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trolltoll's avatar

How do you cope with being unable to help the people you care about?

Asked by trolltoll (2570points) March 27th, 2016

I’m worried that my family (mom, dad, younger brother who lives at home) is unhappy. Life is difficult for them right now, and I can’t really do anything to help them. I live 1500 miles away.

I worry about all of them a lot.

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23 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

Do you communicate with them? Do you offer to do what you can given the physical distance and whatever other limitations there are?

I take it you are unable to help them move to a more beneficial place where they could get jobs and housing.

If you are able to demonstrate empathy, that goes a long way in helping to alleviate things.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Can you reach out to an organization in their community to check on their well being?
It sounds like you are worried about their happiness and not their “well being”, being 1500 miles away you only talk to them and there is not much you can do about “happiness.”

trolltoll's avatar

@zenvelo their problems aren’t really related to their financial situation or their housing. They’re not in danger of losing their house or their livelihood (as far as I know). But the kind of problems they are having that I think are inhibiting their happiness are not the kind of problems I would be able to help them with anyway. Think relationship, mental health, drug addiction-type problems, etc.

I talk to my dad a few times a month. I don’t really talk to my brother or mom.

I would really like to see them all be happy but I am worried that they are miserable. I just got back from visiting them for 10 days so it’s been on my mind a lot recently.

zenvelo's avatar

In that case, @trolltoll, you may need to take care of yourself and whatever codependency issues you may have about their emotional happiness. Consider talking to someone at Al-Anon if you have people in your family with drug or alcohol issues.

trolltoll's avatar

@zenvelo I’m definitely looking into therapy right now.

dammitjanetfromvegas's avatar

You don’t need to be near them to help them. A few more phone calls per month might make a world of difference.

NerdyKeith's avatar

All you can do is give them a phone call every once and a while. Offer them support and encouragement. Or better yet, call them on Skype.

JLeslie's avatar

If it’s related to addiction it’s almost impossible. You can suggest they get help related to the addiction, supply them with information about services near them, and then you need to do your best to let it go. Is your brother an addict? If not, encourage him to get out of the house away from the addict as soon as he can.

LuckyGuy's avatar

As a parent I can tell you a little known secret: We are only as happy as our least happy child. Think about that for a minute. If one of our kids is doing poorly, we are doing poorly. If a child is sick, we are sick with them. If a child has mental problems we suffer them too.
If our children are successful and doing well we feel their pride.

What does this have to do with your situation? Call frequently. Let them know what is happening in your successful life. Believe me, talking about a raise or good grades or a promotion is not showing off. It is sharing pride. Give your parents something to talk about: Your new job, your grades, your new g/b friend a trip you have planned.
If you have problems, deal with them on your own. Don’t give them additional worries.
Send them stuff in the mail: a picture or letter or cards. Anything tangible is appreciated more than your realize.

If the issue is addiction they’re screwed. You can do nothing but swear to yourself you will never do that to your parents
Stay clean, sober, healthy and successful – and be sure to let your parent know about it frequently.

JLeslie's avatar

@LuckyGuy Great answer :).

ZEPHYRA's avatar

I constantly go through this painful situation as I live far away too. I guess just being there and offering moral support is enough for now.

trolltoll's avatar

“Let them know what is happening in your successful life.”

Lol, I’m an underemployed (some would say unemployed) college graduate with no friends and no hobbies. I guess I can tell them about my boyfriend’s successful life, which they can vicariously live through.

trolltoll's avatar

@LuckyGuy so, as a parent, you are saying that if your kids have problems, you don’t want them to feel like they can tell you about them? They should keep you in ignorance about the serious and problematic things that are going on in their life?

I’m sorry, but that sounds like shitty advice to me. I can’t believe how many people have given that response a “Great Answer.”

Here2_4's avatar

@trolltoll , I can see his point. What he is talking about is your personal situation, and not all offspring/parent relationships, and certainly not to last forever. This advice is for your situation, and temporary.
If your parents are faced with some issues which is squelching their happiness, then you should reassure them you have nothing to cause them worry. Share whatever you can which will bolster their morale.
Photos are a good suggestion. Paper photos, though now antiquated in nature, are a tangible joy one can hold, and know you held previously. It is almost a handshake with added benefits.
Do you keep in touch daily, through online contact, calls, or texts? Establish a joke of the day. They will soon look forward to hearing from you more than ever.

JLeslie's avatar

@Here2_4 Daily? That seems like a lot to me. I know some families the kids and parents talk every day, but to me it’s overkill.

@trolltoll I think one of the most important things to remember in @LuckyGuy‘s answer is don’t become an addict yourself. Assume you have the gene and don’t drink, smoke, toke, nothing.

Also, one negative about being the source if happiness for your parents is it can be a horrible burden. Don’t feel like you have to fake happy, or call them every day like you are responsible for their happiness. Just share with them positive things when you talk to them. Real things that happened.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@trolltoll You asked “so, as a parent, you are saying that if your kids have problems, you don’t want them to feel like they can tell you about them? They should keep you in ignorance about the serious and problematic things that are going on in their life?”

THATS the takaway message you got from my answer ?!?!

What I am saying is when my kids have problems, I have problems. You wanted to know how you could help your parents from afar. I am telling you, you can help them by leading a positive life and not having problems and . Stay healthy, avoid drugs, and alcohol issues. Do well in school or your job. Give your parents something positive to talk about. THAT is how you help your parents and add to their happiness as a family.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@trolltoll I have another comment about keeping them in the dark about your own problems: Adults handle their own issues without burdening their already overloaded or stressed parents.
When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer I did not tell my Mom. Why? Because she had her own health issues and did not need one more thing on her mind. What could she do about my prostate from 1500 miles away? Nothing! It would only add to her worry and serve no positive purpose. I never told her. I took responsibility for my own well being and handled it myself. Our conversations were all about positive things: how well my job/business/ kids were doing. That gave her positive things to discuss with her friends. I gave her something to “Kvell” about. And we all know kvelling is good for heart and health.

ibstubro's avatar

Therein lies the danger of asking for family advice of strangers on-line, @trolltoll.

@LuckyGuy‘s advice is sound for him, and strikes a cord in many others.
When I read some of his advice, I thought, “Weeeelll…” I know there are some parents that are fulfilled by helping their kids. So, in some cases, I can see where advising kids to make up simple, easily solvable problems could give their parent’s comfort.

Point being, no one here is going to address the relationship between you and your parents exactly and directly. Mostly they’re going to tell you what works for them, and hope you can adapt some of the advice to your own circumstance.

Keep looking into therapy. You need more specific advice than what you’re likely to get here. We’ll try, but there’s really only so far you can take that.

JLeslie's avatar

Just to add, your parents shouldn’t be constantly burdening you with their crap. They are grown ups. This goes along with what @LuckyGuy wrote about you being an adult. I don’t want my mom to hide from me if she has a terminal illness that she is getting ongoing treatment for, but she didn’t bother to tell me every time a small little skin cancer was removed, and that’s just fine. It was a nothing, taken care of quickly with an office visit. I don’t know every time my mom or dad has a medical procedure done, and they don’t know when I do. My husband’s family, his parents always tell, because they always assume they are dying. It’s ridiculous.

If it’s financial issues, if you can help and want to help, then fine, but if you aren’t in a situation to help, then they need to handle it without burdening you.

If it’s a dynamic between your parents, their relationship, or with your younger brother, try not to get intertwined. I’m entwined a lot of the time and nothing good comes from it. I don’t have the addiction stuff to worry about, thank goodness, that just makes it all much worse.

What I have noticed about many addicts (not all) is they carry around pain from childhood that makes them insecure and angry and there is very little you can to for them. They will suck you dry, because they are so needy, manipulative, and dependent. Like I said, not all addicts fit this generalization. Some addicts are purely physically addicted from circumstance. I’m not assuming anything regarding your family.

trolltoll's avatar

@LuckyGuy you never even responded to my question. I asked “how do you cope with being unable to help the people you care about?” not “how do I make my unhappy parents happier?” This is why I was trying to keep it kind of vague, because I knew everybody would just be trying to figure out the juicy deets about my fucked up home life.

JLeslie's avatar

Ok. It’s fucked up. We all have some dysfunction in our families, you might have more than the normal share. If they are really very fucked up in how they handle life the best you can do is worry about yourself I think. You can’t fix your parents. They got to the age they are, let’s assume over 45 years old, still not straightening their shit out. Think about accepting you might not be able to help them much. Maybe you feel guilty? Work on freeing yourself from that. Your job as their child is not to fix them and make them happy. Your job is to be happy.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@trolltoll You cope by doing the best you can in your own life and letting that good flow to them. Don’t feel you are being selfish. Helping yourself helps them.

Worrying about it won’t help. (IMO) Meditating or praying or wishing about it won’t help either. Doing something concrete and positive – even if it is for your own well being – will. That is how you cope. You know you are doing the best you can do.

I’m sure you are familiar with the airline warning: “Put your own oxygen mask on before attending to others.” You put your own mask on first. That is how you cope and help. Only you know what the “oxygen mask” is. Your mask might be doing a good job at work, or getting good grades, or working out and staying healthy, or supporting your SO. Whatever it is, do it well and let your parents know about it like Al Capone voted: Early and often.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Some people only need a listening ear, not for you to solve their problems, that is for them to work on.
I think to a depressed person, hearing how successfull you are IS not what they would like to hear.
It makes them compare themselves unfairly to your successes.
I would be positive and lightly mention your success but not dwell on it in the conversation.

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