Q: I have three sisters, two happily married and one remaining to be married. I am the eldest and married. We are always fighting over small things and are in debt for our marriages. My parents are old, have worked hard, and don’t have any assets. I have a baby boy and we are always short of cash. I am a professional, but freelance and operate from home. Due to daily conflict between family members over trivial issues, I am not able to grow my business. Please guide me.
A: Your situation sounds complex and stress-ful, yet it can also offer you and your family an invaluable opportunity for personal growth. You say that you are struggling with family and money matters, which prevents you from building your business. As the eldest child, it’s natural that you would feel a greater responsibility regarding these struggles.
Begin by dealing with conflicts among the sisters. Fighting over trivial issues is a symptom of avoiding the more serious problems in family. It’s now time for someone to take the first step and initiate a meeting to deal with the family dysfunction, aging parents, debts, and income. Do you want to do that? You will have to set some rules about how to run the meeting, otherwise it could become chaotic and more hurtful. State the purpose of coming together and the main issues to be addressed. Provide an opportunity for each family member to offer their opinion and feelings, while respecting and listening to the others. Facilitate the meeting so only one person talks at a time to prevent from being interrupted or ignored, and so it doesn’t turn into another fight. In the first round, each person may need to simply say what is on her mind. Then you can discuss one issue at a time. You may need several meetings to cover everything.
Your family needs to spell out exactly how much you owe and to whom and who is responsible. This may get confusing and conflicting and will reveal the real issues. People will share their views on traditional vs. modern lifestyles. Individual needs, nuclear family needs, and expectations of the extended family will all have to be weighed. This is not easy, but it can help all of you become more aware of what’s really important to your family.
If you are raising a baby, do you have time to do your business? Mothering is an honorable, full-time endeavor. Young children profoundly need their parents close-by for their well-being and happiness. If you must do your business then you’ll need help in parenting from your husband and others you trust. To concentrate on your work, find quiet time away from family and a private place to see your clients. This may not be possible at home. Think about renting an affordable office, part-time from a colleague. It will be a professional setting for your clients and a break for you from the intensity of family.
Taking care of aging parents is a privilege and a hardship. You sound committed to helping. Your entire family will need to talk about your parents’ condition: health, financial, living situation, and more. After you and your sisters share your opinions about your parents’ care, talk with your parents about their desires and develop a plan together.
All this is a lot of work. Your taking the lead speaks to your courage and care. Multiple challenges in a family take time and dedication to resolve. If you all can stay the course, you’ll learn a lot about each other and more about family love. This will benefit you, your child, and your sisters’ children.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (415) 205-4666. www.wholenesstherapy.com