I think it’s safe to say that most of us value family. My family is one of the most important parts of my life – they’re the reason I live in Hickville USA, they provided free babysitting so I could finish college and grad school, and they are super supportive of my career as a freelancer. All that said, where do you draw the line when someone in your family is taking advantage of you?
Two weeks ago, a member of my family (I’ll call her Roberta) showed up at my door. Could she stay with me for the night? Of course! I said. Anything for family!
Roberta has a lot going on in her life. Basically, she was kicked out of her house for reasons that are entirely her fault. She made crappy choices, and her husband had already forgiven her for similar crappy choices in the past. When he found out that the same issues were going on again, he told her to get out. Let me be clear: I don’t blame him for what he did.
A few other details: Roberta is in her 40s and has two teenage kids. This isn’t a case of youthful stupidity. Roberta has also never had a job in her life; her husband makes more than enough money to take care of the family. She also has a history of abuse that has resulted in poor decision-making, impulse control problems, and numerous other issues, but none of that excuses her irresponsible behavior.
Anyway, despite the fact that Roberta created the situation she’s in, she’s still a close family member and she was literally planning to sleep in her car. She had NOWHERE to go. There is no way I would have told her she couldn’t stay here.
The problem? It’s been two weeks, she’s still at my house, and she hasn’t even pretended to look for a job.
That Awkward Moment When You Want to Kick a Relative
Roberta spent the first few days of her “visit” crying, freaking out, and sleeping. She seemed to realize that she has royally screwed up this time. There is no going back – her husband is done with the drama and her kids won’t even speak to her. So I was pretty understanding of her need to wallow in misery for a few days – I probably would have done the same.
Then (like an idiot) I got her a phone. Her husband cut hers off the night he threw her out, and I didn’t like the idea of her being stuck with no way to communicate. I had an extra line that wasn’t being used, so I bought her a cheap (non-smart) phone. In 14 days, Roberta has sent and received over 8,000 text messages. I have unlimited messaging, but remember that she is in her 40s. It’s not like she’s a teenager.
Other than texting and sleeping, Roberta has read a number of my books, played hundreds of rounds of Facebook games, and watched plenty of reality TV. That’s about it.
We’ve talked about the fact that I cannot afford to support her and that she needs to get a job, but remember that Roberta has never worked. She has done everything in her power, whether or not she realizes it, to avoid applying for jobs.
“I don’t have an address.” (Use mine.)
“I need help making a resume.” (I’ll help you.)
“I don’t have any work history.” (Say you’ve worked for me for the past year.)
“I went to one place but they want me to apply online.” (Your computer is capable of visiting sites other than Facebook.)
Even if Roberta got a job next week, it would take her months to save up enough money to pay deposits and get a place to live. In the meantime, she’s eating my food, using up my rollover minutes, and sleeping on my couch. And I don’t know what to do about it.
Telling her to leave isn’t an option. She’s family and she’s in need, regardless of the reason why she’s in need. And I will not let her leave here to sleep in her car or end up who knows where. I couldn’t live with myself.
I can’t force her to find a job. And I definitely can’t force anyone to hire her. She has no skills, no experience, and no education. So even if she gets motivated, I have a feeling this is going to be a process. Remember that we live in a tiny rural town – it’s not like there are jobs all over the place.
The rest of my family members are either unable to take her in (because they’re in dire straits themselves) or unwilling because of the circumstances that led to her sudden homelessness. And while I can’t bring myself to take that attitude, I certainly understand why others in the family feel the way they do.
What Would You Do?
I think it’s easy for people to say, “Oh, I’d give her a deadline to find a job or else,” or “I’d tell her to grow up and deal with it.” Honestly, if I was hearing this story from someone else instead of living it, I might say the same thing. But it’s different when it’s my life and my family member.
I feel completely stuck right now – she’s acting like an idiot, but she also needs a place to go and a way to pay for it. And I can’t comprehend the notion of taking advantage of a (younger) relative to keep from working, so I have no idea what’s going through her head. She seems to be waiting for a man to come along and rescue her from her problems (as evidenced by all the text messaging) and that has never really been my style. I just don’t know what the answers are.
Think of the flakiest, most manipulative member of your family. Could you have turned him/her away if s/he showed up at your door? Would you be able to put your foot down knowing s/he didn’t have anywhere to go? How would you handle such a dramatic situation?