Family Obligations: When is a Favor Too Much to Ask?

Blood is thicker than water and family is supposed to come above all other concerns, right? Absolutely wrong. Whether it be from media, popular culture, or other influences, the bounds of common sense that have previously existed in the so called family unit have been dissolved.

Some of the demands made upon myself, and also some horror stories that my friends have shared forced me to act. Time after time of being stiffed either compensation (which I didn’t ask for, but was offered, then never given), or refusing the basic courtesy of returning me home when I asked began to drive me mad. I didn’t want to end up changing my phone number or enlisting the sort of aid people under the witness protection program are afforded, so I slowly but surely trained my family into realizing what was and was not acceptable.

1) Going back on their word: While I am glad to help out, I also have a mountain of responsibility to my writing life. Because of this, when I say I need to be home after I’m done watching the kids, helping with renovations, etc etc, I mean it. An easy way to get your point across is to simply refuse to help the next time they ask, and state clearly your reasons why. Communication is the key to making this work.

2) Invoking the guilt trip: “But I already promised I’d attend and I was so sure you would say yes.” Assuming that you are not a minor, the period of adjusting your schedule to fit your parents is past. So why let them pull you back into it? Gently remind them that assuming things never got anyone anywhere, and to ask around prior to making an engagement.

3) Verbal Abuse: I honestly don’t understand this one. Normally when you need help, the last thing you want to do is harangue the person whom you are asking for help. This is very common anymore, and I’ve been on the receiving end badly from both family and during my phone tech support days. If they won’t calm down, don’t let yourself get worked up. Simply tell them that if they don’t speak to you properly, you’re going to hang up and let them cool off. If they continue, act on your words.

4) Compensation: I know some people will say that it’s not right to ask for something in return. Two things: One, unless you often need them to do favors for you, it’s just a way to balance things. Two, compensation doesn’t have to be in a monetary form. Why would you want to ask things in return? The answer is two fold. First, so that you do get something out of doing the favor (the give and take system of balance). Second, so that they don’t take advantage of your generosity. When they have to give something themselves, whether at that time or in the future, they will think more carefully about whether they really need you.

5) Holding something hostage: This scenario is much worse than the verbal abuse problem, and involves the family saying something like “If you don’t help us out right now, you won’t get to see the pets/kids/relatives/etc ever again.” I don’t know if its simply that the role of family values has become so diluted anymore, or if people actually do believe that such an assertation would give them anything but harm, but it does happen. As bad as it hurts you, it will backfire on them even worse. Simply walk away from the situation and give them time to think about what they said.

People come and go in your life, but no matter how hard you might try, your family will always be your family. The way to stop your family from getting as annoying as bill collectors (and forcing you to invest in Caller ID to screen their calls too) is to use your head when it’s obvious that they are either not thinking clearly, or oblivious to the problems that they are causing.

A little bit of talking can go a long way.

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