In our financial family therapy with adult families, we frequently see conflict centered around an adult sibling or siblings who feel their parents are being taken advantage of financially by their other siblings. Because of our experience, our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist recently helped answer a question in The Cut from a reader concerned that her two older siblings that still live at home are abusing her parents’ generosity.
In “I’m Sick of My Siblings Leaning on My Parents Financially,” Matt advises the reader, who has been living on her own since she was 22, that she may need to reconcile that her parents have participated in this set-up along with her siblings. He says, “You may need to examine some hard truths about your parents, specifically that they are participating in this arrangement and are not victims of your siblings.” While older adults can sadly become victims of abuse and coercion by adult children, more often there are feelings of guilt or even loneliness that can result in an arrangement that may not be objectively good for them.
This may mean that the parties the reader would like to see change may or may not want that change. In the article, the reader badly wants better for both her parents and siblings, but that wanting isn’t a substitute for them wanting to make changes themselves. This doesn’t mean she should give up, but rather, she should sit with the question of whether, in fact, her family wants more.
Understanding that her parents and/or siblings may not want to change is key in how to approach a conversation on their current financial and living arrangement. Matt suggests the reader express her concerns to her parents such as: “I feel like you’re being taken advantage of and mistreated and that you’re letting it happen. And that seems bad for you and bad for my siblings, and I’m uncomfortable with it.” But, as Matt emphasizes, it’s even more important to ask: “Are you open to talking about this?” He continues, “And you need to be prepared for them to say no or be avoidant to the point of meaning no.”
If her parents don’t want to have the conversation or change, Matt observes, “It can be tough to come to terms with the limitations of your own parents, but there can also be tremendous freedom in managing expectations.” Managing expectations is another way of saying seeing things as clearly as possible as what they are, not what we want them to be. It’s possible that everyone involved in this setup, which is objectively not good for the parents or siblings, is going to insist on keeping it that way. The reader may just need to accept that.
Though not in the article, it’s also important to note that the reader should be proud of supporting herself, especially coming from a family where those values, at least for now, haven’t taken with her siblings. Comparing is often a way of avoiding feeling a desire for something more, such as acknowledgment from her parents. That her success may not be valued enough in the family is worth taking a look at. Is her success valued but obscured by concerns about the other siblings? If so, that seems like a conversation worth having with her parents, letting them know she needs more of that. At the same time, her success may not actually be so valued in this family; in which case, she’s going to need to find that affirmation somewhere else.