Thursday, May 20, 2010

It's Never Enough

Dear Jocelyn,
I’m a twenty-something that lives about 3 hours from my parents, and I go home every couple of months for a weekend or a few days—pretty frequently. My parents often get upset and guilt-trip me for wanting to spend time with my friends when I am home. I’m not trying to avoid my parents; I want to spend time with them and I tell them so: let’s pick things to do, or nights I should stay home, etc. But although it’s not always said, it’s always implied that I’m scheduling them in and they won’t see enough of me, although I feel like that’s not true. They say they are fine with me seeing my friends, but then when I leave, they start saying things like, "Well, I wish we had done this," and "Once again, this didn’t get done." What is a good way to get rid of the guilt-trips?
     ~Tired of being guilt-tripped


Dear Tired,
I wish I had a magic word you could say to stop people from laying on guilt trips, but alas, I do not; if I did, I would be a very rich woman.  There are several ways to deal with this, so I will lay them out:


I recommend you first tell them what you told me.  While it sounds like they are passive-aggressive, you should give them the benefit of the doubt and see if they will change their behavior.  You might say something like, "Mom, Dad—I love coming to visit you, but whenever I leave you say things that make me think you are upset with me for not spending more time with you.  I want to be able to spend time with my friends when I am here, and don't want to run into this conflict every time I come home."


Another option is more indirect, but still firm.  Before you arrive home, ask your parents what they would like to do with you that weekend.  Tell them when you will be busy and when you will be available.  Then, when you are leaving and they start making comments about you not being there enough, say, "I wish you had told me before I came that you wanted to do this, but you didn't.  If you tell me next time I'll be able to make time for it."


As for what to do with those feelings of guilt, that is something you will need to deal with yourself.  I recommend reading the book Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life for ways to handle situations like this.  It sounds like you are single, and unfortunately this is not something that is likely to stop once you get married or have children—in fact, it will probably become worse.  If you take charge now and set up clear emotional boundaries with your parents, it will help you immensely in the long run.
     -Jocelyn

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