Figuring out how to reconcile responsibilities to family and desire to grow the hell up already
December 15, 2010 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Adult staying at home to help financially support parents, parents split up, total financial chaos ensues... NOW how/when am I going to become an independent, grown-up adult?

I have been living at home with my mom and stepdad, because neither my or my stepdad's jobs pay enough to fully cover a household's expenses. My mom was laid off from her job about 8 years ago and hasn't had another job since, but has also, at this point, drained whatever available savings and credit she had available to her (she spent a bit of that time giving hospice care to my grandma, who moved in with us for a couple years and passed away in 2008--so there have been some bumps in her larger plan of "get another job ASAP", but she also has not previously been very serious about trying, from what I have been able to tell). Between my stepdad's income and mine, we could handle the bills and get by, and although I have basically hated living at home as an adult, I've tried to focus on the fact that I'm helping take care of my family and that it has benefited all of us.

So my mom decided a couple months ago that she was breaking up with my stepdad. She asked him to move out, and he did. This came as a pretty big surprise to me, although I know that there has been plenty of tension. So he's gone, and I make NOT NEARLY enough to pay the bills, so I decided my plan was to give notice at my job (I am still working full-time there, basically until I get something else, because they really need me, and I still really need the tiny income I have now anyway) and look for another one. Luckily, within a few months, I can probably get a job that pays about double what I am currently making, although will be doubly stressful, but I'm willing to do it because I realize it is also part of my larger goal of moving out on my own as soon as I am able. My mom is also ostensibly looking for a job, but I have no clue what's going on other than that she doesn't have one yet.

When I get this much-better-paying job (which I have kinda needed to do for a long time anyway), I will be financially able to move out and live on my own completely independently of my parents, but I feel like I can't do that YET because I have to provide for my mom. I do cognitively understand that I don't "have to" take financial responsibility for my mother and that she can be getting a job to deal with her situation and choices, but obviously, humans are complex. My mom and I have what could be described as a pretty "enmeshed" relationship; she raised me on her own because my dad passed away when I was a baby, and although she had been together with my stepdad for ten years by the time I was starting college, he didn't even move in until then. She and I were a little two-woman team for a long time, and have depended on each other a lot. In the past several years, though, I have naturally grown and matured a lot, and depend much less on her and much more on myself (except for the room and board, obviously). I have a truly wonderful boyfriend and a few close friends who I am able to lean on when I really need support. I also already have a therapist, although I am not going right now because of the expense.

Lately, the biggest stress has been that my mom is constantly picking passive-aggressive fights with me and telling me how much she hates living with me, basically pushing me away as hard as she can. And then she alternates that with pulling me close and wanting to talk like we usually do, or wanting me to go on a walk with her, whatever. This is part of a larger pattern that I can see over the past few years--she has been slowly making her (already very small) circle of relationships and support much smaller. I'm doing my best not to add fuel to the fire at all, trying not respond antagonistically when she yells at me, just trying to keep my eye on the primary task of getting more money so that we don't have our electricity and water shut off. I have some pretty fair concerns about her mental/emotional health at this point, and don't know how to be actually helpful to her, other than to just back off and encourage her to call her few close friends to talk.

My specific question is:
How do I figure out where to draw the line between staying here and financially supporting my mom as best I can, and attempting to preserve my own emotional health by getting the hell out? I'm 27, I'm fully emotionally ready to be on my own, and will soon be financially ready too, but I have no idea how to leave her to fend for herself when she's demonstrated that she's not able to do that right now.
posted by so_gracefully to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tell your mother that you plan on moving out so she needs to plan on taking responsibility for herself. Give her two months and in that time find a roommate and a place-if need be find a friend's couch. You haven't supported her, you have enabled her.

I assume you have other relatives, that she has friends, or for that matter get back with your stepdad.

If your mom was attempting to pull her own weight, or was ill, or there were other extenuating circumstances, I might reply differently. But this is bs.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:59 AM on December 15, 2010 [15 favorites]

St. Alia of the Bunnies is completely right. You are the adult here, not her. She is the one who needs to grow up and take responsibility for herself rather than rely her daughter to completely support her.
posted by Loto at 11:12 AM on December 15, 2010

You say you are going to give notice at your current job, THEN try to find another? Can you not find another job first, then give notice? My concern is that you may end up unemployed.

Beyond that, yeah, tell your mom you plan on moving out on your own, and that she needs to make a plan for herself. Give her a date, and get on with it. Are you currently renting?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:21 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Is it possible that she's being passive/aggressive in an attempt to get you to move out? Like, she knows it's the right thing for you and for her but just can't bring herself to say it?

If you actually do move out, it'll force her out of her inertia. So, I agree, give her a couple months notice, get your ducks in a row, and get out.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:30 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I decided my plan was to give notice at my job (I am still working full-time there, basically until I get something else, because they really need me, and I still really need the tiny income I have now anyway) and look for another one.

Reverse this order. Do not give notice until you have been offered the new job.
posted by amicamentis at 11:55 AM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is much easier said than done, but sit down and tell her a few things:

- You want to live on your own. (It's not clear to me if she knows this.)
- You moving out is not abandoning her. You expect your relationship to remain close and actually improve due to the distance.
- You have "concerns about her mental/emotional health."
- She needs to have a plan for taking care of herself when you are no longer living with her.
- You are willing to help her get in contact with community resources, but you will not be financially supporting her.

You said she has been pushing people away for years and can't take care of herself. Is she seeing anyone about those problems? Do what you can to get her help but don't let her keep you from living your own life.
posted by soelo at 11:56 AM on December 15, 2010

Response by poster: ThatCanadianGirl, just since you brought it up: I'm 100% sure I'm not in danger of unemployment (I should have left to a higher-pay job a long time ago to prevent myself from even being in this situation, honestly). My current job really needs me and my specific constellation of skills/abilities, and they want to keep me on as long as possible. Also, my profession is weird and the whole quitting process takes longer than others for lots of irrelevant reasons, so it was the decent thing to do to tell them ASAP.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:57 AM on December 15, 2010

Best answer: I know this is going to be a hard one. Really, really, hard. But:

Think about it. You are a child who is supporting your mother, at your own expense. You didn't say whether you gave up a lot of material things or investments in the course of this (such as a college education or technical training), but given your finances, that wouldn't be suprising.

What is obvious is that you have sacrificed a lot emotionally.

Caring for others is great and awesome, especially if they have supported you in the past and have found themselves in unexpected hard times. Caring for others in a way that allows them to get back on their feet again can be the best thing ever, and often helps forge (or strengthen already-existing) relationships that will carry you in the long run.

But this isn't really a case of helping someone help herself, is it?

You've been playing a quasi-parental role to your own mother for about, oh, 27 years. That is long enough to mess someone up a little bit, especially if they had no strong individuals in the past playing the parental role and taking care of them when they were a kid and really needed it. At some point, you might really need someone to swoop in and take care of you in a way that you've never experienced before.

And that person should be you.

You may need to explicitly tell your mother, "I am the child, and you are the parent. It is not my job to take care of you. That was never my job." And then just walk away*.

Even though funds are tight, I would recommend checking in with the therapist on this, because this is going to suck in a really complicated way, and will be made even worse if there are other family members around who won't understand and who will start piling on the guilt. But living your own life is important, and it sounds like something you really want to do. So do it.

* Going about this in the ways suggested above, such as giving her two-months notice or helping her on her job search by sending openings and announcements her way, it awesome. It will help you avoid this feeling that you're abandoning her because you won't be. But you might want to be careful, because it sounds like no matter what you do, if it's not caring for her 100%, you are going to feel guilty. And that guilt, really, is unwarranted.
posted by vivid postcard at 12:09 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Also - even though this is probably going to cause some hurt feelings and drama in the short-term, if you have a good relationship with your mother aside from this particular facet of enmeshment, I can't imagine that leaving will hurt you two in the long run. It'll work out.
posted by vivid postcard at 12:14 PM on December 15, 2010

I have a slightly different take on things. It sounds like your mother is mentally ill, potentially progressive. I would focus on getting her evaluated and hopefully some support. That will make managing her care (which is essentially what you have been doing) much more feasible and give you the space to grow.
posted by zia at 12:40 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

In a backwards kinda way, it seems she is pushing you out the door so she can take control of her life back.

You can move out now and cease financial support. No guilt required!
posted by jbenben at 1:35 PM on December 15, 2010

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