Financial Disputes among Parents & Adult Children
Archived Q&A and Reviews
First, I just want to get a reading on what goes on for the rest of the BPN, and here's my question: How do your childless siblings feel when your parents give money to or for your kids? Do they care? Do they think it's unfair? Do they expect the same amount? How do you feel about it?
My mother loves her only grandchild to pieces, has bought him a piano and paid for lessons, has set up a college fund, and will leave him 20% of her estate (to be handed over when he's 30). All other gifts have been small.
I am a single mother (age 52), make a modest income and have been the sole caretaker of my kid (age 11), and have not asked for financial help from my family, until recently. I will get 40% of my mom's estate when she dies.
My only sibling, a sister (age 50), married at 40 and has a grown step- daughter. My sister is perceived by my mom as not being able to handle her money (she declared bankruptcy in her 30s and cashed out her retirement account), and so she will not receive her 40% of my mom's estate until she is 60 (as a nest egg for her retirement). A few years ago, my sister almost lost her house, and my mother made her a $30K loan with monthly payments that must continue to be paid, even if my mom dies.
Recently some serious and unexpected issues came up with my son that can really only be addressed by private middle school. I had some savings, and we got some financial aid, but with therapy and climbing credit card bills and just regular life, I'm not going to have enough for the last year of school. I was considering selling my house, but my sister pushed me to ask my mom for a $30K loan. I did, but my mom didn't have $30K to loan, but did have $12K to give as a gift to cover tuition.
My sister is FURIOUS. She feels it's unfair that my mother is giving me/my child money for tuition, and she only got a loan: bottom line, our families are not being treated equally. I can see her point, but my mother sees me, my sister, and my child as separate individuals, and sees the $12K as a gift to my kid, not to me. My sister feels I should refuse the money, or at best, only take it as a loan. If I don't, she doesn't want to be part of my life. I'm not capitulating, but I really hate that my sister's cutting me and my child out.
There's so much more background to this story (during our childhood my sister was the identified target for all the family crap, I was always the "good" one, she has regrets about having abortions, resents that my son gets part of my mom's estate...), but I've provided the basic details.
I'd like some honest feedback. I really love my sister, but I actually think she's being selfish, and I can't believe she's taking this stand. Thanks.
Missing my sister
It really interests me that grown children seem to see their parents' money as THEIR money. It's like: ''Hey, I expect to get that money when you kick off, so don't give it to my nephew/bet it on horses/take expensive vacations, etc etc etc'' That money is your mom's money, and treating it like one's due is like taking out an interest in your mom's death. If she wanted to paper her walls with her money, your sister should still butt out. Your mom supported your sister when she was a kid and beyond. That was your sister's ''fair share.'' Everything else is gravy. You asked your mother for a loan, but that wasn't feasible for her. She did what seemed reasonable to her. If your sister doesn't get that, perhaps she should seek therapy. And there is too much information-sharing going on, I think. Why do you and your sister need to kibbitz about how much money mom is giving to each of you. First, you don't have to say anything to your sister about how mom is helping. And if she asks, you could say ''Yes, Mom was kind enough to help with Johnny's school. No, I'm not saying how much or how. It's none of your business.'' 'Cause it's not. A little discretion would go a long way here. not waiting for ''my'' inheritance
My family had some similar issues. All I can is that it is your mother's money--not your sister's, not yours--and she can do whatever the heck she wants with it. You don't need to apologize to your sister. I agree that your mom is helping your kid, which is great. It probably makes her feel really good that she can help out her grandchild when he needs it.
If YOU feel it is unfair, you could address it by having your mother amend her will/trust to deduct whatever she is giving you from your inheritance. So, it is kind of like an advance on your inheritance. But only if you truly feel like the situation is unfair, not because you are letting your sis emotionally blackmail you into it. She needs to deal with her jealously issues.
Give your sister $6000 (or 1/2 of the gift money) from your inheritence when your mother dies. Put it in writing - nothing legal but just to make sure it's clear and that you're both on the same page.
Of course, it's your mother's money and hers to do with as she pleases - a gift to help her grandson. But you said that there is a long history here, your sister was the identified family target and that you and your sister are being treated differently...ouch!
What I'm saying is, try to see if there is a way to even it out a bit - to include your sister in a loving way. jessica
My childless brother-in-law would never exhibits these types of feelings. He thinks of his niece and nephew as his next-generation kids, in a way, and is generous with them, and supportive of my in-laws' generosity. He does not see our kids as pieces of his little brother who should ''share his share'' but rather as additional family members who may receive whatever gifts or support their grandparents choose to give. He understands it is his parents' money to with as they please, but more than that, he likes to see his niece and nephew have the opportunities their grandparents have given them. I guess we're pretty lucky this way, because I can also see a certain logic to your sister's thinking. Merits of the case aside, I do know that letting go of that kind of sibling tit-for-tat / ''no fair!'' thinking is a nice thing to do for oneself as one ages. It's a heavy load to carry around your whole life. I wonder if she'd be open to some counseling? Anon
Wow, your sister got all the ''bad kid'' crap as a child! That is so abusive and sad. I'm sure it became a self fulfilling prophecy and shaped her identity for the rest of her life. Worst of all, at 50 she is still getting that crap from her mother and, it seems, from you.
You, on the other hand, got the ''good child'' benefits. This is not to say that it did not create some real dysfunction for you, but likely a lot less. From your post, it seems that you are still the identified ''good child''.
It sounds totally unfair for you and your child to get these extra benefits from your mother. It sounds like you've gotten this extra care for a long time with lessons and pianos and such. You have allowed yourself to frame your situation as one of a responsible person who has just had some unexpected events and some understandable life bills, but each event that your sister has experienced seems to be tinged with judgement (at least by your mother). You spend down your savings that you were soooo responsible to have collected, but she wantonly misused her retirement!! You have credit card bills due to unavoidable circumstances, but she went bankrupt because she's a careless person. You had a child which you are selflessly raising as loving parent, she aborted her chance at being a parent and only has some random grown step kid.
I realize that I sound harsh and have taken liberties with the story, but it is in an attempt to make a point which otherwise might be rationalized away. I hope that you can consider this possible dynamic despite it being hard to hear. I really think that the unequal mindset ''good kid, bad kid'' is alive and kicking in your family and you have bought into it. No it does not seem fair. anon
Even before you mentioned all the family background at the end of your post, I could really feel for your sister! Logically, your mom considering your kid a separate entity makes sense and I get it. But I think all the family history would be SO PAINFUL to anyone in your sister's position. Because she was the bad one and you the good one, anything borderline interpretable as favorable to you is going to hurt her. Is there any chance to have some family therapy? Would your mother be open to hearing or healing any of this with you and your sister? anon
My first response is to not tell her! It's not her business to know what your mom gives you and your son. And your mom sounds like a smart woman, who is protecting your sister from herself, and her bad-decision making, by putting her 40% away til she's 60 and really needs it. Stick to your guns. Your sister is wrong, and simply jealous. Berkeley mom
Hard to be succinct on this one, but I kind of think your sis is justified in her feelings. Your mother gave you a huge cash gift to be spent on what many would consider a luxury (private school), but she insisted on a loan for your sister for a basic necessity (a roof over her head). I hear you on your sis being financially irresponsible, but your mom needs to treat her offspring equally. Loans for both, or cash gifts for both. I don't think your son should qualify as an equal third party either. anon
It sounds like there is a whole lot going and it's probably difficult to offer good advice. In general I think we should all be thankful if we have parents who both have money and are kind enough to give it to us. Anything I get from my parents I would view as a gift, and if my siblings were to receive more, I don't feel it's my place to be resentful. Particularly if the money was meant for their children.
I know you aren't looking for advice on selling your house, but you did mention at one point it was on the table. Regardless of what you receive from your mother, it may be a good idea to revisit that decision, painful as it may be. This could be a good time to take inventory of what the house still holds for you, what you really need, and what any savings could provide for you and your son in the future, which is what's most important.
Hope this helps some,
My mother who has been generous enough to give each of her grand children $5000/year has decided to stop this practice this year. Being the youngest of four and having children late in life, this has left me at an unfair disadvantage. One sister's kids are well into their 20's ; and my mother has decided to continuing paying for my other nephews private schooling. ( It would not create undue hardship for her to give my daughter what the other grandchildren have/are getting. )
I've been trying to grin and bare or detach from this situation with my mother with little success. She refuses to discuss her decision with me, getting ugly and hanging up the phone on me if I bring it up. To me, it is not just the money (which would be much appreciated), but the fact that she doesn't realize how unjust her decision is and doesn't care about how it makes me feel.
I have continued visiting her with my daughter, but I feel like I am being put in a horrible position. I can either divorce myself from her, which I feel would be harmful to me as well as my daughter. Or I can continue seeing her which always brings up hurt/angry/confused feelings in me. Has anyone been in a similar situation? Did you find anything that worked? anon
Your mom's decision to stop giving her grandchildren money may be based on financial trouble that she doesn't want to talk about (because it's embarassing to her). If not, when you think about it, you're not really entitled to any of her money -- any money she has given your siblings' children was not an entitlement, but a generous gift. Perhaps she feels that you should not have had children so late in life, or perhaps she has rethought her decision to give so much money to her children's children. She has made her decision, and you cannot dissuade her from it. Time to decide to either drop her from her life, or drop the issue from your mind, difficult as it may be.
My children will not know my mother (because she died several years ago), and I would love to be able to have them see her. I would not let any sibling rivalry or problems that I had with her come between her and her grandkids. How would you feel if your mom died suddenly -- would you wish you'd spent more time with her, or would you still just resent her unfair decision? Just my 2 cents' worth. anon
I have never been in your situation in which I was a recipient of such a generous yearly gift to my children. Your mom sounds like a very generous person who shows some of her love and support of family with finances. But, maybe she has a difficult time expressing her hurt to you so pulling out on money gifts is her way of showing her pain and disappointment?
Was there a situation in which you were insensitive, or maybe didn't express thankfullness? Maybe there was something that happened to trigger the ceasing of gifts.
Family love is unconditional...and believe me that can be really challenging! Emotionally divorcing your mom because she isn't giving your children money gifts doesn't seem the the best approach. My mom and I have had our hard times, and she has had some giving issues too -- she will overextend herself in a generous way (usually time or occasional big presents), and when she doesn't feel appreciated *in the way that makes her feel appreciated* she will sometimes get resentful and will bring it up in a tearful way. Maybe you can find out from your other siblings what they have done to show appreciation and thankfullness for the gifts, and that might help? Or you could ask them if the gifts ever stopped with them and if so, why. anon
Move on! Be happy for the gifts your daughter has received and feel blessed, not competitive with your siblings' children. I am struck by your statement that ''this has left me at an unfair disadvantage'' and that you would consider divorcing yourself (and your child) from your mother! This is a decision over which you have no control, and a decision that is completely within your mother's rights to make. It doesn't matter if you perceive her decision as unfair or if you have allowed your feelings to be hurt by this. These were gifts that she made, not entitlements. Please, even though you may not understand it, just let it go and try to accept what is and what you cannot change. Christina
While it is unfortunate that your nieces and nephews will end up with more money than your child, please count your blessings and be happy with what you have. Your mother doesn't owe you anything. Perhaps she had more money then than she has now. Perhaps you are better off financially than her other children and therefore she does not see the need to give your child as much as she gave the others. Perhaps she helps you in ways other than through monetary means. Perhaps she did not realize at first how many grandchildren she would have and at first thought she could afford it and now she cannot. No one is entitled to support from their parents, and I must say, $5000 a year is more than generous and I am sure you will find, much more than the typical grandparent contributes. I have faced a situation identical to yours. My parents have not supported my child financially, while they have financially supported my sister's child quite a bit. It bothered me a lot at first and I had to work through it emotionally. But when I took a step back and looked at it through my parents' eyes, I realized that my sister (a single mom) needed the money a lot more than me. I really hope you do not make the decision to distance yourself from your own mother because of financial issues. She gave birth to you and brought you into this world. That is so much more important than $5000 per year. anon
I have some experience with people who give relatives large amounts of money and it's usually more about power than generosity. Regardless of her intentions, your mother is undermining family relationships by putting a price tag on them. The only ''horrible'' situation she's put you in is to make you feel that you're being ''disadvantaged'' by not getting something free. Or worse, to make you feel you've ''earned'' it by taking all of her BS. Don't go there!
This is a familiar situation to me as my grandmother has been using her money to torture her kids and grandkids as long as I have been alive. She did the same thing to us--officially ending gifts to all of us but in reality, she still paid for the educations, vacations, and other things for my cousins and not for me. This was all to send a message to my mom and really had nothing to do with me--just as it has nothing to do with your child. I will tell you what I told my mom (once I grew up)....it is my mom's perogative to deal with HER relationship with her mother as she saw fit but it was her job as MY mom to protect me from my evil grandmother. She made me visit her, call her, act sweet, etc when my grandmother blantantly treated my cousins better than she treated me. So just make sure that you are protecting your kid from your mom's subtle or not so subtle efforts to slight him/her--that your mom may be using as a way to punish you. Elizabeth
I remember when my grandmother stopped sending checks to us as kids, and when I asked my mother if she knew why, she said ''I told her to, because you kids never sent her thank you cards.'' (Oops), so who knows, maybe mom isn't getting the thanks she deserves...I know if I wrote some checks that size, I'd want a little gratitude...8-) Tim in Berkeley
I have some limited advice to offer --I've watched this dynamic in my husband's family. Fortunately we neither needed nor received anything, so we've watched the sibs duke it out. It's painful watching them calculating who is ''ahead'', and its really obvious the stress this caused their parents. I've been on the receiving end briefly in my own, where I am the youngest and was at least perceived to have gotten more as a result. I'm forty-plus and my brother still talks about the extra support I got in college (he went to a military academy).
You need to get the help you need to accept your mother's actions, whatever form that help takes for you. No matter how unfair, it is her money and her decision. In all probability, she secretly agrees that she has acted without perfect even-handedness; her unwillingness to discuss the subject could well be because she feels bad about it. (Hey, I know the guiltier I feel, the more snappish I am!) But I am sure she is also hoping you value her for more than her money.
So please, don't pull back from your Mom because of a money issue. You, your daughter, and your mother could have forever to regret it. Sympathetic, but been there
It's a difficult situation, and I'm sure that your feelings must be really hurt. However, I would encourage you to look at the most positive side your mother has given your child more financial support than many kids get from their grandmothers. That's just great. I think it's important to respect her decision and not to dwell too much on the fact that other of her grandchildren have benefited more than your child from the support (though it's probably good for both of you to discuss it, perhaps even in the context of family therapy) . Whatever her reason for stopping this generous support, it is her money to give or to keep.
I would address the feelings you and your mother have, but I would refrain from arguing about things like ''fairness.'' best of luck. anon
After reading today's (4/28 advice), I had to add my 2 cents. I am the extremely fortunate daughter-in-law of very fair parents-in-law, and the daughter of unfair, or ''selective'' parents (I was not the chosen one). Feeling this from both sides, I think the important issue is to understand why your mother chose to be uneven about this. Especially if your daughter is very young (you do not say). I would call your siblings, and tell them that you are hurt, and a little jealous, and you wonder if they might be able to help you understand your mother's actions. I hope you have an OK relationship with your siblings, and are able to do this. They might not see yet that you have been unfairly treated, and they may be able to ask your mom about this. I would try to be as un-blaming as possible. Tell your siblings that you feel really lucky for the extra help in the past, and your are not trying to grab more money (even if you feel to the contrary- which is OK in my book), but your really want to understand why your mother is treating you differently. My Mom is now dead, and I can't ask her, but I would sure love to have some insight into her behavior towards me. I think it is worthwhile to figure this out for your own peice of mind. Maybe you will have to go to a counselor- maybe you could ask your mom to pay. Good luck
Wow. This is tough. I've been in a similar situation. My mother has been very generous to my entire family, myself included. But she will sometimes ''short change'' my children because they are so much younger than her other grandchildren, saying ''Well, they don't need (money, furniture, jewelry) right now because they're so young.'' And it's true. However, to be honest, it's not fair. Why should all the other grand kids get these nice bonuses, while mine don't? Mine do still have to get to and through college, so those gifts of cash she gives out would definitely be needed, even if not today. I guess what I'm saying is that your hurt feelings are real, and no amount of saying ''Get over it'' or ''Be grateful for the time you have with her'' will change that. So. Do I have any advice? Sorry, no. right now I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone. (And I'll be watching for other responses to see if someone else has something to say that will help us both!) --Nancy
P.S. I don't have your original post up right now, but have you mentioned this to your siblings? Maybe one of them will have some words of wisdom--either for you OR your mother! Nancy
I can only respond to the responses re'' Difficult Mom'' because I didn't see the original posting, so I hope what I have gleaned from the responses to be accurate.
I have yet to see the person who is toxic about money to be healthy about other areas of his/her life. I speak from experience since not only do I have a wealthy mother who is completely inconsistent and inequitable about giving out money (she has given scant amounts to me, more (but not a lot) to my sister, and nothing to my brother--all of us have children, by the way), but also my mother is stingy with her affection, the truth, compassion, etc. Having done my ''work'' about my mother's lack of equanimity and accessibility, I am not angry at her, merely indifferent and pitying toward her. She is not in good shape, and we all suspect some elements of bi-polarism in her.
As I said before, a lot of my mother's pathology comes out around money, but I feel that the behavior is a symptom not the problem. To that end, we have nothing, really, to do with my mother, having realized that she isn't forthcoming in other areas of human relationship. She is depressed, interrupts, lies, and possesses a host of other behaviors that made it not only difficult but also destructive for us to interact with her. You may be lucky in that however erring and unfair your mother is about money, she is still able to be an affable companion to you and a doting grandmother. My mother is not particularly interested in my children and her idea of a relationship with me is to call when she needs something. I told my daughter (my son is too young for this choice) that she is more-than-welcome to have a relationship with my mother to which she replied, ''Why would I want to; all she does is clean the house and interrupt me when she comes.'' If people respond to you by saying that she is your mother, deserving of respect, that they would give anything to have their mother alive and available etc., I would suggest that you take inventory and ask yourself if your mother has other redeeming qualities that you can access and enjoy. If not, you are totally entitled to protect yourself--you certainly wouldn't keep a destructive friend in your repertoire of friends, would you? If you decide that your mother does have nice qualities in addition to whatever ugly ones she has, then you are luckier than I and might want to consider a ''limited friendship'' with her.
And, no, your mother isn't obligated to help you out financially, etc., but I do think that she's morally obligated to be equitable, and you certainly have a right to your feelings, about such the lack of equitablity, be they outrage or acceptance.
Finally, have you considered writing a letter to her in which you voice your unhappiness with her behavior around money and still communicate that which you know to be nice about her? Even if such a letter doesn't transform her or get her agreement, you may feel some measure of catharsis.
I wish you luck. Mothers can be liabilities.
Born a wealthy orphan, next life