My Sister Is Refusing to Pay for Her Kids on Vacation—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, We've been going on vacation with my sister, her husband, and her 2 girls since they were born. We rent a house in West Virginia every year with them and our mom. I have brought up in the past that we should split the rental [costs] based on headcount or room usage, including their children. My sister's response was that the girls don't have money and we should just split it with the adults. I was afraid of her getting mad and then not seeing my nieces while they were little (they live out of state), so I dropped it at the time, as she holds grudges.

My husband and I don't have children and the inequity of this has bothered me for years. For a while, my sister and brother-in-law were also always claiming the master bedroom with an attached bath because they have kids and "needed it", while we slept on an uncomfortable foldout sofa. That stopped recently after I told her the fair thing is to alternate. She reluctantly agreed.

Two women arguing in a kitchen.
A stock image of two women in the middle of an argument in a kitchen. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Now her kids are 12 and 14 and we had to rent a house with more bedrooms because they have hit puberty and need their privacy, which costs more. So I said: "It's time to include the girls in the house cost headcount, now that they are young ladies in need of private rooms". She is LIVID with me over this and told my mom that I knocked off her kids, and my mom got on me about it until she read the email I sent.

I just want things to be split fairly and not to be taken advantage of anymore. I should also mention that they have two houses, including one in a resort area, and are very wealthy. So it's not like they can't afford to pay for their fair share. Am I in the wrong?

Nikki, Ohio

Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

You Play a Part in Unwanted Family Dynamics

Dan Pallesen is a financial psychologist and private wealth manager with Creative Planning, a wealth management firm based in Gilbert, Arizona.

Adding money disagreements into family conflict can feel like pouring gasoline on a fire. Money is a very common source of stress in family relationships. But in order to create a favorable outcome in your dilemma, you may want to focus your attention inward before trying to resolve the issue with your family members.

It is important to recognize your family dynamics and the role you play in them. In the situation you described, you felt something was unfair and you voiced your opinion. But you were afraid of your sister's anger so you held your tongue for years until you reached another boiling point. This was again met with anger from your sister and pressure from your mom to back off. It seems you and your family value peace over fairness. The way you perpetuate this dynamic is that you repeatedly make concessions (like sleep on a fold out sofa) instead of speaking up for yourself.

I don't mean to come down hard on you. But it is crucial that we recognize our role in unwanted family patterns before we attempt to change them. It may seem like the problem here is that your sister is being rigid. But she may have learned along the way that if she exhibits anger, others back down and conflict vanishes (at least on the surface). Your tendency to make concessions to keep the peace may be strengthening this pattern. I'm not saying you are responsible for your sister's anger, but your response may be reinforcing it.

When you uncover your family dynamics, you can face them head on. By acknowledging the part of you that values peace over fairness, you can start to have better conversations with your family. Instead of complaining about the accommodations you may say something like, "This is hard to bring up because I really enjoy our time together but I am starting to feel taken advantage of."

Because of your grasp of the family dynamics, you may go on to say how hard this may be for everyone to hear because it can feel like you are disturbing the peace.

Acknowledging how they feel is a great softening technique. It models for them to see things from your perspective. I am confident that you can find the common ground of wanting to have a great annual vacation while allowing everyone to feel valued and respected.

Communicate and Don't Let Things Simmer

Jennifer Kelman is a family therapist, a licensed clinical social worker and parenting expert at JustAnswer, an online question and answer service connecting users with experts in different fields.

Money conflicts with family members are a common experience and can cause a lot of tension if not addressed properly or in advance. Often if one family member has a better financial situation it may be seen that they should be responsible for the bulk of the cost of activities, vacations, etc. This alone can cause tension because the family members that may have a better financial situation may feel taken advantage of, while the other family members may feel that since they can afford more then why can't they just help out more.

I don't believe you are in the wrong. The other family members have taken advantage of the family members without kids. A family of four should be paying more for the house in this situation, since a larger home is needed with more bedrooms. Your sister being livid over this seems a bit over the top. But perhaps there is a better way to address it all so that both families feel heard, respected and all needs get met.

I would suggest that you reach out to your sister and let her know that you have loved these family trips together and want to continue to have wonderful relationships all around, but have felt that there has been an inequity in terms of the finances. You agreed all the prior years to split things evenly, even though they have children, you have acquiesced in terms of them getting the main bedroom with an attached bath because they have kids. But now that the kids are older, you believe it is the fair thing to have them pay for their family based on headcount and alternate between the main bedroom with the attached bath.

I would also suggest letting her know that involving your mom and causing her to take a side, doesn't really help with family communications and that this is just between the two of you. I think you should sit down in a quiet moment and just go through it all together and communicate your feelings and needs around this. I would not "count her money" and use the examples of how many homes they have, but rather speak more from what you are able to do moving forward. If things begin to get tense during the conversation, remind yourself and your sister of how much you enjoy the families being together. The goal is to keep the wonderful tradition going, while also being mindful of how things have felt for you around this money conflict.

Things can get dicey within families around money, so you may want to address things as they come up and not let things simmer year after year, where it may get harder to bring up your needs and feelings. I think you should always do it in a quiet moment away from the tension and try not to attack the other one for their feelings and experience. Find common ground so an agreement can be made that works for all.