I received an interesting question in response to my recent post on unequal gift giving. A reader emailed me about a situation in which parents provided financial assistance to a child who earned less money than her sibling.
Here is the scenario: The family consisted of two children who were both girls. The older daughter worked as a system administrator. According to the email this sister earned a high salary and was easily able to afford the items she desired. The younger daughter worked as a kindergarten teacher. Salaries were never discussed between the two sisters, but it was assumed that the older daughter earned at least twice as much as the younger one.
The parents routinely provided gifts to the younger daughter who taught elementary school. They paid for smaller items like sports equipment for their grandchildren as well as bigger items like summer vacations and the down payment on a new car.
The younger sister knew the older sister was upset about these gifts but she couldn’t understand why. In her mind her sister was set in life. She earned a lot of money and didn’t need anyone to hand her anything. The email went on to say, “I need the money to pay for sports equipment, cars and summer vacations, my sister doesn’t. So why is she so jealous?”
Based on the short email I received it’s difficult to say just how much financial assistance the younger sister received from her parents. Here are my thoughts based on the information I was given.
Need is an interesting choice of words. The reader says she “needed the money,” but her older sister may beg to differ about that. The older sister may think the younger sister could find used equipment for her children or ask them to play a sport that isn’t so expensive. I wanted to play the piano when I was little, but my parents couldn’t afford one. I played a rusty old, hand-me-down trumpet from my brother instead. This may have harmed me if I had been a musical prodigy, but since I wasn’t I survived just fine.
The reader doesn’t say what type of car she purchased. Her parents may have provided a down payment for a reliable used car or a less expensive sedan. On the other hand, she may have asked her parents to help her with a brand new, luxury model. Is the younger sister driving a nicer car then the sister who pays all of her own bills? The older sister may get jealous when the younger one receives bigger and better toys then she owns. Since the older sister does not receive financial assistance from her parents she only buys what she can afford, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want a nicer, bigger car too.
The reader didn’t mention where she went on vacation. Did her parents pay for a week’s stay at a luxury hotel that included ocean views and spa treatments or did her parents provide $300 for two nights at a nearby hotel? I wonder if the younger sister is taking a nicer vacation then the older sister who has to pay for everything herself.
One thing that should not be overlooked is job satisfaction. The younger sister may love teaching school. She may go to work smiling at the thought of teaching children to count and read. While she earns less per her hour her overall enjoyment and job satisfaction may be leaps and bounds higher than her sister who sits in a cubicle all afternoon.
As the older sister trudges to work each day she may be bitter that she doesn’t enjoy her chosen career. She’d love to quit her job to teach, but she also knows that it can be hard to support her lifestyle on a teacher’s salary. If the older sister quit would her parents support her like they do her younger sibling?
Perhaps the jealousy comes from being stable, following the rules, paying your bills on time and working at a job you don’t enjoy while your sibling works in a fulfilling career and lives a lifestyle that would be unachievable if it was not subsidized by her parents. It is possible that the older sister believes her younger sister should have chosen a higher paying career if she wanted all of the perks that come with having more money.
Of course, it is also possible that sibling rivalry started way back when the two sisters were children. Sometimes children feel that a sibling receives much more love and affection from their parents then they do. When you are a child you may use hugs and kisses as a barometer of your parents love for you. As an adult you may begin using gifts and dollars.
What do you think?