Is it OK to help out the kid who needs it?



Dear Carolyn:

I would like for my husband and me to give my daughter, his stepdaughter, a lump sum toward a house down payment. She and her boyfriend, both 30, are hard workers, but she’s had a career of mainly temp jobs, without much cushion for savings.

My husband feels uneasy about this because we’ve never financially assisted his daughter, and we already pay for my daughter’s health insurance and phone/internet.

I say his daughter has been lucky enough to find stable employment and she doesn’t need the money. She and her husband already bought a house on their own.

Isn’t it OK for parents to give money to the kids who need it, rather than arbitrarily splitting it down the middle?

— Can We?

You can get any answer you want here. It just depends on the way you spin it.

You could use luck as your axis, and argue your daughter has received less of it than his daughter has. Therefore, the lump sum would even things out.

You could also use choices as your axis, and argue a gift to your daughter essentially penalizes his daughter for managing her life better.

You could use autonomy as your axis, and decide it’s your money to use as you see fit.

You could use necessity as your axis, and assure the nonrecipient daughter that support will be available to her, too, should circumstances ever demand it, maybe not in the same form dollar-for-dollar, but in whatever form those circumstances demand.

You could use fairness as your axis, and provide a lump sum to your daughter that matches a lump sum you hold as an interest-bearing emergency fund for his daughter, should her “luck” ever run out in your lifetime.

Those quotation marks are loaded, yes. Because if it is all just about luck, then his daughter’s luck could someday turn against her too, no? She or her husband could get sick, injured, laid off, swindled, outsourced, natural-disastered, falsely accused — right? They could divorce, bear a child with expensive special needs, suffer a catastrophic loss their insurance — surprise! — doesn’t cover?

Always be wary of certainties you build out of temporary conditions. You can’t know whether your stepdaughter’s advantage is fixed or fleeting.

If these were my cash reserves and loyalties to assign and if they were my kids to encourage, then I’d go with some version of equity in support, be it through the two-lump-sum plan or a we’ll-be-there-for-you-too pledge, even if it means you square things up through your will. Both are blunt instruments relative to the vagaries of life, but good faith doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to show up.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

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