How Far Must We Go to Help Family?

Carolyn Light

We want to be there to support our families, but what if they need too much?
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

I recently read an advice article on

A 74-year-old woman was writing in, concerned because her granddaughter and her granddaughter's children had recently become homeless. Despite the fact that the granddaughter's mother was wealthy, she purportedly would not help the granddaughter financially. The woman's father was not in a position to help.

The writer stated that she took her granddaughter and her children in -- but that due to her own fixed income and monthly bills, the situation was quickly becoming untennable. She wasn't sure what to do. She wanted to help her granddaughter and her great-grandchildren -- but she also didn't want to run out of money to pay her mortgage.

"What should I do?" she asked at the end of the column.

This is something I see frequently in my job as a counselor.

Not this exact situation, of course, but family concerns are frequently the subjects of our sessions. Clients have family members struggling with addiction, and they wonder at which point they should cut the afflicted out of their lives.

Clients have family members dealing with financial insecurity, and the appropriate response is when asked for money.

Clients struggle with their in-laws, and their children, and their estranged spouses. Despite the myriad of different issues they face, their concern is always the same -- what is their obligation to this person? They're family, but at what point can they draw a line?

Of course, there is no simple answer to this question, due to the highly individualized nature of each situation.

The research is clear -- a strong familial support system leads to greater happiness, and in some cases, longer lives. But this, too, is not simplistic. The happiness and life-longevity rely upon the healthiness of the support system, and the give-and-take nature of it as well. One individual cannot be doing all of the giving, and one cannot be doing all of the taking for this support system to function properly.

Still, while it can be easy to cut off friends, or others on the peripheries of our lives, it can be harder to do with family.

What do you think?

Have you ever been in a situation in which you've had to draw a hard boundary regarding your support of a family member? What do you believe our obligations are to our family members?

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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