Handouts to offspring will foster sibling rivalry

Helping your offspring financially is one thing, but distributing that help unequally will cause problems.

Where is the sense in funding the financially feeble, or providing differing levels of monetary support to young adult offspring, if the result is an unhappy family and strained sibling relationships.

When I say funding – I mean handouts – fistfuls of cash. For the former it’s like fuelling a drug habit. They’re the ones forever in debt, always living beyond their means. For the latter, they don’t necessarily need the money – it is often about what a parent believes their child “should” have, or “needs” – but it definitely helps. This can smack of favouritism and gnaw away at family bonds.

Parents, bless them, just can’t win.

Not only does this waste huge amounts of cash, there is also an emotional cost. I’m sure you’re privy to any number of stories where there is discontent, if not dispute, around who got what and whether it’s fair. It is real-life soap opera fodder.

A mother I know is giving one of her two adult daughters the down payment for her first property. One daughter is a musician and jazz singer, the other is in fin­ance, raising funding for start-up enterprise.

The most likely thought is that the former is the one who’s getting help. Think again. It’s the corporate bod who’s getting the money. Is it because she’s younger? Not yet married? How does her sister feel about this? The family appears very close. Still, I wonder what this step on to the property ladder will do for sibling dynamics.

Research in the United States found that parents helping their young adult children financially was linked to what it called a “solid parent-child bond” that got stronger the more money is given. I found it surprising, and disturbing, that money was a bigger issue than emotional support and affection. Other research states that sibling relationships were not affected by preferential treatment, like affection, as long as they were given the same amount of money. Give one more money than the other and you’re condemning siblings to bad relationships with each other later on in life. If this is true, it saddens me deeply. But I can understand how and why it comes about.

Parents often strive to save their offspring from various ills – bad credit ratings, unnecessary struggle, a clapped-out banger, a long commute to work. One solution is to spend – if they have the money – to save their children such stress.

But how do they decide who is more deserving, more in need?

We, children, are sensitive to inequality, even when we are adults.

Two-thirds of people participating in research looking at the issue of family loans or handouts state that there is an emotional impact on the whole family when parents support adult children financially.

The issues being grappled with include:

Siblings getting differing levels of help.

Family secrets arising.

Resentment building up.

From various case studies I come across, the theme is this: the less able, or the one perceived as more in need, sibling is looked after – with handouts and bailouts. The more capable ones are overlooked.

There are examples where those with less financial acumen are left the bulk of inheritance – because they are most in need of the money.

The irony of course is that they are the least able to put it to good use, will likely blow it all and once again be in need, but with no one able to help them out once the inheritance is spent, because they, the financially troubled, got most of the cash.

Of course we should help out those in need. I suppose it depends on who’s defining what this means, and whether the type of help extended is beneficial.

Someone whose daily habits gets them in money trouble –is there a point in giving them more money?

A person who is less able, mentally or physically – is there merit in buying them a house when they can’t look after themselves?

A child who has a lower paying job because they choose to pursue their passion – what’s fair about providing for them over the one who knuckled down and slogged away at university and beyond?

It’s a quagmire. My thought is that the bigger, more important, issue is discussing what you’re thinking. Talk about it with your family, explain what you want to do, why, and that you realise it affects everyone. You might be surprised with the different takes on what you’re proposing. And most importantly, talk about being fair. You want to be fair don’t you? Find out what that means to everyone, not just what it means to you.

While you mull over your next step, here’s a tongue twister for you: family financial-fate favours the feeble, or favoured, when it comes to filial fortunes. Say it five times. But don’t do it.

Nima Abu Wardeh describes herself using three words: Person. Parent. Pupil. Each day she works out which one gets priority, sharing her journey on finding-nima.com.


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