Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I have a lot of resentment towards my family.
This sounds like a common problem, but until the past two years, I'd always been very close to my family. However, my dad (who I was super close with) got seriously chronically ill, and everything changed.
My siblings basically have done nothing.
They don't visit or help with medical decisions. Meanwhile, I see him every day.
My mother and I have developed a toxic codependency because we are the only two who are there for him. By that, I mean that if I don't visit him, she's mad and if she doesn't go, I'm mad.
Meanwhile, I’ve watched him nearly die probably six times over the past two years. During the past year, I went through some major emotional and mental health issues triggered by my relationship, life-changing information about someone close to me, and the stress of my dad.
I feel as though I had no support or leniency from them during this time. Recently, I got engaged, and none of them said or did anything, while my friends celebrated it. Every time I try to confront them, I feel like a selfish jerk, or it quickly escalates too far into them making me feel guilty.
What do I do about this?
Cutting them off feels extreme, but I feel totally alone and like I'm in a one-sided situation with them.
I've sought counseling, but it's either a) expensive b) doesn't work around an office job or b) waitlisted.
I'm so sad, and life has lost all joy for me. I don't know how to proceed.
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I can understand why you feel so frustrated. You are dealing with an extremely stressful ongoing situation with your father’s illness. And this is amplified by the fact that you and your mom are in caregiving roles, while your siblings are not.
There are three main components here that need to be addressed — setting boundaries, managing expectations, and prioritizing self-care.
The first thing I want you to consider is that you can set boundaries for how much you can give right now. It’s terrific that you have been there daily, but it’s not necessarily sustainable, for you or your mom. From your email, I have gathered that your dad is in a hospice or care facility. So he has some immediate physical care. It is okay to scale back on your visits. Setting some boundaries in this area will take a lot of pressure off.
For example, you can alternate days, Monday-Friday. Take a weekend day off, and on the other weekend day, you go together. Or maybe it’s less than that. Maybe you can commit to three days a week. Whatever it is, make a manageable schedule. You have a life outside of caring for your dad, and you don’t need to feel guilty about that. Because you can do both, but not all the time, every day.
I am not surprised that you and your mom are struggling.
You are both under immense pressure. And you both need to prioritize the time to take care of yourselves. I know you mentioned that you were having trouble accessing counseling. There are other ways for you to get some quick, free support. Twelve-Step groups, such as CoDA and Al-Anon, are helpful for learning how to set boundaries, especially with family members.
I did a little searching online and found many online support groups and Facebook groups that offer peer support for caregivers. I highly recommend you explore these options, and I would share them with your mom, as well. Don’t underestimate how helpful they can be.
When it comes to your siblings, you have no control over their actions; you only have control over yours.
They may never help out; they may not offer you or your mom or your father the type or level of support you need. Managing expectations around family members is essential. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on who we wish our sibling or parent is, rather than who they are. Accepting that will relieve you of that constant frustration and prevent you from looking to them for things you will never get from them. Repeatedly confronting them will end in you feeling emotionally exhausted.
The good news is that it sounds like you have fantastic support from your chosen family.
So many of us find what we need in a “family” from the people we choose to have in our life. Real family often has little to do with biology. Allow yourself to lean into the family that is there. Focus on the new life you are creating with your fiancé.
Lastly, make room in your life for other types of self-care.
In addition to seeking out some support groups, allow yourself the time to take actions that take care of you. That may mean a hike or a yoga class or a movie or a book and a comfy chair. Schedule that time for yourself as you would the time you spend at work and with your dad.
You can get through this without feeling angry and overwhelmed. You need to adjust your expectations and set those boundaries.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Fluorite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo