my two cents

‘I’m Sick of My Siblings Leaning on My Parents Financially’

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

My two older siblings still live at home with my aging parents, and I worry that they are taking advantage of my parents’ generosity. My siblings both pay rent, but I feel like my parents should be enjoying a peaceful retirement instead of dealing with the financial burden of having two adult children live with them.  

For context, I have lived independently since I was 22 and started my first full-time job. I am now in my late 20s, and my siblings are in their mid- to late 30s. Both have stable jobs and the financial means to either rent or buy a place of their own. They previously lived in their own place together, but moved back in with my parents when their lease was up.

When I have raised the topic in the past, my oldest sibling has seemed uninterested in changing his current situation. He is single and introverted, and his main socialization is through family gatherings, so I can see why he wants to stay with our parents. But I think he would benefit from moving out, meeting new people, and being out of his comfort zone.

Meanwhile, my middle sibling gets defensive, angry, and dismissive when I bring this up. She is motivated in her career, and most of her friends have partners and kids while she has stayed single. I know she fights with my mother, and neither of them seem fully comfortable living together. My parents have asked her to move out multiple times in the past, but they are unwilling to take further steps.

I know I may be projecting my own values and ideals about success and happiness and this may come across as condescending, but I do really want my siblings to achieve independence and their own sense of fulfillment. I am also at my wits’ end seeing them both rely on my parents financially. (For example, my sister’s car broke down and needs to be sold, but she expects my dad to deal with selling it while she uses their car.) Please help me help my parents so everyone can be better off.

This sounds like a rough living arrangement for everyone involved, but I don’t think you’ll accomplish much by confronting your siblings about it. Ultimately, your parents are perpetuating this dynamic just as much as your siblings are. That must be frustrating to see, but it’s also out of your hands.

Still, I understand your concern, especially if you’re genuinely worried about your parents’ ability to support themselves in the future. Your first step is to figure out exactly how much they are burdened, financially, by having two adult kids at home. Is it going to interfere with their retirement savings? If so, that’s a big deal and worth your effort to step in. But it’s also possible that your siblings are helping them save money by paying them rent. Or maybe it’s a wash, moneywise. Either way, the only way to know is by asking about it.

When you do, try to avoid bringing your siblings into it. It sounds like you’ve made your position on their living situation pretty clear, to no avail. So try a different tack. “I recommend bringing it up from the standpoint of asking about your parents’ plans for retirement,” says Manisha Thakor, a financial planner and founder of MoneyZen, a financial-education consultancy. “Statistics show that most people have never actually calculated how much money they need to stop working. You could mention that and reference the fact that you’re also starting to save for retirement, and ask them if they have a strategy in place.”

If they don’t, Thakor recommends gifting your parents a session with a personal financial planner. (You can find a national database of certified financial planners here. Look for a fee-based advisor, not one who charges commission.) If your parents need to hear some tough advice about kicking your siblings out of the house or selling their home and downsizing, they’re probably more likely to listen to a professional.

I hope this is not the case, but: If it turns out your parents are not in a good position to retire and your siblings are making a bad situation worse, then the burden of supporting them could fall on you someday. Obviously, that’s not ideal. But if it seems inevitable, Thakor recommends signing up for a couple of joint sessions with your parents’ financial planner so that you’re fully aware of what’s to come and how you can work together to prepare.

(I should also mention that if you suspect your siblings might be taking advantage of your parents in a truly nefarious way — say, by opening a credit card in their name or borrowing money that they’ll never pay back — that technically qualifies as elder abuse. It doesn’t sound like this is happening, but if you’re worried that it might be, you can learn more about it and get resources to help here.)

On a brighter note, there’s a decent chance that your parents are financially fine and just trying to help out your two older siblings in the best way they know how. While that’s obviously the preferable scenario here, it also means your hands are somewhat tied.

“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,” says Matt Lundquist, the founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy, who frequently works with families dealing with financial conflicts. “It can be tough to come to terms with the limitations of your own parents, but there can also be tremendous freedom in managing your expectations.”

If you still want to try to change things, approach your parents with the understanding that they may be resistant. Lundquist advises that you express your frustration and say something like, “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 the key part of the conversation, he adds, is what comes next. “You need to ask them, ‘Are you open to talking about this?’” Lundquist says. “And you need to be prepared for them to say no or be avoidant to the point of meaning no.”

It sucks when people you love don’t want to be confronted about problems that you can see clearly. I hope that your family members can figure out a way to take care of each other that includes your parents’ best interests as well as your siblings’. But in the meantime, I’m glad you have learned how fulfilling it is to be self-reliant. I know you wish your siblings could do the same. But just because you want something for someone else doesn’t mean that you can make them want it too. And coming to peace with that may be your best option.

‘I’m Sick of My Siblings Leaning on My Parents Financially’