Dear Captain Awkward,
I love my parents and younger brother – just in small doses. I currently live about a thousand miles away from them, which is great for me, although sadly, it hasn’t kept me out of the family drama.
My brother has dropped out of grad school, is living at home, has made almost no effort to look for a job, and when my mother tried to point out that his student loans are coming due and he needs some sort of income, he told her that he was an adult and she couldn’t tell him what to do. Mom was understandably upset about this, and called me to try to get me to talk some sense into my brother.
When Mom and Dad came to visit me, Mom ended up crying on my couch for an hour over the whole situation. Dad refuses to acknowledge that there’s a problem with my brother’s behavior. He feels that it’s not necessary for my brother to look for a job right now, and that he can just sleep all day and play video games all night. Again, Mom called me to talk about it, because Dad refuses to.
My brother’s politics also come into it – we’re a family of liberals, and he’s a libertarian. There was a giant fight when Mom and Dad found out about this, and they (surprise!) called me to try and talk some sense into him.
I’m going home for week over Christmas, and Mom is already planning out a list of topics that she wants me to talk about with my brother, but I really don’t want to. My feeling on it is that he’s an adult, and part of being an adult is that he can make his own decisions and his own mistakes. I’d be glad to talk to him about interview strategies and resume building if he was willing to take the help, but when I offered he ignored me and I’m not going to force him. I hate debating politics in general, and while I disagree with my brother, he’s entitled to his own opinions, and I honestly think Mom is hung up on his politics so she doesn’t have to deal with the real issue of him dropping out of grad school, refusing to look for a job, and being incredibly rude to her, while Dad doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
I love my brother. I love my parents. But I hate that my mother continuously expects me to solve all of my brother’s problems. I understand that I am the responsible one, at least in comparison, but I don’t know if I can go a week at home with my mother trying to get me to fix everything that is wrong in my brother’s life.
On top of that, I have major depression, an anxiety disorder, and a case PTSD from a sexual assault, so I really can’t deal with my family’s drama. (Before you ask, I’ve been in therapy and on medication for several years to deal with these things.) I’m also a little bitter because I would never have been able to get away with any of this – I worked three jobs in high school, I worked year round while I was in college, and I did everything to live up to my parents’ expectations. On some level I get that not only is he the younger child but he’s also the *musician* so he’s special, the differences in how we’re treated are startling.
I was wondering if you had a script for me to use with my parents while I’m at home for a week. If I’m getting this many phone calls and it’s still September, I’m terrified of what it will get to by Christmas.
Responsible for Myself, Not for My Brother
You are smart and you are doing everything to take care of yourself correctly. Internet ^5.
Here’s your script:
“That sounds really stressful, Mom. You should talk to brother directly about that.” + (Change of subject)
“Wow, that sounds like a terrible idea. You should talk to him directly about that.” + (Change of subject)
“Mom, you should talk to him directly about that.”
“Mom, you should talk to him directly about that.”
“You should talk to him directly about that.”
Just keep repeating it (until it becomes ridiculous, if necessary) and then change the subject, and if the subject won’t stay changed say “We really need to change the subject now,” and if they still won’t change the subject say “I have to end this conversation now” and leave the room/hang up the phone/go for a drive/walk/run/jog/to get milk/to freshen up/to start dinner. If they bring it up with you in emails (I am shuddering at the agenda she sent you), respond to all the parts of the email that are NOT that and totally ignore that request as if it did not happen.
When you get back from taking a powder, the clock resets, and you treat them normally and cordially until they bring up your brother again. Then, “You should talk to him directly about that.” Make it very boring and unproductive to keep bothering you about it. Keep a flat, even tone. Make it very happy and productive when they talk about other things.
It is hard to keep doing this. It will feel mean and ridiculous. Your parents won’t like it and will try to push all your buttons. If they call you on the ridiculousness of it, you can level with them:
“Yes, it’s ridiculous to keep repeating the same thing, but I honestly have no idea what to say to the guy. If you have a problem with his behavior, you should talk to him directly about it.”
Trust that you can ride out whatever displeasure they shower on you in return. You are sending a message that you are okay if they are upset with you, but you’re not okay with constantly being asked to intervene in your brother’s problems.
What your mom wants from you is probably:
- For you to validate and take this problem (and her anxiety) on as your own.
- For you to validate that they are good parents by being the Responsible One.
- For your role as the Responsible One to miraculously be transitive to your brother.
- To be her ally in the family when her husband isn’t backing her up. “Him” could also mean your dad.
You can validate her feelings – “Mom, that sounds really stressful and hard to deal with,” or “Yes Mom, I agree, the Venn diagram between libertarians and selfish assholes is a series of concentric circles, but we can’t change another adult’s politics” – without taking the feelings or responsibility for your brother’s behavior. Your brother has shown that he doesn’t really give a shit what they say, so you are the child who will maybe Give A Shit, which is why they are talking about it to you and not him. You have to aggressively Not Give A Shit, which is a break from the role you’ve filled in the family before, and will be stressful for them and for you. Keep your chin up. Just because they don’t know how to set a boundary with your brother doesn’t mean that you can’t set a boundary with them.
Glad you live 1,000 miles away. Again, you are smart and good at taking care of yourself.