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The Moneyist: ‘He had nothing to fall back on’: My parents supported my brother for 12 years. Shouldn’t they give the same amount of money to me?

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Dear Quentin,

I have been struggling with what I see as my parents’ unequal distribution of their wealth — since 2008. I have an older brother who fell on hard times during the recession. He obviously mismanaged and overextended himself expecting the market
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and his construction business to continue to prosper.

When it didn’t, he had nothing to fall back on, so my parents fully supported him for 12 years, until recently when he “bought” a company in the construction industry. I’m very unclear on how that actually went down. I was told he had investors, and my parents signed for a line of credit.

“‘Is there anything I can do to help my folks see the damage done to my relationship with them and with my brother?’”

I have repeatedly communicated my feelings of inequality to both my parents but it didn’t change anything. I understand it’s their money and they can do with it as they please. They could have just as easily donated tens of thousands of dollars to dog shelters every time my mom saw and heard Sarah McLachlan on TV for the ASPCA.

Why does that possibility sit better with me? I do love dogs. I just don’t understand how — after hearing their other son express legitimate equality concerns — my parents were capable of ignoring my feelings. Maybe that’s what this is bringing to light — how often have my feelings been ignored or my concerns dismissed as inconsequential by my parents.

Is there anything I can do to help my folks see the damage done to my relationship with them and with my brother? Should they make it right? Or should I dismiss my feelings as well, and say to myself this was never really about equality, it was all about jealousy, greed and pride, and possibly about not being able to control a situation I felt I had a right to have a say in.

Confused and bewildered,

Second Son

Dear Second,

You answer your own question, but there is also a contradiction that runs through your letter.

You chastise your parents for not treating your brother like a functioning adult because his construction business collapsed during the Great Recession. Whether or not he mismanaged his business interests or overplayed the construction boom, he needed assistance and your parents stepped in. You suggest that your parents should give you the same amount of money they have given him, or go some way in balancing those scales. 

The contradiction is this: You are asking your parents to treat your brother like an adult, but your request presumes that they owe you money for helping him. That puts you on a level playing field with your brother. Is that a place where you want to be, or even deserve to be?

If that’s the case, you may as well be both back in your childhood bedrooms expecting the same treatment — the same size steak for supper, the same allowance, and the same amount of attention from both parents. You have flown the coop, he has not. 

“‘Your parents’ generosity is not the equivalent of a company making a 401(k) match. They shouldn’t have to double their gifts to account for your unhappiness.’”

You don’t have control over your parents finances. That’s how it should be. It’s their money, after all. They should be allowed to spend it without the recriminations of a Greek chorus. You do have control over your feelings, and relationship with your family. Sometimes, the most freeing question is: “What can I do to help?”

If he gets $10,000 to get back on his feet, that does not mean you should receive $10,000. Your parents’ generosity is not the equivalent of a company making a 401(k) match. They shouldn’t have to double their gifts to account for your unhappiness, justified or not. 

If your parents have given your brother $50,000 or $100,000 over the last 12 years, you could tell them that you are grateful they are able to support him — assuming you are aware they would do the same for you if the tables were turned. (And how great is it that you have not had to lean on them for help?)

Depending on the sum, you may wish to suggest that they take that into account when they write their wills. They may or may not appreciate your input. It could backfire, or they could see value in your perspective. But leave it at that. Years-long badgering is not respectful.

To say it’s “not fair” is to pretend that life is fair, and that everyone deserves the same treatment. That sounds great on paper, but it’s not how life works. Some people need a roof over their head and act recklessly. Some may just have bad luck. Or both. Others, like you, don’t. 

“‘Depending on the sum, you may wish to suggest that they take that into account when they write their wills. They may or may not appreciate your input.’”

Your brother is in a financially codependent relationship with your parents, and sooner or later they will have to decide how much they can continue to support him. You have worked for financial independence. Enjoy the freedom that gives you. Don’t look back.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• ‘I’ve felt like an outsider my whole life’: My father died without a will, leaving behind my stepmother and her 4 children. Do I have any rights to his estate?
• ‘He was infatuated with her’: My brother had a drinking problem and took his own life. He left $6 million to his former girlfriend who used to buy him alcohol
• She had a will, but it was null and void’: My friend and her sister are fighting over their mother’s life-insurance policy and bank account. Who should win out?

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