I recently counseled with a couple in their 60’s who feel behind in saving for retirement.  They owe this in part to their lavishness on their eldest daughter’s wedding on which they spent much more than they were planning.  While the three of us agreed that that’s water under the bridge at this point, I raised the question of how they planned on handling this with their younger daughter who isn’t married yet.  They looked at each other, looked back at me, and responded that they have no idea.  They felt like they can’t financially pull it off, but feel like they have to at least offer the same wedding budget that they spent on their older daughter. 

The same thing happens with how much we spend on college, help out with various things along the way, and ultimately with inheritances. Why do we tend to feel this way, and how should we handle these tough decisions? 

Our Fair Share

From the earliest of ages our kids have an innate sense of wanting their fair share.  “That’s not fair!” is one of the common refrains in our own household, and one that we didn’t have to teach.  It’s built in to our sin nature as we tend to see the world revolving around us. 

As parents, we have a tendency to foster this feeling out of our sense of love.  We love our children equally, so we translate this in how we treat our children.  “If I do this thing for Jimmy, then I’ll need to do it for Anna.”  “Parker didn’t get to do that at age 7, so why should Cam?”  And so we dig further ruts into the need for fairness.  But what are the implications of this for later in life, particularly dealing with money?  And what does Scripture have to say in regards to the topic?

An Unequal and Just God

In biblical times, it was customary to split inheritances unequally, with the eldest son to receive a double portion compared to his siblings (Deut 21:15-17).  The eldest son also received a blessing to go along with their birthright (unless it was stolen like Jacob did to Esau!).  And in the Parable of the Talents, Jesus describes how the Master gives to his stewards – unequally! To one He gave five talents, to another two talents, and to the last He gave only one.  

This lines up with how God gives to us on earth – unequally!  He gives each of us different amounts of time, talents, and treasures to steward.  And not because He’s unjust or unfair.  In fact, justice is one of God’s highest attributes (1 John 1:9; Job 36:6).  Yet being just doesn’t mean that God gives equally to His children, nor does it prohibit Him from loving us all equally. 

Proceed with Caution!

So why do we struggle to do the same?  For many of us it is because material gifts can be one of the “love languages”.  Giving gifts is an expression of love, and withholding gifts is often a form of punishment from those who have wronged us.  When it comes to our kids, the thought of giving to one child more than another seems wrong because it would mean communicating that you love one child more than another.

Let me give you some freedom here.  God has set us a great example in blessing us uniquely while loving us equally.  There is nothing wrong with giving to your children equally, but neither should it be viewed as mandatory.  Rather, commit the issue to prayer, and engage in open and healthy conversation with your spouse about the issue.  Are you doing so out of guilt?  Are you unintentionally equating the monetary gifts with your love for your kids? 

If you do decide to give your kids in an obviously unequal way, it often is best to communicate the whys to them, whether it’s because of different needs, ability to handle money, or your own situation or convictions have changes. The last thing you should do is to give to your kids out of guilt, or to do so in a way to jeopardize your own financial future.

If need be, let us know and we’d be happy to enter into the conversation with you.  These are deep waters and should be navigated with care.  Blessings on the journey!