A few days ago, I got a couple of emails from my sister about a financial issue that’s going on right now in my family. For anyone who doesn’t know, I ceased contact with my parents back in 2002. My sister and brother, however, are still in contact with them. My sister recently lost a source of income, and my parents have decided to help her financially by deferring repayment of a loan they got from my brother in order to send the money to her. This touches a sore point for all of us, including me, though I’m not directly involved.
Why It’s Financial Abuse
The situation is convoluted because everything in my family is convoluted (not unusual in abusive families), so I won’t go into the details. In short, rental money on an apartment that they’ve sworn will (someday) be put in my sister’s name was going towards paying my brother back for the loan he gave them to convert the apartment into a condominium. They’re now going to stop paying back that loan in order to send that money to my sister.
It might not seem like it, but what they’re doing is a form of financial abuse. They’re taking money from one child to give it to another child. On top of that, they’re making it seem as though they’re the ones who are helping the second child when really it’s money that belongs to the first child. My brother, needless to say, isn’t pleased with the situation, and neither is my sister. She knows it’s not fair to him, in spite of the fact that she welcomes the extra income. Parents who play games like these with money are financial abusers.
Another problem here is that this was all done without my sister’s involvement. In other words, she at no time asked them for financial help. She was ready to use some of her savings to get her through this difficult financial time, as any adult would. My parents decided for themselves that their little girl needed their financial help.
I think they’re uncomfortable with the idea that my sister can get through this difficult financial time without their help. There’s more than a little self-interest here because their interference boosts their self-esteem. They can now boast to family and friends (and they will) that they’re loving, supportive parents who will do anything for their children. They leave my sister, however, feeling like a helpless little girl who can’t take care of herself.*
My father and sister have been going back and forth with this, and he’s repeated several times that “in this family, we all help each other out.” Doubtless this is how he and my mother see the situation, but it’s not that straightforward (nothing in abusive families is). It’s not about my brother giving up money in order to help my sister through a tough financial time.
It’s about the lack of respect my brother feels and the humiliation my sister feels in service to my parents’ need to boost their self-esteem and tell the world how much they sacrifice for their children’s well-being. My brother’s and sister’s feelings have been completely ignored, which is typical with abusive parents.
“Financial Abuse” by Rainbow Gryphon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
When You Go No Contact, You Close Financial Doors
I said earlier that this situation does touch me in a way as well. I can’t deny that I feel a twinge of sadness that this kind of financial help is no longer open to me. In spite of the self-interest that underlies what my parents have done, there’s no doubt that their intentions are sincere. If my brother was having money problems and needed the loan paid back quickly then my parents probably would have found some other way to help her.
With financially abusive parents, you often trade peace of mind for things. My brother and sister, for instance, recently spent a week on a family vacation where my parents paid for everything. In return, my brother and sister had to cater to their every need. When my mother wanted to go shopping every day, they didn’t argue. When my father didn’t want to go someplace they wanted to go because it was crowded, they didn’t argue.
Some would say this is the way it should be. If you’re an adult and take money and things from someone, you should be prepared to do everything they want you to do. But it’s not that simple, particularly between parents and adult children. The parents set up a dynamic where the children can’t really refuse. They’re emotionally manipulated and sometimes even physically forced to accept things and money. This turns the situation into one of coercion.
Because I’m no longer in contact with my abusive parents, I traded financial support for peace of mind. There is no financial safety net for me. I respect the sacrifices that my brother and sister have to make, though. They’re dealing with abuse that I don’t have to deal with, and that’s a big thing. But going no contact has its price, and in my family, one of the big ones is no financial support.
On the surface, it probably looks like my brother, sister, and I have no reason to complain. Plenty of parents won’t help their children financially, even when they need it. But that’s not the point. This isn’t about gratitude, and this isn’t about their intentions. Abusive parents who give money to their adult children are using money as manipulation. This is financial abuse. It’s literally no pain, no gain.
* My sister and brother have tried to refuse this arrangement, but my parents are aggressively insistent on getting their own way. They’ve repeated several times that my sister isn’t to refuse, and my brother has tried to argue with them to no avail.