When Your Family Lets You Down

Katie Young
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Wednesday - May 03, 2006
| Del.icio.us

Are you expecting too much of your family? Your husband or wife? Your friends?

Mark didn’t think he was asking too much of his family to watch his two cats for a few months while he settled in to another living space - one that didn’t allow pets.

He figured cats were fairly independent, not like dogs, and if anyone could help while he looked for a place to house them permanently, it would be his parents.

So Mark, who is in his late 20s, was beyond disappointed when his parents told him “no way.”


Mark’s kitties, Kevin Garnett and Frank Thomas, happened to him by accident, so to speak. Mark’s ex-girlfriend - with whom he had rescued the cats from the Hawaiian Humane Society - had unexpectedly taken off to the Mainland, leaving Mark and his two cats to play “bachelors” together.

His friends teased him about being a single man with two cats, but as much as Mark tried to play the macho role, he had really become attached to Kevin and Frank (Mark’s girlfriend had allowed him to name the felines, obviously.)

It was a really tough decision for Mark to change apartments - a practical decision he made to save some money - knowing he would have to find new homes for his two furry friends.

Mark just wanted a little time to find them good homes. So when his parents said “no” to housing the animals for a couple of months, Mark felt resentful.

“You’d think I could count on my family to be there for me,” he griped to me.

But at the same time, Mark also felt bad, knowing that it was a lot to ask of his parents and realizing that they, too, had every right to say no.

Mark felt both betrayed and indebted at the same time - betrayed by his parents’ unwillingness to help this time, but indebted for all the millions of other times they said, “Yes, of course we’ll help.”

It made me start thinking about all the times I’ve relied on my family for everything from emotional to financial to physical support over the years, and how they’ve never said, “No, Katie, we can’t help you pay your college tuition” or “No, we won’t help you fix your car, get you what you need from Longs, or watch your dog while you’re away on vacation.”

If it’s humanly possible, my parents have always, always been there for me. I realize I’m very lucky.

And Mark realized he had been lucky too, and that the times when things really counted in his life, his parents had been there to support him materially and emotionally.

The nature of human beings is that we are imperfect. We hurt each other sometimes, we disappoint each other - whether it’s the reaction your mother gives you when you tell her your plan to become a circus performer, your spouse’s response to your dying grandmother, or your best friend’s inability to agree with your choice of boyfriends.

Sometimes the people you love the most just don’t respond in the way you’re counting on them to respond.


“Disappointment is a normal feeling and it’s OK to feel that way sometimes,” says Jacqueline Winter, a psychotherapist specializing in Imago Relationship Therapy at the Individual & Relationship Counseling Center. “But it’s a matter of how much that disappointment really gets to you. Can you let it go?”

Winter says there are some people who won’t take the risk to rely on anybody, and then there are those people who are too needy and have too much expectation of someone else.

“They base what they’re feeling and their self-esteem on that other person,” she says.

Part of being mature, says Winter, is being able to ask for what you want, but also being able to accept “no” for an answer.

Accept other people’s right to feel what they feel as well.

This is something we learn in our childhood and, in an ideal family, says Winter, there would be an equal balance of nurturance and boundaries. The boundaries help kids to learn to be more self-sufficient and competent.

But, says Winter, “You’re still never too old to need your mom.”

We all need each other in different ways. The best thing to do, I think, is to try to learn to count first on yourself, and then on others. And if someone you love lets you down, know that it’s probably unintentional.

After all, they’re only human - your friends, your spouse, even your parents.

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