I have been waiting for this to be aired out for some time! There isn't a single person in my life currently, or previously for that matter, who hasn't had some kind of issue with their family in this capacity. Personally, I struggle often with my own family and the obligations that come with it, but on top of simple family obligations, as an adult, you are almost expected to bend over backwards on the premise of loyalty or blood more often than you remember anyone being helpful to you.
I'm not sure if it's simply because I am the oldest of 5 and the most capable of taking care of myself and others, or if its simply because I have the resources, but either way, its exhausting and is enough to ruin any relationship if you let it go on to long. We are scared to confront the monster because its been tradition for so long to take care of those younger than you as well as older, right?
Not always. Sure, if someone is injured, sick, or just having an off day or week, lend a hand, absolutely, but it's difficult when you mature for people to grasp that you have your own life now, and your own responsibilities. The long and the short answer to this questions is, BE HONEST, have a discussion as a GROUP so nothing can be distorted and misunderstood. A public place might be a good idea, to keep the conversation civil, and you cannot guarantee your relationship with either party, in your case, will be upheld, BUT you can't allow yourself to go on this way.
Continuing to allow yourself to be run ragged, even within your own domain, let alone outside of it, causes resentment, divorce, and strained relationships PERIOD, so if you don't stare this loaded gun in the face and tell it how you feel, it might go off eventually when you're back is turned and you are least expecting it.
Its not an easy conversation, and while I do suggest mapping out on paper or in your head exactly what points make you uneasy as well as ways that you would see to improve or alter the situation, the conversation doesn't always go as planned. The only way to ensure that you have a chance to stand your ground, use tone to make sure that you do as little emotional damage as possible, and have a chance to make sure your story is told correctly, is to do it in person, as a group, and as soon as possible!
You are an adult, grown now, with children who depend on you not only for daily activities, but life and growth experiences as well. Can you function on no sleep, NO! No matter how many lattes you chug, you cannot raise your children exhausted, and you certainly can't make sure all 3 of them make it to activities or have a great daily schedule. You mentioned that also, a lot of this comes last minute and doesn't fit at all with your schedule. That should probably be brought up as well.
Here is what I would do.
I would call the Aunt and the cousin and arrange a coffee, lunch, dinner date with them, with at least an hour to talk in a public setting. Once arrived, I would give it a little time and then bring up something that you can use to spring off of this, such as, you know, its summer, the kids are off school, I appreciate your helping me with childcare, but that also means I'm going to be much busier than normal after I work and on weekends with trips and activities. I've been meaning to talk to you guys about a few things regarding my availability to be helpful around your house.
Map it out for them both. Without attacking the lazy party (your cousin) or making your Aunt feel unloved or incapable, let them know what your day looks like (simplify it a bit so they don't think that you are just "nagging" about nothing) I have to get up at this time. Leave by this time. Be at work by this time. The kids make travel and arrival difficult. I cannot make any extra stops in the morning anymore, or I might lose my job (doesn't matter if this is completely true, partially true, ect, its important to prioritize timeliness and employment).
Over the summer, to help not only myself budget, but gain some control of my schedule while its a bit more flexible and I can learn from mistakes, I am going shopping on this day each week, at this time, and this time only. I can't be making any other shopping trips. It's costly, and inconvenient and I just don't have time or money to accommodate either. This is where you bring your cousin in. Ask if they can make a list of items and quantities needed to get through the entirety of the week, or at least help your aunt do so, and then have that ready for you the evening before you typically shop, or the last time you'll be picking up the kids prior to that trip. Also in a gently, kind manner, (I know, you are taking one for the team, but the idea is to walk away from this knowing you tried as hard as you could, regardless of the outcome) point out that any additional shopping trips for extra stuff, cravings items, and forgotten list items should be picked up by your cousin. It sounds to me like they are reaping the rewards of your accommodations and its high time that it stops.
In your original e-mail you mentioned trips and appointments and drives that are made for your aunt, when you cousin could handle it. I wouldn't suggest stopping those completely, but maybe bring them up also. Just let them know what days you are most flexible during the week. For instance, if the kids have events Monday, Wednesday, Friday, block those days off for appointments. If you have yoga on Tuesdays, then you suggest that if they have an appointment and the cousin can't take you, then you need to have it on a Thursday, and that's that. Any other appointments, maybe your cousin can take care of it.
You can kind of see where I am going with this, right? The big picture here is that your time, your mind and body, are valuable. They are the only resources that you are provided at birth, and lets be real, they are non-renewable resources. When the planet runs out of oil, we run out of gas, and you can't get anywhere on an empty tank. You PAY for that gas, so it should be used for you and your family, which I realize these people are "family" and while they may do a lot for you, you have a new immediate family now, and that should always be your main focus, after yourself. If you are unhappy you need to make changes, and be able to walk away from whatever the result of this situation is, knowing that you are happy and you did all you could to make sure that everyone else was on that same page, without sacrificing your own well-being.
The biggest thing I want to point out here, is that more often than not, the same people that are putting the guilt on you with the "family" card would NEVER go out on a limb for you, which is why you feel so abused in this situation. Just like in any other relationship, you are aloud to say enough is enough and walk away, draw a line in the sand, or simply take a breather. You are aloud to do that, even if it is family. Don't let your loyalty to blood drain you of your own energy. If they really cared about you, this conversation will go smoothly, they will understand, and things will remain un-shattered between you, even if the dynamic has changed.
I really hope this helps! If you want to, let us know how it goes in the comments!
Until next week, You're Weclome!