Friday, May 7, 2010

F for F- - -ed up Family

Lovely reader, I’m going to apologize up front for this post. It is a brain dump of negativity that I write more for me to get it out than for you to read. My feelings will not be hurt if you choose to skip this one.

I called my mom this morning to figure out what time she’d prefer we go to brunch on Sunday for Mother’s Day. As usual, no conversation with my mother can be simple or pleasant. Instead, I got all of my family’s current problems dumped on my shoulders. Let me tell you; my family is a mess. They are all falling apart, and I don’t really know what to do about it…

My mom and her husband live with his 18 year-old son with Asperger’s and my 4 year-old nephew, Li’l D. Mom’s deadbeat husband quit his job a few months ago, because he had back pain issues. Why he had to quit his job as a school bus driver, where he basically sits all day, is beyond me. Why he quit with nothing else lined up is just out of my realm of comprehension. Mom and her husband have always been the paycheck to paycheck types, so him not working for a few months has put them so far behind that they’re now apparently having trouble catching up.

Husband has a job now, but it’s another bus driving gig that apparently doesn’t pay well at all. So, he’s on the lookout for a new job, mom continues to work at her school bus driver job, and they are now seeking public assistance. Step brother is apparently making really bad choices lately and is acting out at an ever increasing rate. There have been talks about moving him to a group home, but mom’s husband is struggling with the decision for obvious reasons.

I worry about my nephew. I wonder if now’s the time for Music Man and I to seek custody. Then again, I have to remind myself that, if his mother were alive today, the life she’d be providing him would probably be quite similar. At twenty two years old, she’d be working a job that probably just barely paid the bills, and she’d probably be relying on public assistance for help with daycare and food.

In the mean time, my twin brother is apparently homeless once again. He struggles with a drug problem—marijuana mostly, from my understanding, though there has been speculation that he is using other drugs as well—and he is currently jobless. My dad and his wife had taken my brother in, but apparently the wife has kicked him out. Allegedly no reason was given. When my dad tried asking his wife why, he was apparently told that they would discuss it later.

I heard this all from my mom. My brother showed up at her place yesterday and broke down bawling when he got to the part of the story where my dad handed him $30 and said something about being sorry it didn’t work out. My brother looked at my dad and said, “I don’t need your money; I need a place to live.” At this point, I started crying at my desk at work. Not something I like to do.

To say that I’m disappointed in my dad and his wife is an understatement. Granted I don’t know all the facts, and I don’t know the wife’s reasons for making her decision, but still. My dad hasn’t been the greatest, most supportive dad. My parents divorced when I was five years old. Dad paid his child support, sure, but that was about it. We did eventually have visitation with him, and he would take us out to movies, bowling, camping, etc., but once we got to be 18 and child support was no longer mandated, his involvement in our lives seriously decreased. My stepdad was more of a dad to me than my dad ever was; however, he and my brother never really got along. As a result, my brother’s never really had a positive male role model in his life. He’s struggled with feeling unwanted and unloved by both our dad and stepdad.

This was my dad’s chance to be supportive of his son, to help him get back on his feet, and to show my brother that dad loves and cares about him, which is truly what my brother aches for. And dad blew it. I am beyond upset by this. I hurt so much for my brother.

Lest you think I unfairly villainize my father, know that I have issues with my mother too, but that’s a blog for another day (or another few days, because the issues are numerous). I will say that I am very disappointed in the fact that she seems to have written my brother off. After my brother told her he was going to stay at a friend’s house for the night, but didn’t know what he’d do after that, she told him to call her if he finds himself in a situation where he has no other option but to sleep in his car. (Aside: He found himself in that situation a couple times this winter, which broke my heart when I found out about it after the fact. Minnesota winters get dangerously cold and picturing my brother freezing overnight in his car gives me panic attacks.)

You’re thinking that my mom sounds pretty supportive right now, aren’t you? I mean, she did tell him to call if his situation gets anymore dire. Well, let me finish with what she told me: “I didn’t tell him that I wouldn’t be letting him stay here if he calls. I’d be putting him in the car and driving him to the mission.” Sensing my shock and horror over the fact that she’d take her son to a probably already overfilled homeless shelter instead of having him sleep on her couch, she tried covering with, “I think he’s at the point where he needs to hit rock bottom.” Wow. Just wow.

How can a mother even think about dropping her son off at a homeless shelter?!?! I understand that mom can’t take my brother in on a long-term basis because there is no room in their rented three bedroom townhouse. I also understand that my brother, as a grown ass adult, shouldn’t be relying on mommy for help. But it’s obvious that my brother has issues. He needs help, and I don’t just mean financially; he quite obviously needs some mental/emotional help as well.

Brother insists that he hasn’t smoked pot in over two weeks. He told mom that he realizes he needs to quit and that he needs to take control of his life; he’s sick of the way he’s living now. That’s all fine and good, but is it real? Once he gets a job and income again, will he start using again just as he has in the past?

I struggle with what I can do to help my brother. We are turning 32 years old on the 23rd, and it boggles my mind that his life is such a mess. He’s been in a downward spiral for a long time now, and it’s gotten so much worse since our youngest sister’s death. He admitted to me once that he isn't dealing with or coping with that loss well (or at all), and he promised me he'd look into counseling. Obviously, that didn't happen. I think he has hit rock bottom at this point.

Lastly, there’s my sister. My middle (now only) sister currently lives with her “ex” fiancé and their two children—my 9 year-old nephew and 4 year-old niece. Ex is in quotes because my sister says they are no longer together and that she doesn’t want to be with him anymore, but her actions tell a different story. Sister’s fiancé is an abuser—he has battered her quite a few times in the past, and it is not at all unlikely that he has abused (does abuse) his kids in some way as well. Sister keeps saying she’s going to leave, but she doesn’t.

I’m fed up with her whole situation. I’m appalled that her fiancé mistreats her and the rest of my family and many family members simply choose to ignore his behavior. For example, her fiancé told my husband to fuck off on our wedding day simply because my husband had asked him to remove his hat in the church, and my sister and my mother expected my husband and I to just let that go because fiancé was feeling offended that we didn’t involve him in the wedding in any way. I’m sickened by the mistreatment of my niece and abuse of my nephew. (I know my nephew has been abused. There was an incident at our house once where Music Man raised his voice to nephew because nephew had done something he was told not to. Music Man shouted, “Nephew, no!” Nephew cowered as though he were trying to avoid being hit and immediately panicked and became defensive, shouting, “I didn’t do it! It wasn’t my fault!”)

I’m fed up that my mom, who talks like some domestic violence warrior since my youngest sister’s death and serves on the local domestic violence coalition’s board, is all talk and no action. The only reason she's involved with the domestic violence coalition is that it gets her the attention she seems to be addicted to. She dubs herself an advocate, but when it comes to her own family, she sits back and does nothing. In fact, she continues to invite the ex fiancé to family events—holidays, birthday celebrations, etc. And, when sister was punched by fiancé (with her back turned and in front of her children no less) a few days after Thanksgiving, mom didn’t call the police to report it when my sister arrived at her house with the whole side of her torso bruised and two frightened children in tow!

I lost my youngest sister to domestic violence murder; I don’t want to lose this one too. (Yeah…there is a pattern there. My mom did not set the best example for us. I was fortunate enough to finally figure out that my prior relationship was abusive and that I needed to get out. I was also wise enough to realize that I needed help to deal with the aftermaths of the extreme emotional and sexual abuse I’d endured and to seek out that help. My sisters? Not so much.) As much as I want to, I can’t force sister to change her situation, and my advice (both solicited and unsolicited) and offers of help and support go unheeded. As a result, I’m forced to distance myself; perhaps trying to insulate myself from the pain that will come if I lose her too.

I’m pissed that she won’t put her kids first. This is no kind of life for them, and she should know this because it was no kind of life for us growing up either!! The bottom line is she’s not moving because she’s lazy and she’s scared. She doesn’t want to have to take care of her two kids completely by herself, and she doesn’t know how she’d make it on her own. Right now, her income is the only one supporting her family of four—deadbeat baby daddy has gotten fired from too many jobs to count—so she could conceivably support a family of three on her own. Still, she doesn’t leave. She just continues to make excuses to delay her move date. I’ve offered both financial and emotional support to help her move, and it doesn’t help.

I am overwhelmed. I feel as though I’m about to come unglued. Part of me wants to just turn my family off—turn my back on them unless or until they take control of their damn lives. How is it that I’m the only one who has it together?! Why am I the only responsible one?! Why do I feel like I have to fix all of these problems?! Why do I feel guilty that my life is so good compared to theirs?!? I’m so fucking sick of being the only goddamn responsible adult in this beyond dysfunctional family!

Music Man and I could logistically handle taking my brother in for a while. We have a mostly unused second bedroom that currently operates as a junk room storage room/office. I’d have to empty stuff out of in order to make room for bro to live in it, but it’s doable. However, we cannot afford to financially support my brother indefinitely. If bro had a job right now, it would be different. There’s also the issue of him needing help. I truly believe that, at the very least, he needs some counseling.

I’ll actually go a step further and say that I think he needs to be in some kind of treatment program; however, that costs money that he doesn’t have. In fact, the only way for him to get appropriate treatment at this point would be to basically become a ward of the state. He’d have to go to the state hospital and declare himself suicidal, he’d be put on a 72 hour hold and analyzed by a mental health professional, that professional would determine whether or not he needs treatment, and he would then be referred to the appropriate government program(s).

I could, and maybe should, take custody of Li'l D, but I worry about the impact that will have on my life and on my mom’s mental stability. I don’t think my mother would ever forgive me for taking him from her, and her already fragile psyche would probably be crushed into dust. Having that little part of my sister to take care of and dote on is the only thing that gets her out of bed some days! Based on his emotional issues and problems with even the smallest amount of change, I think that taking him from the only home he knows would hurt more than it would help at this point. I can’t be responsible for creating even more emotional issues for the little guy!

Since I have the means to do it (or at least the best means out of the whole family anyway), I feel as though I should take in my brother and/or my nephew. It would most certainly impact Music Man and me financially, and the emotional and mental toll would be large as well. I worry about the effects it would have on our marriage, and then I remind myself of how strong our marriage is and how much we’ve already weathered together. I will admit that I selfishly don’t want my and Music Man’s life to change. I like what we have. I like the way things are right now. I feel like we work hard for the things we have and have earned the right to just live our life. I’m so sick of sacrificing my needs for everyone else—I’ve done it my entire life!

On the other hand, what kind of person would I be if I let my brother go homeless?! I don’t know if I could live with myself if anything happened to him. As his twin, I feel as though I must do something. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always mothered my siblings; I’ve been burdened with the responsibility of caring for them since about the age of 10* due to the fact that my mom couldn’t afford to pay for childcare and was too focused on her dysfunctional relationship with my stepdad. (*My former therapist believes this has a lot to do with my decision to remain childfree, and I’m inclined to say that she’s absolutely right.)

I also feel a sense of obligation for my nephew. I was a second mother to my sister. Since I was ten years older than her, it was natural for me to help her out if she needed it, to shield her from our parents’ sometimes violent fights that would awaken us in the middle of the night, and to protect her when I knew she needed it or when she called on me to do so. I wonder how appalled she is that I’m not stepping in and taking over with my nephew. Would she have wanted me to do that? Is she disappointed in me?

I’m just at a complete loss right now. My head and my heart hurt, and I am emotionally exhausted. I wish I had all of the answers. I wish I could just magically fix everything—get everyone back on their feet. I’m stuck between wanting to do whatever I can to help and wanting to shout at them all to get their fucking lives in order and to leave me the hell alone until they do. I feel selfish for thinking about the mental and emotional toll this all has on me when they’re the ones suffering. I feel like a bitch for thinking that they’ve put themselves in these situations and now they need to fix them.

If life were easy, I’d layout my plan, they’d follow it, and everything would be fixed: Mom’s husband would take his son and go live with his mom while he tries to get his life back on track and realize what it takes to support a family. Brother would then move in with mom, find a job, and go to therapy/treatment. My sister would take her kids and move into an apartment on her own, being sure to check with the local domestic violence coalition for help on what she should do to protect herself and her children from her ex. (It is statistically proven that the majority of domestic violence murders happen after the victim leaves her abuser; my youngest sister became one of those statistics back in December of 2007.) However, that's not the way the world works. Life isn't easy. If I were to tell them all that this is the way things are going to be, they’d look at me as though I was the crazy one.

Instead, I’m going to recommend that my mom tell my brother to go to the hospital for a 72 hour hold and start on the path to treatment; baring that, he needs to try to get on unemployment and he needs to go to the workforce center to get help finding a job and/or returning to school, and then he needs to seek out therapy. Then, I will remind my mom that I can help out financially with my nephew. If she tells me what he needs, I can buy it for him. I can also give her grocery store gift certificates to help feed him. I will not give her cash, because I don’t trust her to spend it responsibly. Then, I’m going to remind her that she should call my stepdad (nephew’s grandpa) to let him know that she needs help. Again, he won’t give her cash, but he will give gift cards and he will make purchases that are necessary for my nephew.

That is all I can do at this point. It’s all I have in me. I just hope it's enough...
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  1. You're an incredible woman... I have no idea how you've stayed sane. You are not responsible for the decisions of these supposed adults. Of course you want to help your family - but not at the expense of your own wellbeing.

  2. are awesome! I totally agree with Rachel on this one - you do not need to, nor should you, take care of everybody. Two things that occurred to me while reading this...(1) If you take your brother in, make sure you set a time frame that you both agree to - 3 mos., 6 mos. - and then make sure he understands that you will STICK TO THIS - he is OUT after that period of time; and (2) you really should write a memoir about all this. I know I'd buy it. Every time somebody calls to complain to you, go write another chapter! Therapy!

  3. Wow. This makes everyone else's perceived problems to be nothing at all. You have a lot going on. If you take any of these people in, it's hard to know where this could end up. My good thoughts are with you.

  4. Elle, you are truly a wonderful woman. Please don't feel guilty for feeling like they should fix their own problems. They are NOT your responsibility. Anything you do for them is going above and beyond your call of duty. No one would judge you for living your own life. If they do, they're not worthy of your consideration.


  5. You can't let yourself feel bad that your family can't figure it out. All you can do is offer help if you can afford it but they have to figure it out themselves. My mom still hasn't figured it out and I don't think she ever will.

    Keep your head up. I am just an email or a call away if you want to talk!

  6. I am sorry for what is going on with your family. I know it is easy for people on the outside to say just walk away. But it is not that easy because it is family.
    I know you would do in the end what is right for you.
    As a children's rights advocate, I can't but help to be concerned for your 9 year-old nephew and 4 year-old niece. Intervention should have taken place like yesterday. It is easy for people to say it is not your worry, nobody would blame you if you won't get involved. I can't stand that attitude. They are children and if they are in need of assistance, which they obviously do, adults should get involved. They need protection and does not sound like their mother can protect them as she is being caught in a domestic violence trap herself. In short, they should be removed.
    I am not very worried about Lil'D, Your mother loves him dearly and that is what is most important.
    As for your brother. I think you should consider and accept the reality that more is going on with him just mere pot. In this instance, you should establish the real facts before you let him into your home. I can go on, but I don't want to get into it on your blog.

  7. I don't have anything else to add to what the others have said...I'm sorry you're going through this and I hope that you can keep your sanity!

  8. I, too, am the only responsible one in a dysfunctional family, so I absolutely know where you are coming from. I totally understand your feelings of guilt and responsibility and your need to just take care of everyone and fix everything.

    Let me tell you how I finally got over those feelings...recently, my mom was complaining about her car. It's not, in fact, her car. It's my car. It's my Mercedes, to be exact, and she's been driving it for over a year. I didn't need it and was actually going to sell it. She needed a car so I gave it to her. At the time we had an understanding that she could use it for three months, but that after that she would have to make the payments until the loan was paid off. There was something like $10,000 left. Of course, she never started paying me for the car and I've just been making the payments all this time. The car is totally beat up...there is a cigarette burn in one of the seats, the door handle is broken, the side mirror is damaged and now the transmission needs major repairs. I was told that I needed to pay for these repairs because it is my car. I refused...the car was in perfect working order when I handed it over. Fine, my parents paid for the repairs. Then we were out to lunch and my mom started complaining to my sister in law that she hates the car and she really wants a nicer car, etc. WHAT??? You have a FREE car and it's a MERCEDES!!! I mean, how much nicer of a car do you want??? At that moment I knew that nothing I ever did was going to be enough and that I was never going to get anything from my mom but complaints and negativity. So I gave up.

    It's hard not to help when I hear all their problems...especially when I know that I am able to. But I keep reminding myself that I work really hard for what I have and it's taken me a REALLY long time to get where I am. I've made too many sacrifices already and it's put a huge strain on my relationship with J. It's not worth it...not when it's all so unappreciated.

    You shouldn't feel guilty. It sounds like you've done everything you can do. You have to take care of you and Music Man. Help everyone else if you can, but not to the point where it's detrimental to you. You've worked really hard to get where you are and to make the life you have. You should not feel guilty about it and you should not have to sacrifice that for anyone else's well being...especially if they don't want to help themselves.

    Good luck and email me if you want to talk. Like I said...I've been there and I've had those days where I'm just losing it. Sometimes it helps to just dump it all out.

  9. It seems to me that no one in the fam wants to change ... I have to say I felt spammed by said mom recently ... I understand her heart is in the right place but getting information rammed down my throat is no good and it needs to stop ... sometime after next weekend I feel like I have to say something about that and other things we have talked about.

    I love you ... you did a bang up job of venting here. If you want to talk, I'm here for ya.

  10. I'm sorry for all you are going through but it sounds like you are doing a good job of dealing with what seems to be a really tough situation all around.

  11. Oh my gosh, Elle, that's a lot for one person to handle. I admire that you are able to deal with all of this drama AND stay stable and strong throughout the process.

    I wish I could offer you advice, but these are decisions that you know best about and that you have to make on your own. I will say, thought, that the first few steps you'd like to take sound very promising. I hope you'll keep us updated on what's going on. Hang in there!


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