Hanging by a thread...
May 18, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I have a lousy home situation and my work situation isn’t much better. I am really at my wit’s end and I don’t know what to do. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. (Very long description follows...sorry in advance!)

I am in my late 30s, involved in a long distance relationship (although we are working towards being in the same place) and have worked at my place of employment for 18 years. I have progressed as far as I can without being a supervisor. My supervisor has held her position for 22 years and as she’s only in her early 50s, she has absolutely no intention of retiring for at least the next ten years. I am hard working, conscientious and end up doing my work and the work of several of my co-workers each day. A year or so ago rumors that I was gay started to spread and since then, I have been suffering at the hands of the “big boss”. I do not live in a state that offers protection based on sexual orientation so I have to watch my behavior in the office way more than anyone should have to. I feel that she is looking for any reason to fire me and have even confronted her regarding what I view as on the job harassment from her regarding my job performance.

On the home front, my sister and her two small children (both under the age of two) are living with me. She was recently in an abusive situation with her ex-boyfriend and her children are the product of their dysfunctional relationship. The kids are great, but as you can imagine, having two little ones of that age in a home produces a great deal of stress…bottles, diapers, children’s toys and clothing always under foot – sometimes it’s more than I can take.

My mother has recently moved in with me as she has divorced her husband (my stepfather) and is unable to find any place to live on her meager salary.

We are all currently living in the house my parents had when they were married. Thankfully, the mortgage has been paid up but there are still massive utility expenses with that many people living in one residence. As most of the money my sister earns goes to child care and the never ending tide of formula and diapers she has no money to help with expenses. My mother is also unable to assist financially, though she tries to.

I feel as if I am drowning – in stress, anxiety and debt. I never get a quiet moment to myself what with the cramped living conditions and any attempts to escape the house on the weekends leaves me feeling guilty as I feel like I should be helping take care of my nephews.

Is this a reasonable living situation? Can I hope to regain my sanity at any point? Should I just leave and get an apartment, foregoing all the time and energy I’ve put into this residence over the last 17 years? Or should I just alter my expectations for what life has to give and accept that I’m never going to enjoy peace and quiet again?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're very good to be helping your sister, but her kids are not your kids, so escaping every once in awhile (even every weekend) shouldn't make you feel guilty.

Being treated badly at work for rumors (true or not) about your sexual orientation is unacceptable. If you've already been promoted as much as possible in your company, I'd start looking for new opportunities. A job with no growth potential and bad office politics isn't going to be a recipe for happiness.

Could you move in with your significant other? Are there more work opportunities for you where s/he lives?

While it's admirable that you want to help your Mom and sister, they are adults and have to be responsible for their own lives. If building up this living arrangement for the past 17 years is doing nothing but making you miserable, I think it's time for a change.
posted by xingcat at 12:38 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

What? This is insanity.

Your sister's children have a father. She needs to work out a court-ordered child support arrangement with their father so that she can contribute to the rent. He has a legal obligation to contribute towards feeding and housing his children. It isn't optional.

Your mother's salary may be meagre but it exists. Furthermore, if your parents are recently divorced, what is the asset split and what is the deal with spousal support?

Neither of these people is resolved from adult responsibility by virtue of currently living in difficult situations.

Ideally, your mother and your sister could rent a home together, but in the interim you need to sit down with them, lay out the monthly bills, and make it clear that you simply cannot float all of these expenses by yourself.

Who owns the home in which you are living now, how did it pass from your parents to you, and who paid off the mortgage? This may influence the moral right of your sister and mother to live there rent free, but it doesn't change the fact that if they're working, they need to help cover the bills.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:44 PM on May 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

Your situation sounds like hell on wheels. You have my sympathy.

1] Get out of the job. Find another one, and leave. If you're boss is targeting you with a view to make you leave, that's bad enough, but if she's bullying you into leaving, sooner or later she'll manage. Go, before you're kicked out.

2] Who owns the home? Either way, try to carve a small space out of it for you to get away from everything from. Perhaps your bedroom. Have a physical space where you can retire to, where you can just chill out. Also, if someone is pushing the bills up, that someone should be doing their utmost to pay for the increase. If that means a better paying job or working more hours, so be it. You can't be expected to carry everyone. Can Mom get a better job? Can sister claim child benefits of some description? It seems like you're paying the bills for an extra 4 people that aren't really your responsibility.

3] Keeping your mind in working order is to be praised, not felt guilty about. If you need to get out of the house at the weekend to keep yourself functioning, do it. Too much stress will cause the system to collapse, and then you'll really be up the creek. You have to take care of yourself more in stressful situations, not less. Do what you need to do to keep body and soul together. If that means leaving your sister to look after the kids, so be it. She'll be stuck if you lose your job because you flip out at work one day because of stress.

4] If your family put up resistance to contributing more, ask them how they'll cope if you decide to move into that apartment or move in with your SO. It might sound harsh, but if you're doing the donkey's share of the work, then that's not really fair.
posted by Solomon at 12:59 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Good gravy. That's a hell of a situation.

Some ideas to help your sister contribute (if she isn't already)

1. Child support, as mentioned though abusive ex might make her unwilling to contact him

2. State support; if she's unemployed with two kids, she should be getting WIC and eligible for other programs, not to mention welfare.

3. If she wants to work but needs childcare, many moms of young kids find it easier to work for a daycare that they can put their children in. It's not much money but they see their kids and it's better than nothing.

Is your mom old enough to qualify for Soc Security/Medicare? Can she draw those and stay home to help w/ the kids while your sister works?

Practical things aside--you MUST take care of yourself. Caretakers also need care. So yes, look for another job, but before you find one, why not take some of your vacation if you have any? Or if/when you get one, set the start date a week or two out. Then use that off time to go somewhere else--like to see your SO.

If nothing else, take a day here or there for mental health, call in sick, and do something for yourself. Don't tell your family where you're going, just go. You've more than earned it, and more than that, you'll collapse, helping no one, if you dont' get it.
posted by emjaybee at 1:00 PM on May 18, 2010

Or should I just alter my expectations for what life has to give and accept that I’m never going to enjoy peace and quiet again?

No. Also, no! Accepting that life is crap would make it so much crappier. And driving yourself to debt and depression in order to help your family would be just as counter-intuitive.

You are not responsible for taking care of your nephews in all your free time - even without that you're doing more than most people would do while going through, as you said, more than anyone should have to. If your sister has asked you to devote all your free time to her kids or hinted at it, she is being totally unreasonable. If you're doing it because you feel obligated out of the goodness of your heart, you're only being a martyr. Neither of those possibilities is going to end well.

Your mother and sister are both adults who've made their choices and unfortunately come to difficult points. It's great and commendable that you're helping, but please - please! - don't do it at the cost of your own peace of mind and financial stability, and certainly not to this extent. I have the feeling that they don't know how bad your situation is becoming and you really need to communicate it to them - starting with the money. They must contribute more (seconding what DarlingBri said about child and spousal support). If they genuinely can't right now, they need to be figuring out ways they can quickly come to that point, and to tell you when you can expect things to change. Even then, you can choose not to help. And if you still feel (talk to a counselor or at the very least a close friend) that it's still adding to your problems this much, you should choose not to.

It's very unlikely that they're unappreciative or looking to run you into the ground, but if you don't talk to them, that is what it could come to. If you keep overdoing your share out of pity or guilt, that is what it would come to. Don't be a martyr.
posted by mondaygreens at 1:08 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Set some limits.*You will go out for happy hour or kick them out say, every Tuesday from 4-6 and every Sunday during pajama story time at the library. There are loads of free things for kids to do, depending on where you are. Parks, family times at museums, libraries, community rec centers. Could your sister get involved in shared childcare with girlfriends or something for the weekend? E.G. all the kids go to someone's house for three hours each Saturday in rotation.

* Enforce set limits. You need some time and space for you and you can get it without being a total jerk. Kudos for being there when people need you.
posted by ShadePlant at 1:11 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would think that if Mom and Sis want to contribute, Mom could take on some of the child care. That would free up some of the money being spent on childcare now towards utilities. You should not be bearing the financial burden of all this, especially with your work situation as stressful as it is right now!

You should also NOT feel guilty for leaving on the weekends for some down time. Even full-time parents need to get away every once in a while. On the weekends, your sister and Mom can split the duties and if you can take over on a weeknight and maybe allow Sis and Mom to go out together for dinner or a movie together, that will help with their sanity, too (and once the kids go to bed you will have some peace and quiet).

And yes, your sister's ex should be making financial payments for the children's support. I understand that, as it was an abusive situation, she is loathe to make contact, but this can be worked through the court system and, if necessary, she can arrange for a restraining order or *supervised* visits for the father of the children.
posted by misha at 1:34 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's lots of good advice here, I just thought that I would add some practical advice about cutting down on your utility bills - go to Walmart and pick up a bunch of compact fluorescent bulbs to replace your incandescent bulbs (CFLs don't work on dimmers, though, so be aware of that; try to buy ones made by GE, Philips or Ostram). Wash laundry in cold water. If you have a dishwasher, air dry, don't heat dry. You can cut down on your bills quite a bit.

And repeating what others have said - you can't let your life be ruined by helping those around you.
posted by Dasein at 1:37 PM on May 18, 2010

- Sidenote: Your sister can actually get into legal trouble for not pursuing the ex for child support. The children are entitled to that support money, and your sister does not have the right to deny them that income.

So sayeth the judge at my divorce.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:42 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Set an end date for everyone to move out. I wasn't clear if it was actually your house, like you paid off the mortgage, or if you will need to set an end date for when you will be moving out. Defintiely find a new job that will make you happy. Divide up the utilities and have everyone pay their share (you pay 1/5, mom pays 1/5, and sis pays 3/5). Babysitting is your sister's responsibility. If you or your mom want to offer to babysit once a month or so as a gift that's great but it certainly isn't your responsibility to take care of the kids all the time, you didn't make them. You need to take care of you and everyone else needs to take care of their own problems, you have been nice enough to help out this much so far! And don't let them guilt you into putting up with more than you want to accept because if you let them guilt you into some stuff, they will continue to use guilt to manipulate you.
posted by MsKim at 2:13 PM on May 18, 2010

This is insanity. Don't throw your life away to help people who are not helping themselves, which just builds a brutal cycle of dependence.
And forget about your job--in economics, it's called a "sunk cost." It sounds like you're waiting to get a return for the 18 years you've invested in the same place; judging from what you've written, it doesn't sound like it's going to happen in a way that would make you happy. Potential employers would treasure someone with that kind of loyalty and staying power, and I think it'd be a mistake to not look for a new job in the other city.
posted by blazingunicorn at 2:18 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

"have worked at my place of employment for 18 years. I have progressed as far as I can without being a supervisor."

It sounds like you work for a small company. I think you would probably be better off working for a large company with a more structured training and promotion system.

You don't mention anything about what industry you're in, but if it is anything that involves interacting with customers, then most retail/restaurant/etc. chains would LOVE to hire you and start you in their management training program. Most big chains have new manager programs that explicitly don't require prior management experience, they just want you to be trainable and interested in sticking around long enough to be worth their investment. Your longevity with your current employer should convince them of the latter.

Don't ever bring up any of the gay rumors / big boss drama in an interview. When asked why you want to leave your current employer, simply explain the part about how you've advanced as far as you can without becoming a supervisor and that you don't expect there to be an opportunity for additional promotions for at least 10 years. Many big companies prefer to promote from within; those companies will love that answer because it tells them that if they provide you with a steady pace of advancement opportunities (which big companies can do) then you'll be loyal and thus would make an excellent investment.

It sounds like the bad situation at your current company and your other life stresses might be grinding down your self esteem and sense of worth, but please trust me that there are many other potential employers out there who are desperate to recruit someone like you and will treat and compensate you much better. (And it sounds like many of your other stresses would be helped by bigger paychecks.)
posted by Jacqueline at 5:20 PM on May 18, 2010

Step one: take a deep breath.

Step two: identify one thing (not the worst thing, or the easiest thing to fix, just one thing at random) that is bothering you, and try to write a bulleted list of discreet, simple steps you can take to fix it.

Step two-point-five: if you can't make a list because other things prevent you from taking those steps, pick one of those blocking things and go through step two with that instead.

Step three: follow the steps and fix it, then go back to step two and repeat until your life is much better. It may take a week or ten years, but the alternative is to constantly feel stressed and overwhelmed and never fix anything.

Incidentally, it looks like you're doing a lot to protect yourself from your boss, and help out your family, but you don't appear to be doing anything to protect yourself from your family. Perhaps you could start in that area.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 6:24 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your situation sounds very difficult. Know that you're doing a huge, huge service to your two young nephews. Their health has probably improved already, just from the lowered stress of being out of an environment that, to them, must have been often chaotic and terrifying -- they had no perspective, no terms for what they were seeing. You're saving a couple of lives here.

In thinking about this from your sister's position, too, it was honestly pretty heroic of her to leave, given that her work skills apparently only result in enough income to pay for formula, diapers, and childcare while she's working. She was in a place that few people escape from -- trapped in an abusive relationship by no income prospects and young children and pervasive feelings of worthlessness. I feel like your role is very, very hard and yet also indispensable here, at least until she can get herself to a place where she can support her children on her own.

But do take a break when you can, and don't feel guilty about it -- young children can be very draining, and by keeping yourself sane and healthy, you're doing the best you can for them as well as for yourself.

You're a good sister, a good aunt, a good person.
posted by palliser at 8:03 PM on May 18, 2010

Oh, and about demanding that your sister seek child support -- if she's completely out of contact with him, and is scared of him, I'd respect that unwillingness to bring him back into their lives. There's no guarantee she'd actually see child support, even if court-ordered, and abusers can turn anything into a weapon, including the court system -- for manipulation, for threats, for harassment, for continued contact for visitation that sometimes results in physical violence. Also, if he's only abused her, and not the children, he will not be limited to supervised visitation. In the same way I'd respect any victim's choices in further dealings with their assailant and coping/healing from victimization, including a decision not to go through the highly imperfect court system, I'd respect hers.
posted by palliser at 8:39 PM on May 18, 2010

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