Family taking advantage

by Debbie

My mother and brother recently moved about 2 minutes from my house when for the past 25 years they lived over 1000 miles away. My mom is 72 years old and my brother is younger but recently diagnosed with HIV and Renal Failure so he is not always feeling well.

I have a husband and a 9 year old daughter and they keep me very busy. Since my mom and brother moved here, they call endlessly and expect me to constantly be a their beckon call, whenever they need something. I feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place. I truly do not mind helping out, but it's become much more than that, it's expected and seems not to be appreciated at all.

I know I should say no, but it's very difficult. I feel like I hardly know these people because over the past 25 years, I've seen them about once a year and now they are here all the time.

What can I do so they stop taking advantage of me?

Thank You.

Ben's Answer:

Your in for a lot more trouble, and more resentment until you can gather up the courage to set some limits. Rather than just saying "no" and feeling cold and uncaring, it would probably be easier and more honest to just tell them how much time you actually are able to give them. Be specific. "We can talk on the phone once a week, and I'll visit you once a week - unless you are having a true emergency..."

You don't owe them an explanation, but you can always say something general, like "I have my own husband and child to take care of, chores to do, work and classes, etc." If they ask you to explain or justify why you don't have time for them, DONT ANSWER THEM! They don't have a right to question your priorities or to pry into your life. They're lucky to have you nearby to help them at all and they should be grateful for whatever help they do get from you.

Don't put yourself in a position of defensiveness. And it's better to say what you "need to do" rather than say what you "want to do." Tell them, "I need to limit the amount of time I spend talking on the phone with you." Or, "I need to devote more time to my own family right now." Nobody can argue with you if you're firm in stating what you need. Don't say "I don't want to do this." That leaves you wide open for an argument, and hurt feelings. Just say "I can't do this. But I can do this..."

Give your honest love and caring in as much as you are able and when you reach your own limit, walk away without shame or guilt.

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT

Santa Rosa Psychotherapist

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