African, Family, Immigrant, Relationships

Relative Abroad Syndrome

Let me preface by saying that I love my family; however, over the years being away from them I have discovered that they have the Relative Abroad Syndrome (RAS) – not a medical condition but definitely a thing. RAS is a condition where families (and friends too!) assume that their relative abroad has infinite resources that can be easily shared with them at any given time. Can be compared to the black tax.

RAS has caused a number of family breakups, meltdowns, legal recourses, etc. It involves relatives reaching out for favors and money usually without really caring about the “donor’s” well being. How many times have we heard someone lamenting that while they were struggling their family was constantly reaching out for money without caring that they were not stable? In some cases, the family is outright devious – we’ve heard of those cases where someone sends money for development (e.g. build a house, commercial building, etc.) to their family and it is squandered! How can your own family do that??

In my case, there were a couple of things going on –

  • First, I got a “great” job right after I graduated college so my family automatically assumed that I would share my stream of income with them for mortgage payments, tuition for my siblings, relatives’ weddings and burials, etc. Every so often someone would reach out because they had an issue – while they would acknowledge that I might not have infinite resources there was always a hand out. Mark you I was struggling at work, I HATED my job because I was being mistreated by my co-workers. However, when I tried to talk to my family about it they insisted that it was part of growing up and to maintain the cash flow. Instead of encouraging me to pursue other opportunities and work on my mental health, their focus was on me having a stable paycheck! I started to despise my family, I felt like a cash dispenser, a thing, to them. See the thing about black tax/RAS is that it erases to a certain extent the elevation that someone has worked so hard for – if you are constantly dishing out cash, when are you expected to save up for those necessities that level you up in the future – emergency fund, a house, investment accounts, etc.? So there I was, a professional in a high flying job, but my savings were no where close to my peers because of this drain.
  • Second, and the one that was definitely a struggle for me was the emotional stuff. Parental arguments, siblings fighting with parents, parents fighting with their own siblings – all usually resulting in some type of unnecessary drama. The constant calls to help folks resolve their issues was draining especially at a time when I needed my own outlet. Why reach out to someone so far away, someone who is alone while the rest of the family is in close proximity of each other?
  • Third, my extended family was constantly comparing me to other people abroad – so and so just got there two years ago and has already bought a house, when are you getting yours? Aren’t you the educated one with a top job? Or so and so moved their family to an even higher end neighborhood, when are you going to do that for your parents (I really want to know what these people were doing in the US/UK/wherever because in my experience, it’s hard as hell to buy assets abroad let alone purchase additional assets at home).

To date, I still despise my family for how they made me feel – not like a loved family member but like a thing that dispensed cash and advice. I’m working on this … Anyone else ever feel like this? How did/ do you work through living a comfortable life abroad yet supporting family at home?

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