Dear Civilities: My parents recently loaned my [same-sex] wife and me $8,000 to do some home repairs. It was incredibly kind of them, and they are even allowing us to repay without interest. As we pay back the loan, however, my dad’s strategy is to put the money into a brand-new account he intends “for the grandkids.” I am one of only two children, and my sister is a conservative Catholic and does not believe in contraception. She already has two children and will likely have many more. My wife and I hope to someday have kids, but it will very much depend on finances. I was actually hurt to learn he is considering allocating inheritances to grandkids rather than directly to us kids! Is this even worth broaching with them? It is their money to do with as they please, and if my sister has many more children than I do, then surely she needs the money more anyway. But in the moment my mom mentioned it to me, it stung.
— Name withheld,
A: At first blush, your question goes to show that LGBT people can be just as petty, small-minded, and “entitled” as our heterosexual friends and relatives.
Indeed, when I posted your question on my Facebook page to see what advice others had for you, the overwhelming response was not pretty. Perhaps the kindest retort was: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” At the other end of the spectrum came this post: “She sounds selfish and self-centered. It’s her PARENTS’ money to do with what they wish. Pay the money back, on time, and keep your mouth shut.” Ouch.
As I read more deeply into the narrative of your question, however, I was somewhat persuaded to agree with a friend of mine who thought that you’re upset because you assume your sister will pop out kids at a rate you can’t possibly keep up with, and your future kids will get a reduced share of an inheritance.
But, as usual, when it comes to family (and money), there’s more going on here than meets the eye. I do wonder why your parents made it a point to tell you that your repayment would go to your sister’s little ones. Are they indirectly trying to push your buttons (after all, who knows them best?), even rekindling a sibling rivalry? Or are they dangling a small fortune in your face to show how procreation can be rewarded? Yours wouldn’t be the first parents to apply a little pressure on their adult children about producing grandbabies. One of my Facebook posters said, more bluntly: “The plan reeks of ‘here, see what we can do for good little girls who marry boys and give us grandkids.’ ” In that light, I can see that their gifting plan might be a way for your parents to voice their approval for your sister’s traditional values and family, which may be why your mom’s comment stung.
Of course, your folks may not have considered how, according to some studies, same-sex parenting is both more complicated and expensive than your sister’s version because of discrimination and the refusal of most states to legalize same-sex marriage, which has important implications for parenting rights. I’d be sure to raise these inequities with Mom and Dad — but not in the context of how they’re handling their finances. As you wrote, it’s their money, and they can do with it as they please.
If you do have children one day, you may find that your parents are as generous to them as they have been to you. Some grandparents, however, have been known to favor the biological grandkids of straight children over those of their gay sons and daughters. Those grandchildren’s origins could have involved donors, surrogates or adoption, with a resulting loss of bloodline or the sense that they are not “real” grandchildren. This can lead to financial favoritism in everything from birthday and Christmas gifts to disproportionate college funds. Janis Cowhey, a partner and attorney at Marcum LLP who focuses on tax matters and has long worked with LGBT couples, rightly suggests that if you and your wife have kids, do a second-parent adoption so that each of your children will also be your parents’ legal grandchildren.
The bottom line: The world isn’t always fair to LGBT families, and we take that especially hard when the unfair treatment, perceived or real, comes from our relatives. You don’t have to be reasonable when it comes to feeling hurt. But don’t go to Mom and Dad and confront them. Tell your parents this: “Thank you for the generous loan. Come visit us soon so we can show you what we did with your kindness.” Even if it’s forced, put some attitude in your gratitude.
Every other week, Steven Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities.
E-mail questions to him at email@example.com (unfortunately not all questions can be answered). You can reach him on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow and on Twitter: @stevenpetrow. Join him for a chat online at washingtonpost.com on July 29.