It does seem as though your parents may be taking advantage of you. They have slowly wrapped their lives around yours. In the beginning, it seemed as though they legitimately needed your help. Your father needed heart surgery and couldn’t work. It was fair of them to ask for your help when they needed it. Now, it seems as if they may be asking too much of you. Proof of this is the instability of your own financial life.
There are certain things that are fair to ask you and there are certain things that are not. For them to ask you to pay their car payment, credit card bills and the cell phone bill for the whole family seems like too much. To solve this problem, you will have to change your behavior.
You’re right about the van. You probably shouldn’t have paid for it because it’s unlikely that they will pay you back. It’s fine to help your family when you can afford it, but it’s not fine to sacrifice your own financial stability.
You mentioned feeling guilty. You should only feel guilty if you have done something wrong. You have done nothing wrong. To ask your family to pay their own bills is not something for which you should feel guilty. They can work but are choosing not to. Instead, they are choosing to rely on you. They could be doing more for themselves.
You said that your father “refuses” to find a job, as does your mother. The question to ask yourself is this: would they be working if you were not paying their bills? The answer very likely would be, yes. They don’t work because they don’t have to. They have you to pay their bills. They rack up credit card bills because you pay them. They take advantage of you, in part, because you are enabling them to continue doing so.
They likely know that you are good-natured person who struggles to say no to them. That makes you susceptible to their guilt trips. They take advantage of you because they can.
They wouldn’t take advantage of you if you did not allow it. If you were not susceptible to their guilt trips, they couldn’t use them on you. Going forward, if you want to change the financial dynamic in your family, you are going to have to make some changes. It’s not going to be easy. They’re going to be upset. They’ve grown accustomed to you taking care of them. They’re probably going to attempt to make you feel guilty, as they’ve always done. But you’re going to have to resist. If you can’t resist, then this problem will continue.
It would be best to assess the situation and determine what you will pay for and what you will not pay for. You may want to consult a therapist to assist you in this process. It’s likely not going to be an easy process, especially because of the inappropriate guilt you may feel in making these changes.
A therapist would also help you with the psychological aspects of becoming more independent and developing clear boundaries for interacting with your family. The more support and guidance you have throughout this process, the easier it will be to disentangle yourself from this situation. Thank you for your question. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle