Q&A with Geoff: How Do I Deal with My Family Pulling Away from Me?Jun 28, 2023
I have struggled with approval of my family for years. Last year my sister wrecked my car she was making payments on but stopped paying insurance. She had other repairs she wanted done and we worked together to get those repairs done.
She didn’t fully tell my brother or mother the story and made me look like I was trying to take the car from her. She ended up telling me to stick it and told me to keep the car as she didn’t want it.
My sister lives with my mother. She has always been the black sheep because of her lifestyle. However, she recently found favor with our mom because she offered her some financial support. Over the years all of us kids have had to be financial supporters to my mother.
The past year has been draining and I have started to pull away from my family completely. I have worked for my brother for years. Because I am going through a divorce, I took another job with benefits and better income to help me raise my children.
Consequently, I have been blackballed by all my family members. My brother keeps in contact to ask about work stuff to help his business but nothing else. My mom recently told me, “I am not OK with how you treat your sister and brother. I love you but I’m disappointed.” I do not feel I am wrong in doing something to better my family’s position. But they all feel I am selfish for not continuing to run my brother’s business.
My question is how can I move past my anger and also help my kids who have lost their family too?
It’s not easy living in a family where there are entangled expectations surrounding money, work, caretaking and family loyalty. Even though every family has unspoken rules and expectations, the healthiest families strive to understand and support the unique needs of their members instead of pressuring each person to de-self in support of the family rules. Let’s see how you might untangle some of these unhealthy dynamics for you and your children.
First, it’s never selfish to put the needs of your children ahead of other people. This is the primary responsibility of every parent. We look out for those who are dependent on us and make sure they have what they need even if it goes against the self-interest of other adults. If you don’t prioritize your children’s physical and emotional needs, who will? I applaud your efforts to improve your family’s situation with your new job.
Perhaps the arrangement you had with your brother in the past was a good fit for you at that time. It’s important to adjust patterns that no longer meet the original intention. Sometimes we hold on to dysfunctional patterns out of loyalty, fear and other unspoken assumptions. Humans are creatures of habit and it’s common to stay too long in situations that could otherwise thrive with a few adjustments.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to make an adjustment to unhealthy patterns. Of course, any adjustment is going to have an impact on other people, so you can certainly have compassion and awareness of other people’s experiences. However, a major task in maturing as an adult is learning to handle disappointment. If you spend your life trying to not disappoint other people, you will end up feeling very disappointed about your own life.
It’s impossible to keep other people from being disappointed all the time. All of us have competing needs, unique histories, and varied sensitivities that collide in the most unexpected ways. All we can do is try our best to take care of our own responsibilities and offer grace and patience to each other. Just because your family believes it’s in your best interest to respond to them a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to do things.
If you are hanging on to the job with your brother’s company out of loyalty to the family, check to see if it’s a good fit for you. Take an honest inventory of what will work best for you and your children. Perhaps it makes sense for you to focus on your new job and allow your brother to hire someone else who can fully commit to his business.
You might also talk with him about any concerns he might have about how you are showing up as an employee and any impact that might have on how he feels about you as his sister. Call on your courage to speak your unspoken concerns rather than endlessly ruminating over them.
Every family has healthy and unhealthy expectations that are created and passed on through the generations. Don’t hesitate to shine a light on the traditions, rules, customs and expectations in your family. I believe this is a dynamic and ongoing practice that requires diligence.
There are challenging dynamics in your relationships with your sister, mother and brother that have cost you a lot of money, time and energy. Sometimes it’s helpful to push pause on certain expectations to get more perspective so you can reengage in a more intentional and healthy way.
You don’t have to hide this work from your children. You can help them see in developmentally appropriate ways that you’re actively working to care for them and find better ways to do things in your own life. You can show compassion for the struggle other family members might have with these changes and invite your children to choose how they want to respond as well. This is the same work they’ll continue to do with you and each other as they mature.
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