Tell Me About It: Generosity not being reciprocated

Posted: June 07, 2013

Question: I've always been the one in my family to give whenever possible. When I went to college, I took on student loans so my sister wouldn't have to. When her car died, I purchased a new one and gave her mine. When family needed help, I was always there.

Now I'm trying to purchase a house, and no one seems interested in helping me. I swallowed my pride and asked for financial assistance, and was told tough toenails.

Would it be wrong for me to cut my family out of my life? I feel as if I was the great son whenever I went out of my way to help, but now I'm just some annoyance.

Answer: It would be wrong, because it's the family version of going nuclear in response to, technically, a first offense.

Look at your family with some of your signature generosity: Consider that they'd have helped if they were able, but aren't right now. Maybe they didn't explain this out of shame. Or maybe they always saw your sacrifices as thoughtful but ill-advised, and didn't stop you because they were letting you be you. Or maybe they're exactly the takers you see them for now - but isn't it sad for them, in that case, to lack the emotional range to appreciate the beauty in giving?

No matter which revised view of your family is accurate, you can: express your disappointment and listen to their response; wait to see what else you learn about your family with this new information in mind; remain in touch but save your generosity for people who appreciate it; and remain generous, knowing you can't expect the same of your family or anyone else.

Giving as a transaction isn't giving. The only return on true giving is to feel good, and if you don't feel good, then don't do it.


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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