Dear Annie: I have a 40-year-old son who seems to think I am his personal piggy bank.
He did a short time in prison. We have supported him through that and all of the other bad times he has experienced in his life. However, he only contacts us when he needs money. After years of helping him, we have decided to stop. His situation has not changed for the better during all the years that we have assisted and he shows little appreciation.
Our family has always included him in family functions, but he chooses to ignore the invitations. We just don’t understand it.
His bad credit and evictions have limited where he can live. His last contact with us via his spouse was needing help to find a place to live. We responded by asking to have a sit-down to look at his financials before we would consider helping. He responded by telling us not to worry about him — putting us on a guilt trip for questioning his need for help.
We could write a book on all the things my husband and I have done to help him and his family. We’ve paid for utilities, cars, school fees and more. We just can’t do it anymore. It makes me incredibly sad and disappointed at how his life has turned out.
For my own sanity, I have decided not to contact him or his spouse any longer. Each time I reach out I get sucked back into the drama. I am just too tired and old for the continuous drama and the never ending daily turmoil.
How do I stop worrying about him and his family? How do I stop feeling guilty when I don’t help them?
— Throwing the Towel In
Dear Throwing the Towel In: Know that whatever pain he might feel about your cutting him off, it is not as deep as your pain over having to cut him off. Tough love is tougher on the giver. That’s a fact parents know all too well.
I commend you for taking the first step and drawing that line. Good boundaries make healthy relationships. Now you must do the ongoing, difficult work of fortifying those boundaries. I recommend seeking the support of a group such as Families Anonymous (www.familiesanonymous.org) or a personal therapist.
Stay strong, and know you’re not in the wrong.
Dear Annie: I wrote to you several years ago about my relationship with my in-laws.
Unfortunately, little has changed about the situation. The hurt my beloved father-in-law has caused by siding with my mother-in-law in cutting off contact has been harder on me than my cancer diagnosis. As both of them are aging, I am mentally preparing for their respective funerals.
I was wondering how inappropriate it would be to put in the grave with them a letter saying I regret that our relationship ended this way, that I once loved them as much as my own parents, that my family didn’t deserve the hurt they caused, and that their deaths did not stop the hurt.
This would not be meant for anyone’s eyes, but it might help me deal with the finality of it all. Your thoughts?
— Still Hurting
Dear Still Hurting: I am so sorry: for your having cancer, for your in-laws’ behavior and for the fact you are preparing to lose them. My heart goes out to you in all of this.
Writing such a letter for closure is a wonderful idea. Putting it in the grave with them is not: not because it’s inappropriate (though it is), because it’s unnecessary. Your closure will come from the act of writing itself, not from where you place it afterward.
So pour your heart into that letter. You might find it becomes more of a book. It sounds like, with everything you’re going through, you could really use the outlet.
Annie Lane, a graduate of New York Law School and New York University, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.