My parents saved up and, when I was fourteen, they bought a house in the suburbs. I got a second brother and a dog – pretty much the American dream. Flash forward ten years later and my dad’s doing really, really well in his career, I’m a grown woman with a house and a husband of my own, I see my parents about once a month and my brothers text me incessantly. Everything should be peachy except that I am a terrible person and I can’t help but feel like my parents love my brothers more than me because of how they choose to spend their money.
It came to a head (in my head) a couple of weeks ago when we were having dinner over at their place and they mentioned they were going to start my older younger brother in private art lessons. Private art lessons! I would have done grievous bodily harm to get private art lessons at twelve. (He’s taken swimming and ballet, too.) My dad caught my eye as he said it and kind of shamefaced said, “I know, we couldn’t afford it for you. We would have if we could have.” I certainly don’t begrudge my little brother any of these things. But it started me thinking.
My parents did not pay for my college, or even help me take out student loans. They did not offer to help out with my wedding (although they did pick up the tab when we went out to a family dinner with just us, them, and my new husband’s family, to be fair). When we bought our house they did not give us any kind of gift, let alone offer any kind of financial help. In fact, they’ve never offered me financial help at all, aside from feeding me and putting a roof over my head as a kid.
When my dad got his fat holiday bonus from work this year (forty thousand dollars!) they dropped about five thousand at the apple store, got the cars fixed, took my husband and me out for dinner (my birthday dinner) and my mom took me clothes shopping. That’s great, and I’m happy for all of that, but they know (because I’ve told them in the past when they asked what I wanted) that what we need most is cash. They know my husband is self-employed and that things get really tight in the winter when work slows down, and that I work an entry-level job. We’re not poverty-stricken, but every winter — and this year especially — we get a little credit card debt that we spend the rest of the year paying off. I’m too proud to just ask for money, but I wish my mom hadn’t told me that they just got this pile of money because now I’m resenting them for it, especially since my brothers have every game console known to man, the new iPhones, and – the cherry on the cake – now art lessons.
I don’t know how to deal with this except as I have been (pretending it doesn’t bother me when it does) and I can’t talk to my parents because I’m too proud and it’ll sound like I’m asking for a handout. Any input would be so very welcome, even if it’s just to tell me I’m being selfish and to shut it. I can’t talk to my husband about this because what if he agrees with me? He’ll think less of them, and I don’t want that. And I’m ashamed of feeling this way, so I don’t want to talk about it to anyone who knows me. — Sibling Rivalry
Part of the problem here is your idea that your parents owe you something because they weren’t able to raise you with as many things and opportunities as they may have liked. They don’t. They may be in a position to do things for you now, but you’re no longer a child and you don’t get a second chance at a childhood any more than they get another chance at raising you. Yes, now they get to provide opportunities for your younger brothers that they couldn’t for you, but again, that doesn’t mean they owe you anything. They’re done raising you and from your description, they raised you with lots of love, a roof over your head and clothes on your back. You may not have had everything you wanted, but you had everything you needed — and that’s a lot more than many kids get.
Sure, you’re thinking, that’s all fine and good, but you don’t want them to raise you again; you want them to help you out in your adult life. And if that’s the case, you need to swallow your pride and ASK for the help. Don’t complain in one breath about them flaunting their cash and then in the next breath say you’re too proud to ask for financial help. You can’t have it both ways. You don’t get to resent them for not helping you if you haven’t even asked (and for the record, you really can’t resent them for not helping even if you do ask; you are an adult, after all). Hinting that you’d like cash for your birthday (to pay bills) isn’t the same thing. Can’t you see why they’d rather do something for you on special occasions that seem more enjoyable — shopping! dinner out! — than just helping you pay off some credit card debt or whatever? Don’t use your special occasions as a passive way to ask for help; just come on out and ask! They may say no, but at least you will have been assertive about it.
OK, so what happens if you do ask for say, a loan or a gift amount to help you out, and they turn you down? I would strongly, strongly advise you to let it go. Again, just because your parents couldn’t afford art lessons for you when you were 12 doesn’t mean they owe you anything now. Sure, it would be lovely of them to help out if they can, but they are under no obligation to do so and expecting them to will only drive a wedge between you. What you can do is to politely tell them you’re happy that they are doing so well financially and are able to enjoy the fruits of very long labor, but that you and your husband are on the other side of that labor and things are challenging for you so it would mean a lot if they could be a little more sensitive to that.
Please try not to think of this as your parents loving your brothers more than you. It’s not fair to compare since you are so much older than your brothers, your parents have more parenting experience now than they did when you were your brothers’ age, and they have a lot more money now than they did when they were raising you. There are too many different variables to make comparisons. Your parents raised you as best they could with what they had and now they’re raising your brothers as best they can with what they have. You’re a grown adult — married, with your own home. Of course your parents are going to spend more money on your brothers who are still children in their care than they’re going to spend on you. Of course. But that doesn’t mean they love you any less. The faster you can embrace that, and appreciate your parents for what they were/and are able to give you, the better.
P.S. If you get credit card debt every winter, I’d suggest speaking to a financial adviser to help you avoid that trap every year!