My 30-year-old daughter and I have been roommates for four years. She lost her job and I’ve been supporting us. I’m 50 and ready for her to be on her own. I have always put my needs last, after family and friends, but it’s time for me to look out for myself. I have a plan to be free of financial burdens related to my three adult children within the next year. I feel that allowing my daughter this extra time to find a job is adequate. But what if she doesn’t find a job and her unemployment runs out? Is it OK to say she has to go? I’m tired of carrying the weight. My need to be free doesn’t feel selfish, but why does it feel so scary to think about turning my daughter out without a job? How can I take care of me without feeling guilty?
Guilt is your conscience telling you that you’re breaking the rules. As children, we are all invested with lessons in moral behavior. When we break with social expectation or deny true spiritual guidance, guilt arises. In your case, the lesson of “You are forever a parent” imbedded itself in your psyche, and violating that belief creates guilt. But if we strip your mind bare, a deeper problem emerges: black-and-white thinking, a.k.a. a polarized thought pattern. There’s no gray and certainly no Alice in Wonderland color, just rigid beliefs about what is right and what is wrong—for you.
You’ve decided that taking care of yourself first is key, and you’ve defined that as not taking care of anyone else. This mentality has arisen because you are out of balance from overdoing. In an attempt to correct your co-dependent behavior, you are actually overcorrecting. Yes, that means that by refusing to help your daughter, you will still be off balance. So, where is the love? Integration. At 50, you should be entering a maturity that allows you to take care of yourself while simultaneously providing emotional, spiritual, physical and financial help to others. That is what it means to be a spiritual person: You live with awareness of your responsibility to care for yourself, for members of the family you were raised with and for the greater human family. To believe that each of us needs to put ourselves first is a regression to early stages of socioemotional development.
You don’t have to revert to childhood behavior to begin to live fully. Instead, differentiate between needs and wants. Putting yourself first is something you want to do because you have repeatedly chosen to give for the wrong reasons (more about that below). By couching desired changes as needs, you are attempting to justify your plans. Why not practice honesty?
Begin to divert some household cash to those truly in need, nations where there is little or no social safety net, such as Haiti. Put money aside for your own elder years so you don’t have to rely on your children. Encourage your daughter to accept any job or enhance her education while looking for something in her field. Be honest with her about your growing resentment and acknowledge how you created the problem through behavior intended to be seen as “good” (as in “the good mother”). Ask for her help in freeing yourself from the addiction of trying to control others’ opinion of you. Take one action daily that feeds your soul, such as taking a walk, eating nutritious food or being committed to reading spiritual literature. Working on yourself is more challenging than asking your daughter to move out, but the personal rewards—becoming the person you were meant to be—are far greater.