When Family Becomes A Burden

Katie Young
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Wednesday - July 02, 2008
| Del.icio.us

How much would you do in the name of family? How far would you go to accommodate those who are tied to you through blood?

Whether it’s a request from a parent, a child or a cousin twice removed, there’s no arguing that favors in the name of family are a daily burden for some.

Lately, however, I’ve been wondering just how much should be required of one person when it comes to helping a family member in need.

Some might say you should do everything in your power to help family, no matter what. But what if your generosity is being abused by the same family member over and over again?

In what I can only describe as a no-win situation, my friend James finds himself trapped in a similar struggle these days.

Just 23 years old, James has been working in his first full-time job for a year now. About six months in, his mother started asking him for money. James does not live at home and hasn’t since he was 18.


For months James has been giving his mother money, no questions asked. After all, she was the woman who raised him, put a roof over his head and fed him - all while being a single parent.

But then James found out that his mother wasn’t using the money in the way he thought. She upgraded her home furnishings to include luxurious items that James found completely unnecessary, she leased a BMW instead of opting for a more inexpensive vehicle and she racked up even more debt by shopping every week for designer items.

When he confronted his mother about her spending habits, she broke down in tears, crying about how all her friends had such wonderful lives in big houses with nice cars and clothes and how she just wanted to feel “normal” around them.

To see his mother cry made James feel really bad so he dropped the subject and continued to give her money. The guilt he felt was unbearable. He only wanted his mother to be happy.

I told him that I thought his mother was putting him in a really bad situation. Not only did he have his own debts from school to pay off, but he also was spending his paycheck on rent, food and a vehicle of his own. James’ entry level salary hardly equipped him to financially support two people.

James, however, couldn’t say no to family - especially his own mother.

Another friend of mine has a cousin who constantly gets into arguments with her husband and shows up at my friend’s doorstep with her two kids in tow, asking to hang out for a while.

Well, one night turns into two, which turns into a week or more of sleepovers at a time.


While my friend, Celia, feels bad and wants to help her cousin in her time of need because “she’s family,” Celia can’t help but be annoyed at the kids running around the house, making a mess and yelling while she’s trying to work from her home office.

Not only that, but Celia’s cousin and her kids eat all the food in the house and never bother to make a run to the store or offer to help clean up after themselves. Celia ends up feeling like a maid in a hotel.

What is it that makes it so hard to say no to family members like this? It would seem like a no-brainer to some to cut these people off from the giving tree for good. You know, practice some “tough love.”

But it’s family, right? And it’s hard to say no to family members because we’re raised to believe that family members support each other during the tough times no matter what. When someone is abusing your spirit of giving, however, I think as hard as it might be, you have to draw the line. If you don’t, you’ll only end up with a huge pile of resentment instead of just a huge pile of clothes to clean up off the floor.

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