By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Feeling Overburdened and Resentful
Question: In my family there’s a lot of kids, so me and my brother need to help out a lot. We go to a local Yeshiva so that we can be around. There’s no official splitting up of the different jobs. It’s just taken for granted that we each need to do whatever we can. What’s really been bothering me lately is the fact that my brother almost always sleeps in and I always wind up having to get my youngest brothers and sisters ready to go to school. For me, this is one of the hardest jobs. Don’t ask why my parents can’t do it. It’s a long story. Just take my word for it that they can’t. There’s a lot of things they can’t do. Anyway, there are plenty of times when I also feel really tired in the morning and don’t feel like getting out of bed, but I feel bad and I do. But I am starting to really resent my brother and I don’t know what to do about it.
Answer: Wow! It is amazing that you afford your parents so much help around the house. Your tremendous zechus of kibbud av v’eim (and chesed for that matter) is truly enviable. That being said, it is completely understandable that you may sometimes get overwhelmed, particularly if you feel that there is an unfair distribution of responsibility. Resentment is definitely an emotion that a person doesn’t want to have festering inside himself, so it is a very good thing that you are trying to address this problem.
I don’t know if this option will sound feasible to you, but it cannot go unmentioned. It sounds like your parents are suffering, for whatever reason, from a lack of ability to function properly. Although you really do deserve to be highly commended for everything that you do to help them, it sounds like you may be dealing with a burden that is simply too heavy for someone at your age and stage of life. Consider having an open, honest discussion about this with your parents. Explain to them, in completely respectful words and tone, that you feel that even though you are happy to help, the amount that is falling on you is just too much for you to handle alone.
Alternatively, if you think that your parents are simply unable to do anything to change the situation, consider contacting a relief organization that provides help to families in need. If your parents are in fact suffering from some form of severe handicap (whether emotional, physical, or otherwise), it is important that your family get the help that it needs. This is not only for your sake, but for all of your brothers and sisters as well.
Beyond that, it may also be of help to have a heart to heart talk with your brother. The Rambam says that from the mitzvos of lo sisnah es achicha bilvavecha and hocheiach tochiach es amisecha, we learn that when you are upset with someone, you need to talk it out with him and try to resolve the issue.
Although men in general, and young bachurim in particular, are often inclined to keep their feelings to themselves, practically speaking it is not a good idea in a situation such as this. You are upset. And justifiably so. So you need to talk it out with him. By the way, this is a tremendous opportunity for you to learn the art of skillful communication in which you manage to accurately convey what it is that is weighing on you, but at the same time with resorting to recrimination and expressions of anger or contempt.
Keep your comments as brief and to the point as possible, and focus on what it is that is bothering you instead of saying things that will imply blame and disapproval for his behavior. For example, try saying something like: “It is very difficult for me and I feel distressed that you don’t help more with getting the kids ready for school…” instead of something like “It is so inconsiderate and selfish of you to sleep in while I am slaving away to get the kids ready…”. Even when you say it right, remember: no long winded speeches. That just makes people’s minds turn off (even with the most sympathetic amongst us).
If you mentally prepare yourself to do this and maintain a respectful tone of voice, it will be much easier to actually do so than without such preparation.
Furthermore, bear in mind that to really have a productive heart to heart, you need to keep your heart as open as you want your brother’s to be. He may have some things to say about what he perceives as your lack of help in other areas. You need to keep an open mind to hearing what he may have to say as well.
Also, he might have a good excuse for why he doesn’t help out in the morning. Some people have a much, much harder time waking up in the morning than others. Although everyone has their mornings when they just feel like staying under the covers, there is no question that some people have it much harder than others. Your brother may be such a person, and if he tries telling you something to that effect, it is important to try and be sympathetic to his predicament.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to work out some solution with him, but it does mean that you’re discussion with him will be much more effective if you keep your mind open to seeing the issue from his viewpoint. Granted, this is a very mature skill that is practically non-existent amongst boys your age, but you clearly possess maturity far beyond your years. So I think you can do it.
One last thing that is really important to mention is that you should try to find someone that you can talk to on a regular basis. A rebbi, a mentor figure, or even a really good friend (as long as he possesses the requisite maturity and understanding to relate to what you are going through). Chazal tell us that daagah b’leiv ish yesichenu la’acheirim, if you are worried about something, talk it over with someone. Having someone to whom you can unburden yourself, and perhaps even garner practical advice, goes a very long way in providing a major boost of strength and encouragement.
If you have a question to submit to Rabbi Berman, email it to EmpoweringAdvice@gmail.com. There is no need to sign your letter, but for the most effective results, do try to include all relevant details of the situation.
The advice offered in this column is provided for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for the responsible procurement of Rabbinic or professional advice where called for. The author and publisher of this column cannot be held responsible for any negative results of following any advice in any given situation.