105 Ways to Give a Book

What Happens on Wednesdays... “Need”

Lately, I am surrounded by need, and I am overwhelmed by it all. A beloved and sick cat makes another mess. People close to me who are struggling with depression tap my energy stores. The homeless shelter that gratefully took the forty-five individual art supply bags for their resident children and teens asks us to return. A local family has extreme needs that I cannot solve.

I’ve helped my kitty as much as I can, and I accept that her time is sadly near. For those struggling with depression, I can offer my support and counsel. I can call and visit, be cheerful or thoughtful. For the shelter, I can feel proud of our accomplishment in my Girl Scout troop’s giving so many kids something a little nice that may help pass the time. I can keep my opened eyes aware of other ways I can contribute, and alert others to the possibilities.

But this needy family is a problem I can’t solve, and I could use some counsel. I’ve been involved for a few months, enough to know that the mom is mentally handicapped and manipulative and untrustworthy. I’ve given the family furniture, which promptly disappeared. I gave them food once, so I get asked for food now whenever the mom doesn’t feel like going to get it. When I offered to drive her to a local food distribution center, she said she’d get another ride. They run up a phone bill, and then ask me or another friend of mine for hundreds of dollars to pay it — which, of course, we can’t. Drugs may or may not be involved in the household, where I see far too many adults hanging around. To the best of my knowledge, social services is involved.

While I’ve talked of the difficulty with the mother, I can never forget that this is a family of school-age kids, with two girls and two boys. I have a connection with one of the girls through my daughter, and we go to pick her up for activities. I don’t know the boys at all, except for the way they hover around me like eager puppies wanting a treat whenever I come by. They seem to crave even just a few minutes of conversation. I try not to come empty-handed, bringing a few books, art supplies, or clothes that “maybe they could use.”

But the more I come, the more they want from me and I’m not sure what more I can give. Over the summer we planned to keep up with my daughter’s classmate, because we have a relationship already and can build on it. Since they don’t have a phone, we have a weekly playdate to go swimming or to a movie or come over and play video games, and always to have dinner with us. Another mom is doing the same with the younger daughter. But what to do with the boys?

I literally don’t have room for all of them in my car, for one. I don’t know them, and I don’t do boys, so I’m at a loss for what I would do with them. The mother’s manipulative and dishonest nature scares me a bit in taking any responsibility for them, because I don’t put it above her to lie in hopes of getting something out of me where my developed trust with the older daughter precludes that. And frankly, I feel emotionally and financially stretched enough.

I would love to get more help from my local community, and yet getting others involves puts that person at the same risk I went through to realize the limitations of the help that can be given. There’s also the issue of privacy in a relatively small community.

I’m mostly writing here as a catharsis, but would be happy for any advice, suggestions, words of wisdom that can be offered. What do you do when the needs are so great that you are weighed down by them?


Miranda Hardy said...

That's a tough situation. I have had similar things occur in my past, and I hope I've handled them well. It sounds like you have a very giving nature, but you are not blinded to the fact that this mother is a taker. I'm sure you know her nature won't change and she'll take whatever she can. The children suffer. It's a shame. The best way to combat the problem is to focus on the children. Bring over little arts and crafts for the boys to do, nothing expensive, just something that will keep them busy and out of trouble. Books, of course. Never money. Good luck.

AMY T said...

I let it be okay that I'm a human that I have a responsibility to care for too. I set boundaries of how much of myself and my time and my money I can give and I set reasonable boundaries and stick to them. Do what you can and count it as far better than doing nothing and let yourself all the way off the hook for not being able to do more. Be clear about your commitments: well being of your own offspring first, and recognize that even if social services is involved those kids are gonna have a rough but maybe in the end strengthening road ahead.

Gail Gauthier said...

We have a similar situation with a family member, though there are no children involved. And, yeah, we've been sucked in to her money problems. Don't go there.

It does seem as if the best option you have is, as Miranda said, to focus on the children. And maybe you'll just have to focus primarily on the one child you do have a relationship with. Sometimes we have to recognize that there are only so many people we can help.

tanita✿davis said...

Yes. What Amy L. said. Limits, limits, limits. A set amount of money you can give away this month. (While some people disagree with that, to me it can be a gift you give to God or the karmic universe or whatever.) A set amount of Safeway cards I can supply. A set amount of Old Navy or Starbucks cards I can slip into pockets, or bookstore gift certificates... you do what you can, and make sure they know what other resources are available -- and I pray, if you believe in a higher power.

Truly, it's better to light a candle than to complain that the whole world has gone dark. And just think - you are that light. You are sprinkles of stardust -- how they must appreciate you, and love to see you coming. Years and years from now, when they're older, the cookies, crafts, and smiles will be remembered.

I had a friend like you when I was a kid. We were always so broke, though thank goodness no social services was involved, but we were flat broke. I had an adult friend who dropped by with cute clothes she had no need for, cookies, games, etc. It made a difference.

MotherReader said...

Honestly, being able to share this and getting some feedback and support is very helpful. I've been struggling with it for a while, but my role has changed over the summer and with it my firm boundaries.

While I helped as a GS leader, it was easier to define my limitations to work with the one girl. This summer, it's more nebulous and I feel my resolve cracking - and with it my ability/need to keep back a bit of myself.

This girl has some real disadvantages, academically and socially, but she's sweet, flexible, and willing to try new things. We've made some great steps in GS, and though my family's involvement is somewhat awkward at times - we bought her a bathing suit because she didn't have one - we can work it out.

But last night I dropped the girl off, and the boys were all over me asking if they could go to the pool too. But I worry about taking responsibility for them and all the other stuff, but... oh God, it was heartbreaking.

Ms. Yingling said...

The important thing for you to know is that you ARE doing something, and it's not insignificant. Are the boys at the same school as your daughter? If you know someone well who might be able to include them in similar playdates, someone whom you could apprise of all the vagaries of the situation, that might work. As everyone else said, taking care of the children by just caring is helpful. I do worry about you and your cat. Do take care of yourself, too. You can't help others if you are in a bad way youself. Take care.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Get in touch with big brothers and big sisters, Here's a link to find a local agency. Talk with them and ask them where to go for the boys.

I don't know what part of the country you live in. Are the boys old enough for Scouts? They also may be able to help you.

You are one human and you have lit a very big candle. I know how you feel. You want to help them all and setting limits is so hard when you see someone in want. But you must do it, both for your sake and theirs. Also you want to show your daughter a good example of how not to let something like this take over your life. You are giving the gift of time and friendship to the daughter. And this is wonderful. Fight the guilt that you can't do it all.
As Tanita said, you can also pray for that the perfect solutions will be found for each of them.

tanita✿davis said...

If you need to vent about this some more - do speak. Your friends hear you. x

Sam @ Parenthetical said...

I don't have any advice beyond what everyone has already said, but that's quite a struggle and I commend you for doing what you can. (And for recognizing that there are limits to what you can do.) Thanks for writing about it.