I write to you asking for some advice on how to handle an unusual family situation involving favouritism, and gifts of money.
My immediate family lived until recently in a city far removed from our extended family. We have since fragmented even further as my brothers and I (there are three of us, all in our twenties) have moved out, but we still flock to our childhood home as each year ends. Each Christmas we receive cheques and a card from Grandpa, all collected together in one envelope. Grandpa is a retired business owner with a lot of money to his name, so the cheques are substantial. Some years ago we noticed that we each received significantly different amounts. This might not be notable if this was based on age or somesuch, but it isn’t; after a few years that would be quite obvious. Rather, the difference is based on how much Grandpa likes the recipient. My older brother, for example, is having some problems with his life, and has had difficulty finding direction and applying himself to studies or a career. Grandpa doesn’t approve. He makes no secret of his opinion of each of us individually, often commenting on how well my younger brother in particular is doing (entirely fair, he is doing very well), while not mentioning another. In normal conversation this might pass without note; we don’t discuss our favourite athlete and then pause to give honourable mention to the others in the competition. However, Grandpa is effusive in his praise of my younger brother, “What a great guy,” he says. But when met with similar praise of my older brother he balks. “Oh yes,” he says, “All your children are great.”
In previous years the amount of money has appeared to follow whatever the trends of Grandpa’s comments are leading up to Christmas. This year we found that my younger brother and I received the same amount. Great, we’re happy with that. What we’re not happy with is that the amount is three times what my older brother got. Why is this? One explanation could be our individual needs. I have a wife and child (with another on the way) so perhaps the case could be made that I need the money. My younger brother has little income and is starting a company, so maybe he needs support too. My older brother has no job, is looking after his fiancée, and is reliant on his disability pension. There the reasoning unravels. The one with the most needs get the least. Although maybe it’s entirely the reason after all, since my younger brother and I could be called successful. He finished university with honours and is starting in business, and I’m studying while supporting a family, and own a home. Our older brother’s successes can be measured only in how he is managing his mental health, not in dollar amounts or qualifications. Rewarding people for personal success is fine, but is a matter entirely apart from Christmas, and should be secondary to ensuring one’s family is as healthy as possible.
Other examples of Grandpa’s attitude towards his grandchildren can be found in the difference between his gifts to my cousin and to me for our respective weddings. My cousin received a large sum of money as an engagement present, then another as a wedding gift. I received nothing for my engagement, and nothing for my wedding. My cousin and I are the same age. What is the difference, then?
What I want to know is how to tackle this problem. My mother left Grandpa messages, and wrote him a letter in order to get her feelings across but there was nary a peep from him on the issue. She now refuses to discuss us with him in any more detail than “they’re fine.” He occasionally tries to start a conversation on how poorly my older brother is doing (often in a roundabout way), or how well my younger brother and I are doing with a pointed omission, but my mother refuses to be drawn in.
Do I follow her lead and confront him on the issue? Maybe just mail the cheque back? Bank it anyway? The money would be helpful, especially around Christmas, but that’s too much like tacit approval of his contempt for my older brother.
I detest confrontation, but family needs to be respected. What should I do? 0111-12
Money is a great tool but it certainly can be used to complicate relationships. My first thought is that a person’s money is theirs to do with as they wish and if they choose to gift it to another, they are well within their rights to do so with no real obligation to explain to anyone how they spend their money. The basic rule of money is that one does not talk about it….not how much you gave, not how much you have, not how much you were given, etc. Grandpa breaks down this veil of discretion by placing all three checks for three siblings in the same envelope making it impossible to ignore how much he gives and virtually impossible for each recipient to be discreet about the amount they have received.
Your mother has appealed to her father to cease with the favoritism and has been ignored so I don’t see where you would have any greater powers of persuasion. You have two solutions available to you. Return the check uncashed or simply “lose it” so that it never gets cashed. There is honor in not being a knowing pawn in Grandpa’s favoritism games. The other alternative is to conspire with your younger brother to donate an equal share of your money gift to your older brother so that all three of you end up with the exact same amount of money. If you and your younger brother each received $4,000.00 but older brother only $1,000.00, each give the older brother $1,000.00 so that the net result is that all three brothers have received the exact same amount of $3,000.00. If the relationship between the three siblings is worth having, money shouldn’t be a wedge that drives people farther apart. And Grandpa does not need to know any of this since once a gift leaves his hands, it is yours to do with as you wish.
As for the matter of disparity in wedding gifts, I’m at a loss to figure out how anyone would know who got what and who didn’t get. I don’t have a clue as to how my parents or inlaws may have gifted various grandchildren who married, including my own daughter. Unless Grandpa is making it quite public how he chooses to give money gifts for weddings, it really is no one else’s business how much money was received and from whom. In other words, your cousin should have no idea that you received nothing from Grandpa and on the flip side, how did you find out how much your cousin received? If Grandpa is the blabbermouth, it reflects poorly on him as being a crass, indiscreet, manipulative old codger who tries to play one grandchild against another using money as the wedge. The secret to happiness is to be completely free of the expectation of receiving other’s money so that when the inevitable disparity comes, one is not devastated with disappointment. Gird yourself now because if Grandpa leaves a Will with money for grandchildren, you can definitely expect there to be quite an inequitable distribution of the estate.