| Family Reflections |

Reneging on a Financial Promise

Prevent feelings of betrayal by being up-front from the outset


Not coming through with promises is never a good thing. After all, human interdependence requires that we be able to rely on others to come through. When we can’t, we no longer stand on firm ground. And when this occurs within the family, things can become even more complicated.

“My in-laws promised to put me through law school after yeshivah. True to their word, they started to pay for my education, but by the time I was in second year, they had financial problems and said they might have to cut back. I got very anxious about the prospect of having to take on huge loans. Then my wife’s younger sister got engaged, and all of a sudden there was this huge, over-the-top wedding her parents were funding... and my anxiety turned to anger.”

Whether parents offer to support a child in learning for a number of years, send him to school, set him up in business, buy him a house, fund a nanny or otherwise gift him with significant amounts of money, they generally do so with full hearts and good intentions. (Of course, it can also happen that a particular parent knows full well that the gift can’t be fulfilled, offering it only in order to facilitate a shidduch.)

When the money doesn’t arrive, it doesn’t always matter to the would-be-recipient whether its absence is due to intentional or unintentional factors. “I wouldn’t have gone to law school if I didn’t receive that financial assistance,” says Chaim. “My own parents have lived a life of constant financial stress, and I wasn’t planning on doing that. Law school costs a fortune where I live, and I didn’t want to start my life off with massive debt because I know how hard it is to get out of that sort of thing. But here I was in the middle of my program with my wife’s parents telling me ‘sorry.’ I feel like they ruined my life.”

What happened here? Did his wife’s parents fail to calculate their budget properly or did they unexpectedly suffer a loss? Did they suddenly remember they had more weddings to make and children to support? Or did they know all along they wouldn’t be paying what they committed to? And what about that wedding they were hosting for their next daughter: Was that actually their money flowing through the chocolate fountain, or was the “other side” paying for the extravaganza?

Chaim wasn’t privy to the story behind the sudden withdrawal of funds, but he knew what he felt: resentful and betrayed.


Family Feelings

In fact, Chaim’s imagination was on the loose. Although obligated to judge others positively, he couldn’t make peace with his new situation and the role his in-laws played in it either wittingly or unwittingly. Despite the fact he had no reason to suspect foul play, he felt duped enough to wonder what else he had missed. He began to look at everything differently, with darkened, suspicious eyes, including — unfortunately — his wife, daughter of the “offenders.”

Chaim’s spiritual perspective was way off; his own rabbi counseled him to relate to the entire incident in the Torah-true way. Most likely, with maturity and work, Chaim would be able to do so one day. Meanwhile, the combination of his hurt, anger, inexperience, childhood experience, personality, anxiety, free will, and the yetzer hara, tied him up in knots. There would be plenty for him to unravel over the next few years.

And his in-laws? They didn’t get it. Upon seeing the change in Chaim, his father-in-law deduced that the young man was an ingrate. After all, plenty of money had already been channeled his way before the cutoff happened. His mother-in-law felt terrible and hoped and prayed that her daughter’s marriage wouldn’t suffer seriously from her son-in-law’s soured attitude.


Preventive Measures

Could the bad feelings here have been avoided? Possibly. When speaking to young people — all of whom lack experience and some of whom also lack knowledge — it’s particularly important to state risks up front: “We'll help you as much as we can with your yeshivah/school/house/etc. However, we can’t promise anything because our available income depends on how things go in business/the market/life. You need to understand this at the outset.”

And parents themselves need to understand both financial risk and the risk of relationship ruptures when making financial promises to their children.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 887)

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