Dear Thelma: My simple, happy life has been shattered by my family


By THELMA
Do you need a listening ear? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

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Dear Thelma,

I'm a working single lady aged 47. Two years ago, I moved out from my home (actually it's my brother's house where my parents also lived) and have been living independently and alone since then.

I moved out partly because my parents advised me to give my brother's family more space, and I fully agreed.

I enjoyed living on my own as I had my own space and time to manage my daily life, and all was in good order.

However, last October, my brother kicked my both parents out from his house after an argument, according to my parents, who are now staying with me.

My brother has not called nor visited them since then. I tried to call and message him a few times but he just ignored me. Since then we have had no contact, even during Chinese New Year. I know my parents are saddened and disappointed.

My father has been unable to walk properly, as of two years ago, after the MCO. He can only walk slowly, so my mum has been taking care of him.

My mum has been quite pampered by my dad all along, and her attitude is quite the "princess" type. She and I are totally different in character – she is very reliant on others, while I'm a very independent person.

When she came to stay with me, she couldn't even open the house door grill – we stay in an 800sq ft apartment. She does not even want to learn how to take a lift to go downstairs! Her friend came over one day and was surprised to find out about that. So the friend advised my mum, saying she needs to learn all this and be more independent; only then did mum follow the advice. Even if she could do something, she would rather ask others to do it for her, such as making a phone call.

My mum always accuses me in front of her friends and relatives, saying that I'm harsh to her when all I'm doing is try to teach her to be more independent. I have my own work to manage and loans to pay off for the apartment and car. I wish my parents would cooperate with me by being less reliant on me alone.

They were different when staying with my brother – they did everything for him. They used to say they did not want to trouble him as he had to work to support his family. But when they came to stay with me, they were totally the opposite, and always blamed me for not serving them well.

I understand that they are getting old and weak. But I just feel pressured when they rely on me too much and blame me for not serving them well. They keep saying they are old now and need me to take care of them fully.

I have been thinking a lot and feeling stressed over their attitude and not having my own space. Even after work, I can't have my "alone time" in the living hall as they are there, watching TV from morning till night.

I have advised them to do some exercise as being sedentary is not good for them. But they scolded me for forcing them to exercise. The doctor says my dad needs to walk more, otherwise his legs will become weaker. Whenever I point this out to them, they would both use very harsh words on me, as if I'm trying to force them to do something they can't do. But in actual fact they still can move around and my dad can still walk if he wants to.

My work is now the only thing that I focus on and am motivated by. But having my parents around is stressful and does affect my thinking and emotions, and my work as well.

As for relationships, I've had a few guys pursue me – only for the benefits. I would not want to get involved with them. Men my age do not really want to find a stable relationship as most of them are married or divorced, while some are single men with attitude problems. They are looking for non-committal relationships – this has also been a huge disappointment in my happiness. Many of them play mind games. They are not really sincere or serious about having a relationship. I'm tired of all this.

Sometimes I wonder why I am left alone to face all these issues. I really have no one I can rely on; I have to shoulder the burdens on my own.

Sometimes, after a hard day's work, I just wish I could be left in peace and cook a simple dinner to reward myself. I just wish to have a simple life but all these complicated things keep pressing in on me even though I never asked for it.

Everyone sees me as a happy person who always speaks positively but, deep inside, I am really burdened and stressed. People see me as an independent lady who has everything they wish they had but things are not as beautiful as it seems. Deep down, my heart is aching with all these issues even though I try not to think about them, but my parents' and other people's behaviour really affects me a lot.

I try to stay cheerful and to think that life has challenges that we must all go through, and that once we are able to break through, there will be happiness at the end of the tunnel. But in reality, things are not as they seem. I realise that women my age are starting to get weak inside and out. Our minds and emotions can't cope with so much, and what we seek now is more peace. But peace seems faraway as I have more burdens to cope with, actually.

Heavy-hearted


I’m sorry to hear this. Let’s start by summarising the main issue.

When your parents were kicked out by your brother, you took them in. Your parents state they expect you to be a servant to them. Your mother is so lazy that she would not learn to press a lift button for herself. Your father is knowingly neglecting basic exercise and doesn’t care this means he risks making himself helpless, requiring 24/7 nursing. On top of this, they say nasty things about you to your relatives.

Your parents are acting like spoilt toddlers. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t follow your brother’s example. You have been extremely patient and kind. However, this situation cannot continue.

Here are some basic principles.

Adults choose to have children but it does not mean that they own their kids or are entitled to free maid service for life.

Families look after each other; however, mutual respect and thoughtfulness are essential.

Living takes work. We need to dust, clean, cook, press our own lift buttons, and make our own phone calls. Kids learn to contribute when small; old folks do their share too.

Yes, at a certain point the elderly need complete care. But if you have the energy to quarrel and cause lots of trouble within the family, then you have the strength to get off the couch, switch off the TV and go for a gentle walk that will up your personal health and allow your hardworking daughter a half hour of downtime after a long day at work.

Your parents need a hard reset. They need to learn to show basic respect, common good manners, and to start being accountable.

I think you love them despite the way they have treated you. Also, I think you know how hard it is to survive alone. So you hesitate to expose them to the harsh realities of life. This is why you have not done as your brother and told them to leave.

Family quarrels do lead to permanent fracture of family ties with the elderly being alone in hospitals or care centres.

Therefore, I think the best way forward is for you to invest in some counselling sessions so you can talk it out and decide what you want.

You are not the only child, and although your brother is fuming, he needs to be involved too. I would go and see him. Talk as siblings, and figure out what you are both willing to do, and what you are not willing to do.

You have choices. You can demand a hard reset with a time limit for your parents to change their behaviour. You can tell them to move out to a place near you and then you contribute money or perhaps a part-time helper. You can have them live with you part-time and with your brother part-time. Or with another person who has a spare room and needs extra income. There are also increasing options for elderly day care, part-time residence, and sheltered housing.

When you and your brother work out options, talk to your parents. They’re going to shout and scream because they are spoilt but this difficult conversation has to happen and changes have to be made.

If you think it’s useful, reach out to relatives to mediate. Or work with someone you trust, like a doctor, social worker, mental health professional, or priest.

As for your own life, seeing your parents make a mess of their situation has made you consider your future. However, the stress of your current home life is causing low mood or possibly depression. This will colour how you see life.

It is true that a shocking number of men are set in a selfish mode where they want a maid and mum instead of a life partner. It’s why an increasing number of Malaysian women are choosing to stay single.

Thankfully, there are also many men with proper values and principles who are genuinely interested in finding a life partner. As you only need one good man, you should be able to find one, should you want to.

The thing is, you’re not in a healthy mind space right now. I suggest you deal with mum and dad first. Talk to a therapist about that, and your low mood.

When you have settled your parents, consider what you want for your own future. Then, if you want a partner, go and date. If you don’t, then work to build your "other family" network.

The issue is a hard one, and I think you have some tough times ahead of you. But take a breath and reach for change, because you deserve happiness. Also, please know that I’m thinking of you.

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