Can't Get Away
February 22, 2010 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I've become enmeshed in my parent's problems to the extent I feel it's holding me back in life. How to get out? (Long)

To begin, I'm an unmarried male age 31 living in the Midwest. I'm originally from the Indian Subcontinent, but came here at a young age.

Since I was 13 or so, there have been times when I was left in charge of the household because one or both of my parents left us for an extended time. With my dad, it was because of work, and with my mom, it was due to her (then undiagnosed) bipolar disorder.

I have the unfortunate trait of wanting to be responsible and feel the need now, as I did before, to step in and help when no one else can or wants to. It caused me to have to take care of my sisters when I was 13, 15 and 18. The last time I was left alone while my sisters were in high school, I was a college freshman, and it almost destroyed me. I was left to take care of their welfare for 6 months.

After that, my mom's bipolar was diagnosed and she began taking meds. But, since my dad was working overseas, I was still expected to take care of whatever my dad would have taken care of had he been here. My parents got me to do this by taking advantage of my nature and outright guilt trips.

After my dad returned, I was able to get back to life. Then, my mom found out about my dad having an affair, which threw things back into craziness. I'd get all sorts of upsetting calls from her about what my dad was up to. My dad would also try to justify himself.

Fast forward to today. I'm currently in therapy for depression. My parents are again living overseas, and have left me to take care of their house. So, I have to live here, pay their bills for them, and basically stay in a city I don't want to anymore. I want to move away, but the overwhelming guilt I feel when I think of leaving things and disappointing them is too much to bear.

I'm talking with my therapist about this, but I just want to see if any of you who may have gone through similar stuff might be able to offer help.

For more questions, you can email me at tiedtofamily at gmail.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to move, find a job, plan your move, and tell your parents. They can make other arrangements for their house. It's not your job to take care of it. Don't be guilty about it, you've spent enough of your life taking care of everything.
posted by distracts at 11:01 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take a look at these two recent threads (1, 2) also dealing with the question of how to deal with parental demands. I think there are some responses in both threads that are relevant to you because they deal with appropriate boundary-setting and such.
posted by prefpara at 11:11 AM on February 22, 2010

I definitely understand the guilt trip that parents can use to keep their adult children around and useful. I've been in a similar situation, and even though I've learned to keep my distance for my own sanity, the guilt is still an issue.

It may help for you to realize that everyone is now an adult. Your sisters have grown, and you no longer need to worry about their welfare. Your parents are adults, and have been adults your entire life. You did your duty to your family when it was truly necessary, now your parents are taking advantage of you. If you can accept that the guilt you feel is an artificial construct, and not truly an indication of something you've done wrong - you can learn to stop letting it rule your life. Let your father and mother take care of themselves for now - it's your turn.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:48 AM on February 22, 2010

The last time I was left alone while my sisters were in high school, I was a college freshman, and it almost destroyed me. I was left to take care of their welfare for 6 months.

Do you have any extended family in the US? I realize that while your parents were and are being somewhat neglectful and short sighted, I think being asked to check in on high school aged sisters (were they into drugs or having parties? my experience with my ABCD relatives is that they are extremely conservative and not any kind of people who would require excessive babysitting or supervision -- something I've seen with other Indian families, too).

So, I have to live here, pay their bills for them, and basically stay in a city I don't want to anymore.

I did this for my aunt and uncle while they went to India for an entire summer. I thought it was house sitting. They let me stay there free. It was nice, I thought, of them to do that.

However, I think your main problem is that you feel largely directed by them and they are being very unstable. You're also not close to them. You sound very lonely.

You're also 31. Do you have a job? Maybe you should save your money, send out resumes, etc. to jobs in other cities that are far away.

I mean, basically, from a cultural perspective we're supposed to help our families out, and more or less, it usually isn't that big of a deal. The trouble you're facing is that you're angry and unhappy with them, and maybe you need breathing room, a crack at a normal, stable life, etc. You want to get away from their problems and that's okay, you're not superman. Just start planning how you'll make it all work out.
posted by anniecat at 11:52 AM on February 22, 2010

My parents got me to do this by taking advantage of my nature and outright guilt trips.

Honestly, part of the culture. If you want to become immune to it, you just have to plan to leave and leave, then disrupt communication. Give them an email address that is specifically handling just their emails to you. You need to sort your life out and give them a change to figure out what to do in their life without you. Also, are you close to your sisters? Can you build a peer-like bond with them, or do you just feel overly responsible? I would urge you to be friends to them and you can all commiserate.
posted by anniecat at 11:55 AM on February 22, 2010

Welcome to the world of codependency. Your "need" to help is because you were from a disfunctional family where they put you in a position to help out when you shouldn't have.

A good therapist will help you with recognizing the signs of codependency (wanting to say no but can't) and being put into positions where you shouldn't be. I mean, it's they're house and they need to stop putting you in charge of cleaning up messes.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Codependency is rough and a tough cycle to break but it can happen. Start by mentioning to your therapist this is what's going on and read Codependency No More by Melody Beattie. You'll see the "OMG that's me" signs after the first chapter.

Good luck.
posted by stormpooper at 12:46 PM on February 22, 2010

I think it's admirable that you remain concerned about your parents' well being after everything they've put you through. It can be tricky to balance those legitimate feelings with your (even more legitimate) desire to direct your own life the way you want. In dealing with my own demanding parent, I find it useful to sometimes put aside everything I'm asked to do and instead think about what my parent really needs. Fulfilling another person's every request will make you unhappy and resentful, but it can be rewarding to help meet another's needs in the way you feel is best for everyone (including yourself).

In this case, for example, your parents want you to be a caretaker for their house. But do they really need that? Why not arrange for the bills to be automatically paid from a bank account or credit card? Also, there are other people who would be able to look after the house, whether friends of the family who would stop by now and then or professional caretakers. If money would be an issue, the house could be rented out through a management company. There are solutions to these problems that don't involve you giving up so much of your life OR leaving your parents completely in the lurch. It may take some work to talk your parents into accepting it, but they must learn to recognize that your needs are valid too. You're doing your parents a lot of big favors, here - it's more than fair for you to do it on your own terms, and even say no sometimes.
posted by unsub at 12:52 PM on February 22, 2010

you should try to understand and respect the feelings and demands of your parents but it is important to draw the line are not responsible for them and their feelings
posted by SilverSunrise at 1:11 PM on February 22, 2010

A few years ago there was a This American Life episode called "Living Without." In its last section, it features a reading of a story about someone asked to donate his heart to his mother. It may or may not be helpful to you, but for me the ridiculous story drove home just how unreasonable it is to expect (or force, via guilt) someone to give up their life for their parents.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:48 PM on February 22, 2010

I've been through very similar situations with my family. The one truth that got me through it was that ultimately, the best way for me to take care of them would be to take care of myself first. If you know you can't turn away from being the rock in your family, then your first responsibility is to make sure that you're on steady ground. I had to leave my family to pursue my own goals at one point, and while it was tough and I got guilt-tripped about it, I've since been able to support them in ways I never could have if I had stayed.
posted by Zorz at 4:46 PM on February 22, 2010

So, I have to live here, pay their bills for them, and basically stay in a city I don't want to anymore.

You don't "have" to do anything. You choose to do these things because you haven't decided to be in conflict with them. When you finally make a conscious choice to do what you want to do, you'll know that that comes with the consequences of having a lot of guilt-tripping and recriminations thrown your way. This is just an actual choice you have to make.

People do choose to buck their parents, families, traditions, and cultures and take the "consequences" - huge scenes and all the bullcrap that goes with that. You just have to decide to do it.

Good luck. It's not easy, but swallowing a load of crap for a lifetime isn't easy either.
posted by gt2 at 9:21 PM on February 22, 2010

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