Friday, July 24, 2009

The thing about siblings...

Dear Brooke,

I am having a dilemma about how to handle a situation with my mother. I am 27 years old and realized when I went away to college that my mother's neediness had been an impediment to me during my childhood. I've worked out a lot of my issues with her and my father since then, but am currently stuck.

My brother is 19 and is living with my mom (my parents are recently separated). He doesn't go to college (dropped out of community college after a few months) and doesn't have a job. He is a great kid, but is very discouraged. He doesn't know what he wants to do and doesn't like to get suggestions. He was labeled as ADD very young and I believe my parents low expectations of him have led him to have this attitude.

Many people have told my mother (me included) that she needs to stop giving him money (which he uses to go out with friends and buy pot) but she has always been better at being a "friend" than a mother. I think she is scared that he will get really depressed and mad at her or she is just scared to assert herself as mother. Recently she said she was ready to put her foot down and tell him if he doesn't get a job she won't give him money. But she hasn't done it yet.

I was wondering how I can help in this situation? Should I tell her I won't speak to her until she does it? In the past I told her not to talk to me about my brother--that I don't want her talking to me about her problems in general--but I really care about him and nothing I do to try and help works. It should also be noted that my dad gives him money but has basically no relationship with him at all--not sure how he could make a difference but figured it was useful to note (especially since one of my mom's 'excuses' is that she has to handle the situation herself).

Any advice is much appreciated.

Sad Sister

Hi Sweet Darling,

First of all, I want to note it’s interesting that you started by asking me what to do about a situation with your mom, but signed the letter "sad sister"…You are in so many places at once, trying to fix so many relationships at the same time…

Ok, I’m just going to launch right into it… I think there is a part of you, deep down and totally unconsciously, that is having a hard time separating your relationship with your mom from your brothers’ relationship with your mom. I imagine that it’s hard for you to watch the unhealthiness between your mom and brother right before your eyes, similar to what you worked so hard to move past. Your moms “neediness”-her need to be a good mom, a good friend- is really hard for you to witness. You experienced it first hand and healed from it on so many levels. It makes sense that you would want your brother to move forward and experience that same healing. But my love, here’s the truth…you are not your brother, your brother is not you. Here’s why this is important to really understand…

Your journey went a little something like this… Your mother treated you like a friend and needed you to be a certain kind of person for her to feel like a good mom. You went away to college and finally got far enough out of the house to realize how much your mother’s stuff had been “impeding” on you. You did a ton of work on yourself and grew immensely. Now, you are a 27 year old strong amazing person…

Your little bro is on a different journey. He was home after you went away to college. He was there with your parents as they entered a place in their marriage where it became clear things weren’t going to work out. He was witness to that first hand, he literally lived it. That’s huge. There are so many maybes with him… maybe he wants to stay home because he just needs to right now. Maybe he is way sadder than you could ever imagine. Maybe he has been through stuff in life that you don’t realize. Maybe leaving for college is not the best thing for him right now… maybe it is. Maybe Maybe Maybe…

You don’t know for sure what your brothers going through because he is his own person. One thing I can promise you for sure is that he isn’t going through what you went through. The thing about siblings is that in many cases we grew up in the same home, with the same family, going to the same school, etc. but the trick is… we’re not the same. Relationships between siblings are the strongest when they allow each other to be who they are, and travel this life in the way they need to individually…and love each other despite their different paths.

Your brother has his own path…his own process. The most amazing beautiful thing you can do for him is to support and love him as he takes the steps that are right for him while not hoping or asking him to change. Have trust that he will get to where he needs to be when he needs to be there.

There are so many things happening in your family right now to be mindful of. Not only your brother, but take a moment to think about your mom and what she might be going through. Maybe she wants your brother to stay because her marriage just ended and she feels scared. Maybe she doesn’t want to be an empty nester. Maybe she can’t handle so much at once. Maybe she is way sadder than you can ever imagine. Maybe she has been for a long time. Maybe she is doing the best she can with what she has…Maybe Maybe Maybe.

My advice: Nurture the relationships that you have and that you are a part of. Call your brother. Ask him how he is. Listen. Tell him you love him. Call your mom. Ask her how she is. Listen. Tell her you love her. Cherish those relationships deeply, be deliberate about the energy and love you put into them. Be cognizant that people need different things at different times and just because they are family, it doesn’t mean we know what they’re going through. I know, you hate hearing that. You are doing so amazing and your heart could not be in a righter place.

PS…here is the most important part… your self care through all of this. Choose not to feel guilty for growing. Choose not to feel bad for moving forward. Here’s the deal... When we grow in our lives in some positive way a few things happen. 1, we think that everyone should go down the same path towards that growth because we want them to experience the same goodness we have and 2. if they don’t, we feel so guilty that we are happy and free which makes us want #1 even more. Get it? Choose not to let that happen. Let your mom go through the loss of her marriage and the possible loss of her son as he begins to grow. And let your brother be a separate fabulous guy and go on a separate fabulous journey. Be there to witness it. Tell him you love him. Yes, again. Do what you need to do for you and trust trust trust that on some level, your brother and mom are doing the same…

Ok, everyone take a big deep loving juicy breath. Virtual hugs from me to you gorgeous… like, a ton of them.


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1 comment:

  1. This is such a common sense approach! I know of a situation like this and your solution makes perfect sense. Encouraging her to listen and love is so much better than encouraging her to confront and intrude which is what so many would do. All to often people are told to interven, share and be open about their feelings. But we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

    Thanks for being so wise!