with their ideas it did make me feel good knowing that at least a few words were said about the situation. It was killing me pretending like the problem wasn’t occurring. They continue to do whatever they want, but at least they know we are aware of their actions. In my case my in-laws have a lot of money so I don’t have the same fears you do. If you can talk to them you probably should. Just make sure you come from a place of concern not jealousy. That’ll allow you to open the discussion without people closing down.

      • I totally missed that you had responded! We did talk to my husbands parents once and they did tell us that they feel they have enough set aside for retirement and that we don’t have to worry, but the amount of worried money talk I hear in regards to them supporting my husbands brothers family makes me worry that that is not really the case. They definitely think their son and daughter in law need to get their act together, but hold back on saying or doing anything to upset them (including stopping the handouts) for fear of being cut off from the grandkids (ages 4 and 6). My MIL has even cried and told me that she knows that at some point what she gives them financially won’t be enough and she’ll lose the relationship at some point, but isn’t ready for it to happen now. The whole situation is both frustrating and heartbreaking at the same time.

  2. Interesting. I have a different perspective- My spouse and I have a very stable financial situation and my sister is really struggling. Has she made some mistakes? Absolutely.
    However I absolutely do not begrudge my sister the money they give her for some necessities. For me, I am greatful that our parents are still alive and can help her and her family through their struggles – otherwise I would worry for them more than I otherwise do.
    My question to people would be the other side: if you and spouse are financialy in a good place and your parents have had a tighter financial situation, would it be appropriate for the kids to help THEM out (small trip, etc).
    We felt very fortunate that we could send my inlaws on a cruise. They are on a tight budget and it would not be possible for them otherwise.

    • You have a great attitude towards your sister and her needs. Do your parents offer to help her or does she ask to be helped?

      I think your question about providing gifts to the previous generation is an interesting one. If you have the money and want to share it with your in-laws I think that’s great. If they appreciate and your own parents were not upset by your action then I say kudos for thinking of them!

  3. On the flip side, my husband and I are super generous with one set of in-laws and not so much with the other set. We carry the cell phone, bought a house for one set of parents to help them as they are much older and less financially able. Your blog brings up a good point and I wonder if the other set of parents who also live on a fixed income are jealous.

    • I think there is a lot of unspoken jealousy between family members when unequal gifts are provided. Of course, it also depends on your parents attitude about these types of things. If they don’t need the money and think the other family deserves the gifts you offer then there is no problem. I find it interesting that families rarely discuss these types of gifts among one another. You never know when someone is harboring resentment.

  4. My perspective on this seems to be different than the others I’ve seen. I can’t imagine questioning my parents on how they choose to spend the money they’ve worked hard to earn. I know my parents don’t love me less (or more) than my siblings, and I know that they’ve provided for each of us in different amounts and different ways when we’ve NEEDED it. I know if I have a need and they can address it, they will. I don’t feel like I have a right to expect any financial support from them, so when I do receive something, I feel gratitude. When my siblings receive something (if I even know about it), I assume my parents have given what the sibling needs and what my parents feel is appropriate. My sisters and I all married civilians who joined the military. We have sometimes lived with them when our spouses were deployed, they have given one sibling a car, and they helped my brother with his wedding. None of the four of us has asked for equal treatment, because we have no right to judge our parents in that way. My parents love me dearly, but I can just imagine them telling me exactly how much of my business their money is if I questioned them about something financial they did for one of my siblings!

  5. As a parent that has given unequal financial help. It was given on what was affordable on my salary. Help was given on what was perceived that the child needed, e.g. help with college costs (increasing yearly) at the same time being frugal in other areas. The older siblings questioned me about the classes their younger sibling was taking. l offered to pay for the same classes today for them; but they declined. At heart, kids will be kids no matter how old they maybe. My children might not realize this: I love each child for being him or herself and their uniqueness; I do not love any child more or less. Who said life was fair, this is truly hard to achieve in this world as every parent knows.

  6. As a parent, my money is mine to choose how to use it.
    Children are not clones of the other. Children regardless of age have different strengths and weaknesses.
    Each child should be treated as the individual they are.
    I would be disappointed if I was questioned on how I choose to spend my money. I would also feel as though my adult children were being childish if they felt “sour grapes” , resentment, or jealousy. I would have even more difficulty with a son in law or daughter in law feeling jealous because of a how my money was spent on one not the other. I earned it and I will choose how to spend it. I’m not keeping score and I don’t want someone keeping score especially if they are expecting me to even it in their favor. Ugh.

  7. I think the key to letting go is internalizing the lesson that you can’t change people and you can’t live their lives for them or make them do what you wish they would. No matter how much your wish you could! My relatives will continue to live off my grandparents generosity and my grandparents will continue to let them, to their own detriment. There is absolutely nothing i can do to change that.

  8. My situation is very different.

    I have always been the responsible child in the family. Still, there have been times when I struggled.

    I once asked my parents to co-sign a loan. They refused saying it would not be fair to my brother and sister. I was okay with that, at the time.

    However, when my brother and sister, both NOT responsible types, asked them for large amounts of money, not just to co-sign a loan, but a gift of money, my parents always gave it to them.

    It is very hurtful and feels unloving.

    I know it is their money, but if you love your children equally, a parent should show treating the children equally with gifting money or giving loans or co-signing one.

    My mother gave my sister an large sum of money to buy a house with the caveat that she and my dad would live in the basement apartment.

    However, my irresponsible sister never allowed them to move in, allowing her in-law to move in instead.

    She also had money for a weeks vacation to Europe, but never offered to pay back my parents, instead of taking a vacation.

    This upset my parents, greatly. They said they felt hurt an unloved and second best.

    Oh well, karma, perhaps.


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