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#356: My parents want me to parent my brother.

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.

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About JenniferP

Chicago filmmaker, teacher, and blogger.

147 comments on “#356: My parents want me to parent my brother.

  1. Yes, that sounds like a shitty situation for everyone and I sympathize with both LW and mom. But LW can’t make an adult make better life choices or be a more considerate son, or her father validate her mom’s feelings. So it’s best to just continually reject the role of fixing things without anyone else making as much effort as you, which is not the same as being irresponsible, even if your family conflates them with each other.

    Also, I ended up reading this through my personal experience. So I don’t know if LW is female, but I am female and my sister and I have had higher expectations placed on our behavior than our younger brother. Expectations that we get good grades, that even a B isn’t enough, and that we do housework and not do anything that would upset our parents. I’m not going into how well we live up to them. Meanwhile, our brother gets to not do homework, have it done for him by family, and constantly play video games or watch tv and movies. He gets yelled at a few times, mostly by mom, but generally he does what he wants and gets called a man even though he’s in his early teens. And if my mother wants him to do something while my dad is around, or my sister complains about preferential treatment, my father says it’s because he’s a man, that that’s a man, and to leave that man alone, and has even encouraged him to bother my sister. I can’t make any assumptions about the LW, but I wanted to share this experience anyway. I think there’s just so much respect for the choices of males, no matter what their age and what they choose to do. And yes I know not every family is like this – though I’d still argue that it’s more likely they don’t question a male’s ability and right to make choices – but that’s what’s going on here. I say male, because my brother is not an adult and his choices with regard to behavior and school have been respected ever since he was a little boy, at least to a higher degree than mine or my sister’s. Of course LW could be male; in that case, this last paragraph is not as relevant. And I can’t read LW’s father’s mind. This is just a reflection on what I know about how children are treated, which I hope helps someone.

    • Yup. Saw this through my family lens as well. Boys always had it better in our family – more respect, more opportunities, fewer responsibilities, and lower expectations. When there are 8 girls and 4 boys in the family, there are enough data points to tell the difference. It’s particularly hard on my youngest sister, because a) she’s a foster child that has lived there for most of her life, b) the next youngest child is mom’s youngest blood child and a boy, and had health problems as an infant. The end result is a brother who is the spoiled baby of the family, for whom expectations are low (he has anxiety! he’s forgetful), no indoor chores, and a tendency to disappear into his room to his computer so that he doesn’t get put to work. Meanwhile, actual youngest child who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (but who has learned to cope extremely well, so kudos to little sis) gets nagging and no forgiveness when she fails to do chores (or doesn’t do them well enough or can’t quite figure out where to begin) or otherwise does something to disappoint the parental units. She is never allowed to forget that she is a burden. Is she the perfect kid? No, but if she got half the forgiveness and understanding that baby brother does there would be a lot less tension in the household.

    • Yes, this is a totally typical pattern. In fact i kind of wonder if the LW is a friend of mine, except my friend doesn’t live so far away from her parents.

      I can’t affirm the Captain’s advice enough. Learning to say “You should talk to him about that!” is the best thing I ever did. No, I won’t talk to my brother about his pot habit.. I’m very sorry you worry about him so much. I know it hurts you. You should talk to him if you’re worried.

      On and on and on. I would skip going home for Christmas (I did! For 10 years!) and deal with it by phone if possible – it’s tempting to be the one who Always Shows Up and is the Good Child but you won’t get credit for it anyway.

      • I also had the “can’t make it home for Christmas” thought. Or after an intense round of pressure to Talk to Him for Me, taking a break to spend a night or two in a hotel. Because, LW, you are probably taking off time from work, and spending money to travel, and you deserve a little relaxation!

    • Wow, that’s pretty much what happened in my family, too. My little brother would get Nintendo games for Christmas, I would get educational books and toys. And when he started showing signs of having a serious mental illness, calming him down and taking care of him became my responsibility, even though I had just started high school. When I started having panic attacks and depressive spells that made me consider suicide, I just got told to suck it up. And we even got divided into “the creative one” (lil brother) and the responsible smart one who shouldn’t bother learning anything artistic (me). I always thought this was just more of my mom’s specific mix of abusive, alcoholic, and unmedicated, but now I’m realizing that it could be rooted in societal factors and gender expectations.

      I wish I had useful advice to offer you, LW, but all I can give is my sympathy. I hope your mother realizes that what she is doing is wrong. And I’m glad you’re 1000 miles away

    • We had this trend in our family, too – though in my immediate family, I suspect it had more to do with the fact that my brother is the baby of the family (and he is maturing, just at a delayed rate in comparison to his older sisters). My parents’ families, though? There was some definitely some really ugly gender roles at work there, and both of my paternal grandmothers favored their sons (especially the youngest ones) at the expense of the daughters. The positive result is that it inspired many of the daughters to become independent, self-reliant, and generally more successful. On the negative side, it left them with a lifetime of neuroses, and to this day, I’m glad my one aunt only had boys because the thought of how she would have treated daughters worries me. Really, when I look at some of my mother’s siblings, I’m just amazed at how well intact she came out of the whole experience.

  2. Wait, I thought libertarians were all about Personal Responsibility and BOOTSTRAPS!!1! Or is that conservatives? :shrug: I can’t tell them apart any more.

    My condolences, LW. Your brother is absolutely not your responsibility, and your mother trying to draw you in is Not Cool. Here’s hoping she’ll react well when you draw and maintain your boundaries.

    As an aside, a nitpick: did I miss #355?

    • Exactly – he claims to be a libertarian, yet is taking no responsibility for himself or the loans he accepted? Methinks he either misunderstands the term or is intentionally misusing it to excuse his own general a$$hattery.

    • I thought that too, a Libertarian sponging off someone? Holy cognitive dissonance Batman!

      • Fun fact: when Ayn Rand wasn’t able to work because of cancer, she accepted government help. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with accepting money from the government when you’re unable to work, BUT SHE DID.

    • I’ve been studying different political ideologies in my Social Policy class and it’s like gazing into the abyss, I swear. The only reason libertarianism/neo-liberalism is even halfway functional is because so many people DON’T act the way it dictates everyone sh

    • If he’s an Atlas Shrugged libertarian, he’s doin’ it rong, because John Galt made Dagny pay rent when she was in the Magical Valley Of The Producers for a month. And they were boning! Mooching off of family/friends is condemned so much in that book it’s ridiculous.

      And yes, I’ve read the whole thing, even the entire interminable speech John Galt makes on the radio.

      • Wow, how’d you do it? I tried so hard because I generally don’t like to criticize books I’ve never read. I only got through about 25 pages. It’s SO POORLY WRITTEN. It made my eyes bleed.

        • I’m a very fast reader and I have this weird thing where I like to torture myself with awful books and movies sometimes. I blame MST3K.

          The books I can’t make it through are rare, but they’re usually ones that have a decent story except that I hate all of the characters, so I get all ragey because it’s like “if only you all weren’t such assholes I could enjoy this!!!” (specific example is the Wheel of Time series, I read like six of them then had to stop because everyone was pissing me off) Atlas Shrugged was just kind of stupid all over. And repetitive. And hard to take seriously because the concept is just so ridiculous.

          I don’t think I could do it again, though, especially since my book list is full of good things to read at the moment. But having read it, I have the power to use my knowledge for good! i.e. mockery!

    • I wondered that too!

    • If someone has the time/inclination to do so, would someone mind giving me a brief explanation of the ‘bootstraps!’ thing. I’ve heard this a few times but am not exactly sure what it means. I tried googling and wikipedia but there was a lot of irrelevant information. I think it’s something to do with conservatives being like ‘we won’t help anyone but ourselves!’ or something? But I’m not sure on the exact meaning.

      • The relevant phrase is “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” — i.e. succeeding by yourself, without help from others. Of course, strictly speaking, it’s impossible to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, but that’s kind of the point. Saying “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps” is a really badass boast about your own rags-to-riches story.

        • Unless you know how to levitate or there’s an invisible hand holding your ass up, yeah.

          (Say, you have these rich parents who pay for your education and suchlike …)

      • What GemmaM said. It’s a commonly used phrase over at Shakesvile, where Melissa McEwan defines it as “Bootstraps—A reference to the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” canard about self-reliance, which elides systemic disadvantages and privileges conveyed on individuals by the kyriarchy.”

        Basically, it’s shorthand to refer to the kind of privileged people (usually white straight cis Republican or Libertarian men) who claim that they “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” – i.e., that they’re self-made men who didn’t need no stinkin’ help from anyone – and if they can do it, everyone can do it! Except they completely fail to see how they were helped by Dad’s trust fund (or governmental Social Security benefits – hey Paul Ryan!) paying for their Ivy League education, or their uncle’s connection at Big Bank or Famous Newspaper or Powerful Lawfirm got them their job, and their very status as a white, straight, cis man helped them access the boardroom.

        • To extend a little, it’s about the mythological meritocracy, in which people who are smart/talented and work hard invariably rise to the top, the less-than-level playing field being a negligible factor that anyone of Character and Determination can overcome… which means people who are prosperous need feel no obligation to do anything for anyone who is not because they *deserve* their respective positions in the world.

          You’re not poor because you grew up in a crappy house/apartment/trailer and the pervasive mold triggered your asthma and between that and the fact that there was never quite enough food you were sick a lot so you missed a lot of school, which wasn’t very good where you lived anyway ’cause it sure as heck wasn’t a “magnet school,” and when you got your GED no one would hire someone a “dropout” who looked/dressed like you to do more than dead-end jobs and you’ve never had connections to “get your foot in the door” for anything better. Nor because when you did get a slightly better job you were deemed “unreliable” because you couldn’t afford a reliable car to get you there on time, and/or you couldn’t afford reliable daycare for your kid so every time your mom got sick and couldn’t look after her it was a crisis that involved late/missed workdays, and then you had that bout of pneumonia that you had no health insurance to get you antibiotics for so you could get over it quickly without the emergency hospitalization that wiped out your meager savings! Heck no! You’re poor because you haven’t tried hard enough to lift yourself and your child out of poverty, you welfare-parasite, so how dare you expect a hardworking person like me to give you a hand??

          It’s the ultimate in adding insult to injury.

    • I’ve noticed from the few conversations that I’ve had with libertarians that they also like the phrase, “the cream always rises to the top.” I’ve put the bootstraps and cream phrases on my list of “BEWARE: If someone you’re talking to says this, they just may be a bag-o-dicks” along with the words “freedom” and “liberty” on any day that is not July 4. DO NOT WANT

      • Some lefty people at my university defined the cream in that equation as “thick and rich”.

      • I think it was Terry Pratchett who pointed out that it’s not just the cream that floats to the top…

      • That’s weird, I never heard that expression used that way. The context I’ve heard it in most commonly are like, “Stress isn’t always bad, it can really make the cream rise to the top.” Like the cream isn’t YOU, it’s the best you can do. I will have to watch carefully for anyone using the expression differently.

  3. “Face it, Mom: if talking at people could change their politics or make them grow up and take responsibility for themselves, Brother’d be all better, because I know you’ve said everything that can be said on those subjects. You’ve said it well, and you’ve said it repeatedly. I know you’re hoping that it’ll be different if I say it, like maybe that way it will get past the filters he has in place for the words of his mother — but trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve got no magic words, either, no direct sibling-only line into his brain that will circumvent his defenses.

    Therefore, the only thing you are going to accomplish by trying to nag him by way of me is that you are going to drive me away. Not because I agree with him, but because I can’t fix him any more than you can, and having you act like it’s my job to do that, like if I just tried a little harder he would be the upstanding, responsible, liberal son you want him to be is stressful and awful. And because frankly, it makes me really mad that it’s not enough for me to do it all ‘right’ myself. If I can’t fix Brother, too — even though he’s his own separate person I have no actual control over — I’m somehow still letting you down.

    And if that’s what coming home comes to be all about, well then in the future when I look at the cost of plane fare, and I realize the same amount of money will bring me home to be harangued for my brother’s lifestyle, or take me to a sunny tropical isle….. don’t be shocked if I display an increasing tendency to choose the sunny tropical isle.”

    I was thinking you might want to say that toward the beginning of the visit, as a sort of intro to the “I know that stinks, but you need to talk to Brother about that directly” lines. I’m actually thinking now that you might want to put it into an e-mail that she’ll read within a week before you arrive.

    • I’m sorry, but that comes off as a threat. It’s nice to think about sending, but actually sending it would open up a massive can of worms. One of these cans is labelled “So you’d rather be on an island than with your own family” and is particularly nasty and distracting when the issue at hand is the repeated requests for LW to intervene with her brother.

      • Frankly, I knew that when I included the last paragraph that someone would say “oh, you can’t say that — it sounds like a threat!”

        I don’t care if it comes off as a threat, though. Sometimes, when people (especially family) are being horrible, you need to spell out that the natural consequence of the way they are treating you is that it will make you choose to spend less time around them. “So you’d rather be on an island than with your own family???” “Yes, as a matter of fact, I would — if you are going to keep trying to make me responsible for the behavior of someone over whom I have absolutely no control, triggering all my anxieties around helplessness, then YES, I would rather be on a tropical island! I would rather be on a *desert* island. I would rather spend the holidays working, or with friends, or reading a book alone, or serving at a soup kitchen (which would actually feel *good*) than come home if that is what you how you are planning to treat me. I just thought you might want to know, so you can adjust your behavior accordingly — or not. It’s entirely up to you what you do with this information.”

        I understand that some people feel that it is *essential* to avoid confrontation in their families, because if they try to stand up for themselves in any way Bad Things Will Happen. And I don’t disparage them for that, because they may be right that in their situation, the backlash just won’t be worth the gain — people who react that way usually are speaking from painful experience. I’m sorry if that’s where you’re coming from.

        However, that does not mean no one should ever have this kind of conversation. In a lot of families, part of growing up and staking out a different relationship with your folks (because they won’t just give it to you ’cause you’re older) is to speak out and stand your ground. In that, I am speaking from *my* personal experience. And amazingly, I had a much better, more mature relationship with my parents once I told my parents how I really felt than my older sister did, who sucked it up and pretended there were no points of conflict.

        • I agree, it’s not “making a threat. It’s “drawing a boundary.”

          In families with a “difficult child,” the other child is often expected to have no problems, to go with the family “program” and accomodate all requests- no matter how insane- because they’re the ‘reasonable one.” They don’t have special issues like the other kids, so they have to suck it up and deal with what they’re handed.

          The reasonable child is open to negotiations. The reasonable child can still be reasoned with, wheres as the problem sibling reacts to all suggestions or restrictions with hysteria and threats. The reasonable sibling still cares what the parents think of him or her, while the problem sibling probably stopped caring a while ago.

          So stop being the reasonable one. You’re allowed to draw boundaries. You’re allowed to say no.

          • Oh, this hits far too close to home. Yep, another reasonable one here.

          • I have been growing into the Problem Child role over the years, and it’s pretty glorious.

            Kind of surreal how history gets rewritten so the other child was always the Good One and I was always the Problem. But the joy of them NOT assuming I’ll just go along is totally worth it.

            At least in my family, if you show a tinge of Problem Child all the sudden everyone is super nice to you. Yeah, it’s wrong and creepy. But since I’m actually only having my own boundaries, not manipulating them all into doing/believing whatever asinine thing I demand as proof of love, I’m OK with getting the good treatment.

          • It is surreal! I actually zoom back and forth between Good Child and Problem Child, because while in some ways I do try to be Good, especially in regard to grades because that’s the area I’m most successful at, in other ways I either draw boundaries or fail badly. And I’m autistic, which is no excuse when it would inconvenience them but otherwise gets me protection I don’t need and is actually pretty bad for me, but they refuse to stop doing.

            I do feel guilty either way, because my sister gets a lot of crap, but she’s not used as a positive example. Once, maybe twice to me, except for one of my grandmothers, which may be the reason my sister likes her so much. But she tries harder than I do, putting herself in the public areas of the house, doing more housework, studying constantly (though the stuff she chooses does demand a lot of study), keeping up her looks and her manners when she thinks it important (though not necessarily to our parents and brother, for good reason much of the time even if I think that hasn’t worked out for her.) I wonder if she would try so hard if I weren’t there. She’d be treated badly in comparison to our brother, but at least I wouldn’t be compared to her positively. And she certainly does blame me for much of it, at least externally, even though it’s obvious to me that our parents and brother are pitting us against each other even over innocent events like me doing something I thought I should do (saying she would never do something so decent) or her laptop breaking down sooner than mine. Or her just being louder than me.

          • Oh, the flip flop! When my sis and I were little, our mom could never remember who liked spinach and who didn’t, and would always insist it was opposite than it was. Now that we’re older, she can’t remember who is the good one and who’s the flighty, uppity disappointment. I think I was back in favor for a while but I’ve been very negligent about answering emails so my sis is probably back to Golden status.

            Both problem child and Golden One come with their own unique set of, uh, issues.

          • “The reasonable child is open to negotiations. The reasonable child can still be reasoned with, wheres as the problem sibling reacts to all suggestions or restrictions with hysteria and threats.”

            Yes. After 30 years, I finally drew (and enforced. Even with the resulting months of drama and silent treatment) my boundaries and established that I will not be manipulated by my mother into giving up my sanity to keep the family relationships pleasant. It takes a few tries and is ongoing. My other sibling rather enjoys (and gloats over, but good for her) her new role as the “good” one and she can have it.

            My beef with my family was not that I was specifically hounded to re-mediate a sibling, like the LW, but the larger problem: the assumption that dealing with me meant that there was no need to even think about my boundaries. Or dignity. Or need for self-dominion or authority as a mother of my own child. It was going down a really ugly road. I still get “tested” to see if I will buckle and play this unspoken game and I won’t do it. It feels good.

          • This is interesting and giving me some light bulb-type moments. In my family of origin, I was officially the problem sibling/scapegoat AND unofficially the reasonable one. Despite doing better in school and being very creative, I was supposed to be the dull workhorse and boring, kind of stupid foil for my golden child younger sister, who was supposed to be the smart and artistic one.

            Which makes me think that my sister was possibly the problem child even though *I* was labeled as such–our parents never held her accountable for her own actions, and treated all of her moods with tender respect. She never even had to develop any empathy, whereas I was responsible for everyone’s mood and needs. But then she did care a lot about what our parents thought, so much so that she was sort of their bulldog/enforcer when they were ganging up on me. Our parents even designated her the reasonable one, and her take on the family dysfunction is that I was such a juvenile delinquent (without ever having done anything even remotely illegal) that she never got any attention, and that my terrible behavior (which in healthy families would have been considered individuation, mastery of skills, and occasional attempts to raise boundaries) is what ruined our family. But she was allowed to react in any way she wanted to anything and anyone, including them, which I never could without serious repercussions.

          • Thank you for spelling that out, from another reasonable child. It helps immensly right now.

        • Yes. Informing your family that their behavior is unacceptable and that if they continue, there will be consequences is not a threat, it is drawing a boundary. Good boundaries are important.

        • As someone who has done this – it can work. My mom was doling out some seriously damaging emotional abuse (probably the result of her own abusive childhood) and I flat out told her that if she didn’t quit *particular behavior* that I would cut her off emotionally to protect myself. It took me a long while to reach that point but I was close to breaking internally.

          Wonderfully, Mom took me at my word and stopped the behavior immediately and hasn’t EVER done it again (I was 8 at the time – I’m in my mid-20′s now). We went on to other arguments and problems, but she never resorted to outright emotional abuse again.

          Sometimes you NEED to voice the threat, as long as it’s true. There are consequences for behavior, and parents in particular may not recognize them. My mom and I have an awesome relationship, we talk multiple times a week and enjoy spending time together BECAUSE I set boundaries, not in spite of it.

      • See Rosa’s post: that’s why it’s not a “threat,” it’s bringing a natural consequence to their attention. If you hate going home because you’re always miserable when you get there no matter how abstractly happy you are to see your folks, you ARE going to be more inclined to accept someone’s invitation to visit their folks instead, take advantage of that great deal you saw in the newspaper, decide your budget just isn’t up to the cost of a plane ticket, develop stomach flu and “miss your flight…” or just plain decide “nah, never doin’ that again.” It’s actually a loving act, IF you think there’s any chance they’ll get it if you lay it out for them, to give them that chance to make “home” (the place that has them) somewhere you’d actually look forward to visiting.

      • And what if it is a threat? Just because a course of action can be described in mean-sounding words doesn’t make it a wrong course.

      • And that is a can of manipulative bullshit that would get opened with *any* boundary the LW draws. So I think alphakitty is bang on the money here.

    • I have to agree with Bev on this one, I think alphakitty’s script might come off as very blamey and ultimatum-y. And I think that when you first arrive home for the holidays is the wrong time to set any expectations that you won’t be talking to him about it – I think you need to tell your mom that way, way before that.

      I have this EXACT problem myself with my family; my brother is turning 30 next week and has never moved out of my parents’ house and shows no signs of changing that anytime soon. He doesn’t pay rent, and he has a minimum wage job that he got maybe at age 25? Before that he was unemployed and spent the day sleeping and stayed up all night playing games. My mother does try talking to him herself but he doesn’t listen to her very much, and so she often asks me to talk to him because maybe he’ll listen better to me. (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t!)

      I think creating a boundary and then enforcing it is definitely the way to go, but it might be kind to have ONE conversation first where you clearly explain to your mom (without using sarcasm or threats, such as in the script in the above comment) what that boundary is (you simply are not willing to initiate these conversations with your brother) and that you don’t want her to ask you again. You know, tell her what the rule is before you start enforcing it… that way the “you should talk to him directly about that” script won’t be coming out of left field. You can tell her that you don’t feel equipped or able, you do not wish to open that can of worms again, and you need to focus your energy on keeping your own life together – though try not to turn it into a guilt trip about your own hardships and the special treatment your brother got. This conversation is not a negotiation, it’s just a courteous FYI that you won’t be talking to your brother about any of her agenda topics. THEN stick with the “you should talk to him directly” script going forward.

      Honestly, probably the only thing that will actually solve this is some tough love from both your parents where they start charging him rent, and evict him if he doesn’t pay up. You could perhaps suggest this to your mother at some point, but it’s not your responsibility to solve this for them and you certainly can’t make them take this approach with your brother, so you don’t even have any control over it. The parents need to be the parents here!

    • The first two paragraphs of this are awesome and perfect. It’s the third paragraph that people are twitching about. Perhaps it could be rephrased:

      “And if that’s what coming home comes to be all about, well then in the future when I look at the cost of plane fare, don’t be shocked if I display an increasing tendency to put that money in the bank against a rainy day rather than coming home to spend a week being harangued about my brother’s lifestyle WHICH I CANNOT FIX.”

      Double whammy — not only is LW not going to play the game, but she’s doing something instead for which her parents cannot reasonably criticize her. (Note: in point of fact, she could still go off to that tropical island, but she shouldn’t use that as part of her argument.)

      • Or perhaps the first two paragraphs are for ahead of time… the third for after she’s been trying the “you should talk to him directly about that” repeatedly to no avail. I’m just tossing out ideas… I don’t claim to know how to live people’s lives better than they do.

        • I agree with the general gist of your message. It’s just that I do have sympathy for the mom as I imagine her at least, so I think it might be better to word it differently and only come out with the ‘not going to visit’ if the boundary is repeatedly violated. But I agree with you.

          • I have sympathy for the mom, too. I just think that when you’re getting to the point that you dread going home to your parents’ house because of some specific behavior you’re anticipating on their part, it may be better for everybody if you just put that out there. Maybe the mom’ll hear what the LW is saying, have an epiphany, and cut it out! (I genuinely believe that’s possible, though the boundary will probably take some enforcing). Yay for everyone! Maybe she won’t hear, or won’t be able to stop what she’s doing, and the LW will (at least eventually) wind up curtailing visits because it’s just not a healthy place to be anymore. Even then, having tried to fix the relationship will feel better than having done an explanation-free fade.

            It’s funny, but I think sometimes people are least honest with their families, because they think their families can’t take the truth about them… that it would be mean to shatter their parents’ illusions, or that it would stir up a shitstorm that just isn’t worth the trouble. And yet at the same time, some of those same people are like that’s your *family*! You can’t abandon them! So they maintain civil relationships, but without a substantive connection between them.

            Now, I readily concede: some families really are so messed up that they are not entitled to your truth. Some are not entitled to any piece of you. And if you choose to have a relationship with them at all, you should guiltlessly have it on whatever terms work for you.

            But speaking *as a mother* I would rather my kids were honest with me about who they are and what they think — and that they told me I’m doing something so annoying it makes them not to come home anymore — than that they glossed it over with reflexive love-you-too’s while frantically concocting excuses why they have to be somewhere, anywhere, ELSE for the holidays.

  4. The Captain’s advice for what you should do in this situation is right on: do nothing, and make it clear you will do nothing.

    Politics and everything else aside, I fucking feel for your mom, though. Having a partner that will not back you up when you try to step up and do the right thing as parent to a useless man-child must be infuriating and make her feel totally helpless. Feeling like a failure as a parent must be bad enough when you’re part of a team that can comfort each other, or if you’re actually alone enough to be able to tackle the problem without consulting anyone. She sounds totally stuck and I can’t imagine being trapped in your own home like that. I really don’t blame her for wanting SOMEONE to have her back in this, and I really hope she can form a team with your dad again to forcefully push your brother out of the nest so that she doesn’t have to try to fill that role with you anymore. I almost wish she had written in, because it sounds like she needs some help and guidance, too.

    At any rate, I hope your family sorts itself out soon, and your mom doesn’t get too hurt having to face this bullshit alone.

    • I feel like if I was ever in a LTR with possibility of having kids, not only discussing whether we want kids would be important, but what we see as expectation for how boys vs girls are treated and should behave. Hopefully I wouldn’t end up with someone where this would be an issue, because I really think treating your kids that differently based on gender would be a deal breaker for me and because it’s so insidious even if you do talk about it you don’t always see it coming because a lot of the sexism in society is so unconscious.

      • There was a beautiful post on tumblr last week about a man in germany who had started wearing skirts and dresses because his son, who loved wearing dresses and skirts in their old home town had been made fun of at his new school for doing so and had stopped wearing them. The fact that the father had made it be alright and “manly” for this kid to wear what ever the fuck he wanted to was awesome and the fact that my partner was just as impressed by the story as I was makes me happy that I will be having children with him in the future.

    • Holy cow, this.

      I think yes, draw boundaries, but maybe also have some sympathy for your mother? She loves both of you, but her husband is not backing her up at all, and her son is lumping along taking advantage of her financially and emotionally. She probably feels uncomfortable in her own home.

      As for dumping all this on you, she may not feel like she can air air family laundry with anyone else, especially her friends. You may be the only person she could possibly talk to about this.

      I would say, yes, you can vent to me, but no, I don’t think it would help if I talked to him.

      And I say this as the girl-child who did all the right things, with two (older) brothers who constantly need to “borrow” money, well into their forties.

      • This is basically what happened with me and my mom when my sister was acting like the Problem Child recently. My mom was stressed beyond belief about my sister, unable to communicate with her, while at the same time putting up with vicious emotional abuse from my dad about it, and hiding it from EVERYONE. (It’s a stupid-long story that I will only summarize as being a pastiche of nearly every Greek tragedy ever composed.) She would call me alternately like, “DID YOU KNOW THAT SISTER DID THIS THING? HAS SHE SAID ANYTHING TO YOU ABOUT IT?” and crying and upset about my dad.

        It was vital that I set boundaries with her. I had to be like, “Mom, I feel terrible that you’re hurting this much, but I don’t understand what you expect me to do about Sister. I’m not getting any information from her that you aren’t, and I’m not going to solicit it. I’m not getting involved. And as far as Dad is concerned, you know that if I get involved he’ll only see it as an excuse to get worse. If you want to unload onto me, you can certainly do so, but I cannot be the ONLY person who hears this all the time, because my helping only goes so far.” It took a few times repeating it, but finally we established that she could talk to me about feelings, but she was not to ask my advice or input, and as far as taking concrete steps about anything she was to ask either a therapist, or a lawyer, or she was just going to have to buckle down and choose a friend to confide in as well, who was actually a peer and might have suggestions, rather than her daughter.

        It is interesting how the Good Child and the Problem Child mantles switch so easily as you start establishing boundaries.

      • The person to whom you air your child-rearing problems SHOULD NOT be another one of your children. You shouldn’t make your child a co-parent, or solicit your child’s agreement against her father. That’s no more okay than dad checking out of the situation, or brother mooching. It’s parental malpractice.

        Mom should vent to a trusted friend or a therapist. She can’t vent to OP without trying to make OP responsible.

        And I say this as the responsible oldest sister, who is carefully picking her way out of this minefield while trying to maintain relationships with everyone.

        • My mother complains to us about our father. He’s more passive aggressive and just huffs and sighs and criticises her. And we all hate it. We’re pretty close as a family – three of the five of us siblings are living at home, my oldest sister owns her own home but lived here until she bought it and comes by at least once a week for dinner and my younger brother is flatting. My parents have been together a long time and I would be honestly extremely surprised if they ever divorced, somehow they do make things work and go on holidays together and play bridge and such. But there are definite stresses in their relationship that my mother really shouldn’t be unloading on us because even though we’re all adults (younger brother is the baby at 25) it’s just not right to be badmouthing the other parent to your kids.

          It doesn’t help that I am rather ambivalent towards my father anyway, honestly, and there are a lot of times when I think that while I love my whole family I don’t actually like him as a person. I don’t think my mother knows that though.

        • Yes, so much this. My mother is currently trying to unload her issues with my brother (simultaneously the Golden and Problem child) onto me, the Reasonable Oldest Child, and it sucks.

    • Being the “reasonable child” in a family dynamic that is very similar to this one, it is so very hard not to want to fix things for my mom because she is so, so alone in fighting my dad and my brother. My brother fucks up, my dad rages and storms and threatens and screams, both to my brother and to my mom about my brother, then the next week fronts him $200 for rent or – in two separate cases – BUYS HIM A NEW TRUCK to replace the one he drove into the ground – and then when my brother inevitably fucks up again, my dad is both irate that my brother is such a fuckup and personally offended that his bailout money wasn’t seen as an enlightening and heartwarming second (thirtieth) chance. And my mom has to hear it from both my dad and my brother, even though she called my dad’s newest bailout plan for what it was, a dumb fucking idea without any hope of succeeding, and no one listened to her.

    • Yes! I feel for LW’s mom too and found myself wishing she would write in, because I think the Captain could give her some great advice too. It sounds as though LW’s mom could use the advice about building a Team Her to help support her through what sounds like a rotten home situation in a way that didn’t mess up her relationship with LW.

  5. I wonder if depression runs in the LW’s family. I understand the people who think their parents should kick him out of the nest, but LW’s brother may have problems besides being an asshole. Maybe, “Mom, you should talk to him directly about that, and suggest that he try therapy to understand why he’s making the life decisions he is.” LW’s mother also sounds like she could use a support group, if there’s one in the local community.

    • Yeah, I wondered if he might be depressed himself. Although being depressed can be completely compatible with being an arsehole, and either way, it should not be up the LW to fix everything in the family.

      Sometimes a career counselor can be a good place to start if people have objections to therapy. When I was struggling at university, I saw both a career counselor and a therapist for awhile, and that helped me figure out what I needed to do at the time, which was to take time off and get a part time, low pressure job.

    • This was exactly my thought. He just dropped out of graduate school, which has all sorts of unspoken connotations (whether true or not) that he now has to deal with. His mom is berating him to get his sh*t together, and begging the rest of the family to get involved as well. For someone who might feel like they have NOTHING together, this is so difficult.

      It is so important for you to stay out of this situation, LW. Not just for your sanity, but for the sake of your brother.

      I went to see a counselor a few months ago about my family issues. My sister is going through a pretty severe bought of depression, and taking her aggression out on my mother. I wanted to know whether I should get involved to help my mom, or whether I needed to stay the hell out. The best advice the counselor gave me was that my sister needed a friend, and a friend within the family was especially important. Instead of getting involved and defending my mom by telling my sister how awful a person she was being, it was my job instead to be my sisters sounding board, offering advice only when asked, and keeping the conversation light and friendly so she didn’t have to focus on her depression. This advice lite up the proverbial “brain bulb” for me. The strategy has worked quite well. My sister let me into her world more than anyone else in the family, and I now understand where a lot of her pain comes from. Having the knowledge that I am there for her and will support her has been more important for her healing process than if I’d simply yelled at her for hurting my mom.

      You don’t necessarily need to be as extreme as I was and become best buds with your brother, but I think right now your brother needs at least one friend. I think you will do more good communicating with your brother as a buddy. Keep it light, keep it casual, and maybe things will get better simply because he knows that someone in the family has his back.

      • From the letter, it sounds like Mom is the one who needs a friend in the family. Brother has his father acting like nothing is wrong and telling Mom to respect brother’s choices. Mom is the one alone and most likely doing all the work. LW doesn’t need to do the work Mom is desperate for, but that doesn’t mean brother is the one who should have more familial support.

        • From the little we know of the situation from perspectives outside of the LW, it sounds like the mom has some unrealistic expectations, or at least no understanding of WHY the son is finding “normal” day-to-day activities difficult. While I agree that mom also needs a friend, most of the responses are focused on providing the LW ways to help mom come to some understanding, but few have focused on whether the brother might have some real issues. Its possible dad has some understanding of a situation unbeknownst to LW and mom, but is not sure how to explain the situation.

          Dropping out of grad school is a BIG DEAL, especially if there are other circumstances surrounding the decision other than simply not wanting to be in school anymore. There is a lot of inherent guilt in that decision alone, but possibly more so if he was forced out by his adviser or the program.

          Its of course not my place to tell the LW what she should do, and it is not her responsibility to “fix” any member of her family, but I thought this was a perspective worth another look.

  6. Your brother needs to decide if he’s an adult or a baby boy. He wants to be an adult who doesn’t have to listen to what his mom says? Great. Adults live on their own and pay their own bills. Baby boys live in mommy and daddy’s house and live off of their money.

    Your parents are both taking the path of least resistance in different ways. Your dad is trying to put off a painful confrontation by pretending there’s no problem and your mom is trying to pass the buck to you.

    That is not fair to anyone. It’s extremely messed up that she’s preparing talking points for a visit that’s three months away rather than having a difficult conversation with someone who LIVES IN HER HOUSE.

    I feel your pain. I am the oldest of three. My brother is the baby and they only boy and has a chronic health issue. It’s a perfect storm for man-babying. He’s 28 and they still cover quite a few of his expenses. It’s like he was raised by completely different parents.

    They’re otherwise lovely, rational people. They were good parents to my sister and I. They are wonderful grandparents. But they are incredibly short-sighted. They talk about setting boundaries for him, and then when the next emergency comes down the pipe, they fold and take care of it. And his attitude toward them is downright rude and hateful sometimes.

    It’s like he has to show he’s a big boy by rejecting their affection and making a big show of ridiculing them. My parents would actually be pretty upset if I contacted him and told him what I thought of his attitude because they wouldn’t want me to hurt his feelings.

    As far as your parents go, I would just refuse to have any sort of “talking point” conversation with your brother, full stop. And if Mom brings it up again, I would say, “Mom, I’m not his parent. This is a conversation you should be having with him. And if this issue is going to dominate my holiday visit, I will either shorten my visit to one or two days or make other plans entirely.”

    And you need to be prepared to follow through on making other plans. Your parents are reaping what they sowed, by treating your brother as the special one. He believed the hype and now they’re stuck with an adult son who thinks he has the right to live off of them indefinitely. At this point, you just need to step back from the vortex of family dynamics and try not to get sucked in.

    • Ayup. Though I imagine even if mom was willing to broach the subject “get a job and start paying rent, young man”, it seems that dad wouldn’t back her up.

    • I just want to point out that you can live with your parents and not be a baby. I live with my dad but I pay alot of my own bills and help out around the house to cover what he pays for me. I do have a job but it doesn’t make me less of an adult to be living like a roommate with my father.

      • Absolutely. If you’re working and contributing to the household, you’re a functional adult. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.

        • I’m just going to jump in here, because I’m also a big fan of the multi-generational household structure. And contributing makes a huge difference! I would be happy to live with my parents again someday, especially if I were to have children, because I think it can be a very efficient way of sharing resources, but I would fully expect everyone to contribute (and not necessarily with cash).

          I think the problem is not the situation itself, but the brother’s attitude and lack of respect, and the lack of support from the co-parent, and then the attempt to out-source to a sister. All of that is dysfunctional, but living at home in a functional way can actually be quite nice.

          • It is true that being an adult does not equal living on your own as a rule. Part of it is also cultural. What I’m about to say does not contradict that, but it’s what comes to mind whenever I hear someone defend or express appreciation for this structure, which I have personal experience with.

            But, I live with my parents, and while it’s not quite multigenerational household, it almost is in the way it works with my extended family. That part I don’t want to explain, because I want to get into the result for me. Only this comes with not teaching people to live on their own, raising them to be dependent on their family and see their family as the world. This is personally terrible, because if I don’t fit in, and I don’t, and my boundaries within it – and those of other women – are not respected, it’s incredibly difficult to leave. I’ve been dreaming and hoping of leaving in years and don’t know how to do it. My family expects me to stay, raised me to stay, and ignores my desire to leave or treats it with scorn and dismissal, saying that I really wanted to leave I’d have done it. I have no life skills whatsoever. I don’t have any idea of how I can get a job, I can’t drive or take the bus from home, and I don’t know how to leave. In fact I think I’m allowed even less independence than my sister, who doesn’t exhibit any desire to leave and has housekeys while I don’t even though I’ve repeatedly asked for them. Christian patriarchal roles are in force. So the way I’m supposed to be an adult is by being subordinate to everyone but my younger sister and dutifully doing housework and being at everyone’s service. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m not doing this, my sister would have a little less free rein to try to make me be subordinate to her. And this is all a sign of bad character, stupidity, not being an adult, or a combination of all three. So I’m not a big fan of the multigenerational household, and think it has its own drawbacks with regard to health and oppression of women and girls.

          • Oh dear, Tigerpetals. I am so, so sorry you are living that way. Because that is not just about being a multigenerational household. That is about serious, cult-worthy, dysfunctional, *sick* family. There is nothing wrong with *you,* but a great deal wrong with parents who would raise you to be (or at least feel) incapable of standing on your own or doing anything other than serve them.

            Does anyone on this site know how to help her get out of something so extreme?

          • Well, I wouldn’t call them a cult. I’m not forced to go to church or practice religion even though they raised me to. I stopped in my mid-teens. They’re not opposed to job-getting in principle, all the women work or have worked, but I don’t think they know what to do, or want to know what to do, with a woman who doesn’t want to live with her family and/or get married and live as a part of that structure. It doesn’t help that I am disabled and they don’t know how to deal with that either. They don’t control what I read. I genuinely think it is a mix of confusion, the usual gender roles, and simply not believing I really need to live apart instead of just adapting and finding my place in the family structure. And not wanting to put an effort into teaching me things in general, since if they had, I would be doing housework much more often.

            But I would appreciate any advice on how to get out, since they’re unhelpful.

          • The only thing I can think of is that in a weird way, your disability may turn out to be your savior. Most states have agencies dedicated to serving the elderly and people with disabilities and protecting them from, among other things, abuse by their own families. I’m not saying you have to call it abuse (any more than I literally meant your family was a cult, just that the way they are treating you sounds worthy of a cult), if you’re not comfortable calling it that. I am just saying that if you called the agency and explained what your disability is, and what your situation is, and that you very much want to learn some life skills and how to be independent, with a goal of getting a job and living on your own, I think it would be right within their mission statement to help you figure out how to go about achieving that.

          • I just wanted to suggest that tigerpetals might be interested in the stories at a blog called No Longer Quivering.

            And tigerpetals, it may simply be worth calling a shelter. There are ways to get housing and education as an adult, too, and a women’s shelter might be the quickest way of getting in touch with organizations that could help with that.

            Good luck.

          • Tigerpetals, people have given you good advice. I have a question: would your sister be willing to have a set of keys made for you?

          • She had dad see to her keys.

          • I know you said there were difficulties with you getting out of the house – would it be possible for, next time you’re going somewhere with a store that cuts keys, for you to borrow your sisters and have a replicate made? This is usually pretty cheap (here in the UK, anyway) and might give you a feeling that at least if you need to, you can get out.

            No Longer Quivering is really great. As is a blog called Razing Ruth. Both cover the subject of women leaving homes where religion and patriarchy are very important. I also strongly second calling a shelter to get some answers about what you could do to leave if you so wish.

            Best of luck, tigerpetals.

          • Oh Tigerpetals, that sounds really hard. I’m sorry your family structure is like that and I’m sorry it’s so stifling and disrespectful to you. I second what someone else said about checking in with the social services in your area (just google around or call the public library: a nice reference librarian would probably be more than happy to help you find some options).

            My situation is pretty different because I moved out when I was 17 and moved back home briefly after I graduated college and had trouble finding work. My mom in particular was great about it and had wonderfully comforting things to say about Italian communist feminists who talked about domestic work as labor (part of me was bummed that I couldn’t “contribute” and she wanted to reassure me that I was doing work; it was sweet) and so I know that living with my parents can be pretty awesome. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.

            Also, something that doesn’t necessarily always get explicitly communicated but is pretty important to remember: almost nobody knows how to do stuff on their own at first. When I moved out it was a total mess. I let a pot of beans ferment on my stove and then poured it down the sink (where it got even worse) and I bleach stained my clothes because I couldn’t do my own laundry. And then I had my electricity turned off. More times than I’d like to say.

            So don’t worry that you don’t know how yet, because you can learn. Find a support network, lean on them pretty heavily, and you can learn.

          • This is pretty tough, and I kind of wish you could write your own letter.

            I would also recommend No Longer Quivering.

            You might investigate if there’s non-fundamentalist churches in your area. You might take online courses. It’s a whole lot easier to work if you have a piece of paper certifying you in something.

            If you can stomach it, you could also try getting some kind of paid work with the church everyone else attends — or volunteer, or really anything that requires you to leave the house and do some work. I suggest the church because that might go best with your family’s limitations.

            Also, definitely investigate your options regarding disability. You might be able to get a check from the government. You might be able to move into a halfway house. You might be able to get a person to come to your house and help you learn things (which of course could be terribly problematic).

            If they understand getting out to get married, do they have rigorous rules about how courtship happens? You could make up a guy, or find a guy who would be willing to help. It’s okay to lie to get what you need in a situation like this, even though it’s FAMILY.

  7. He IS an adult, if he’s already been in grad school (not even university, but grad school, so he’s actually been an adult for quite some time). Why is ANYONE ‘parenting’ him at all, whether it’s a sibling or actual parents? That’s the bit that seems ridiculous to me. I mean, unless he’s got a rather major developmental disability, but I presume not by the mention of grad school.

    The only reason I can think of why his unemployment is their business is if they’re giving him charity in the form of free room and board. If it was me I’d tell my parents that my opinion is that if they aren’t already, they need to decide how much is a fair market rent to charge him (and if he’s eating their food, what is his financial contribution there), or give him a deadline when he has to find his own apartment (e.g. three months). And don’t give him any unsolicited advice about his career or education. And if he is already contributing financially, then he’s perfectly right — what he does with his education or career is none of their business.

    And once I’d told my parents that I’d tell them I didn’t want to talk about him anymore, let’s talk about something else. If they asked me again I might repeat the same thing, or just say I didn’t want to talk about it anymore and it’s between them and him.

    OTOH, that’s my opinion and I personally would probably want to say it at least once :). If you don’t have an opinion that you want to tell them, then there is no need to say even that much. Just ‘that’s between you guys and him’.

    • Just a side note–people with some pretty intense developmental disabilities can and do attend grad school. Developmental disabilities can leave intellectual capacity unaffected, and do not necessarily rule out someone being able to exercise a significant degree of responsibility for decision-making in their own lives.

      So we can’t rule it out. But if it’s the case, he needs to get appropriate support for that, and doesn’t change the fact that his parents need to deal with him directly and not expect his sibling to be able to talk him into having better values or any kind of motivation.

      • Well if so, I think it would have to be something undiagnosed, because it’s relevant enough that I’m sure it would have been mentioned. Although if he does it might give him access to outside support workers that could take some of the pressure to mentor him off the family, particularly the sibling.

        Personally though, my own feeling from reading the letter is that he doesn’t have any disabilities that would justify treating him as a minor. I get the sense the family has just got in the habit of thinking of him as a child, and there have always been enough perks in it for him to make it worth putting up with the bad parts of it (otherwise he would just get a job and move out if their interference bothers him). Either that or he has mental health problems like depression that make staying and putting up with the nosiness and interference seem easy compared to actually getting a job or an apartment.

        • That’s my feeling as well. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that just because he was in grad school, he doesn’t have disabilities.

          And I think it still doesn’t change the answer…he might need a kick in the pants or he might need more significant counseling…but his sibling can’t be made responsible for his aimlessness.

    • My parents like having us live at home because we help with chores (cooking and dishes, mostly – I can’t do laundry because of my back injury) but we all pay rent that was originally set based on our incomes. I think when I first moved back it was $40 or 20% of weekly income, whichever was higher, but mine is higher than that now. Much lower than market rent which I honestly couldn’t afford, but enough that we are contributing to the household. And that’s a very good way to do it I think, because that way all parties benefit, and we don’t feel like complete losers. :)

      • This! I live with my parents, and I do most of the cleaning-type chores around the house, the pet care, and some of the cooking. I don’t pay rent, because when I moved in I was trying desperately to pay off my student loans. Now that they are all paid off, the expectation is that I am growing my savings. So I pay for transportation, healthcare/medical expenses, and any food that’s not part of their weekly grocery order, and I put the rest of my salary in the bank. I live very frugally, though. If I were making large purchases, eating out, or taking trips on a regular basis, I think my parents would be a lot less happy with this arrangement.

  8. Another thing to consider – is your parents’ marriage sounding healthy? Your mum is so, so frustrated and her husband is providing no support or understanding here!
    Is your mum the one who does everything about the house while your Dad does not really contribute? I’m wondering because maybe your brother is merely emulating behaviour modelled by his father (not diagnosing here, but simply food for thought).

    It seems to me that until your Dad is on-side about this, nothing will change (it, of course, is important to provide a united front as parents when disciplining). It’s a shame your mum doesn’t see this and has decided to rope you in, instead.

    Good luck, LW. Jedi hugs for having to parent the parents (been there!)

    • Also, as an aside: I really like Awkward’s script (Maybe you should talk to him directly about that).
      If she talks directly to Brother about it and nothing changes (with Dad on-side it probably won’t because even if she denies him money until he can earn his own, Dad still thinks Brother is entitled to some and will provide him with some, saying “don’t tell mum”) you can change the script to “maybe you should talk to Dad directly about that”.

      Optional add-on to the script: “at counselling”.

  9. LW, would your mom be open to a suggestion that she find a therapist to talk to? these issues are having a big impact on her life and she obviously needs to find some better methods to both deal with them and communicate their impact with your brother and your dad. i know my mom was first very resistant to therapy when i started suggesting it to her after a whole pile of family members suddenly dropped dead, and i felt like it was a generational issue. it took her a long time to be open to it but she eventually started participating in it after many conversations. i’m not sure if it’s an option for you to bring up but it’s the first thing i thought of when i read your letter.

    good luck with it all, and i second the captain’s internet ^5 on your awesomeness!

  10. Can I get a little love from all the other Fuck Up Children in the room? LW, your brother does sound like a legit man-child, and your mother is up a creek and desperately wanting you to be her paddle, but being the Fuck Up Child is not fun either.

    For years, I was the Gifted but Unmotivated one and my sister was the Driven and Successful one. My mother and sister would circle around me, offering/cajoling/attempting to motivate/etc with absolutely zero success. I would get a Great Idea to Fix Everything, go off half-cocked and end up crawling back home yet again, feeling worse about myself each time. I attended and dropped out of FOUR colleges. I joined a circus. I got married and divorced within 18 months.

    I can’t even tell you for sure what magically happened to me at the age of 25, but I found a good therapist, the right meds, a job I liked, an apartment I could afford, and a relationship that wasn’t poison covered with sprinkles. I’ve been a Real Grown-Up for over a year now, with no signs of the previous disasters that sent me spiraling back home.

    Maybe the best thing you can do is lead by example? Maybe invite your brother out for a visit and introduce him to some other functional adults around the same age. But way to go on wanting to avoid being your mother’s enforcer. That is a lose-lose-lose situation.

    • + a million.

      These divisions aren’t good for ANYONE. The only way to make it better is to not play along with the assigned roles.

    • High five from a Fuck Up Child.

      My family had the related Gifted But Unmotivated/Motivated But Not Quite As Bright As Your Sister dichotomy which– there is no good side to be in that. (I was the Gifted but Unmotivated child.) For me, it helped to move out and realize that, actually, I am not nearly as much of a fuckup as my parents thought I was. I got responsibility and (with a few growing pains) I mostly lived up to it. It turns out that I’m actually much better at remembering to do the dishes when not doing the dishes results in a sink full of dirty dishes than when it results in a lecture and my parents doing them for me.

      Also, the untreated depression didn’t help.

      • There isn’t any, and I’ve been on both. I actually still live with my parents, for various reasons including that they expect it and raised me to be dependent ignoring or ridiculing my attempts to learn skills that weren’t related to housework and appearance. I’m definitely more willing to do chores when someone isn’t there to complain about it not being done and how hard-working slaves they are doing something they don’t actually have to do themselves (thinking especially of my grandma here, who shows up seemingly just to do this for no good reason whatsoever. And, insultingly, she will do it in a way that takes control because mom tells her she can do what she wants, so she’ll do over something I did or just meddle or order me around if I do try to do something on my own terms, so much that I simply avoid doing anything when she’s around, even getting food for myself, and despise her getting to tell me what to do and deciding what will be cooked for me to eat. She knows all of that and deliberately does it anyway.)

    • Hear Hear from a fellow Gifted But Unmotivated Fuck-Up who actually was neither Unmotivated nor a Fuck-Up, but whose parents still refuse(d) to see that, even in my late 30s with a PhD and a stable relationship. Distance, it is my Friend.

    • Another Fuck Up Child here. It is really hard to get out of a dysfunctional family when you’re too messed up to make it on your own and too untrusting to latch onto someone else for help.

      Also, when the loving, dysfunctional family rallies to make sure that their Problem Child never has to face any real consequences, that makes it very hard to hit bottom. (Responsible Children reading this, I can see you shaking your heads, but I’m serious: trying to impose your own real, lasting, painful consequences on yourself, while the people around you are trying their best to cushion you and make sure you don’t, is like throwing yourself out of a window. It goes against all your survival instincts. And lots of people really don’t survive.)

      • This is not exactly my situation, but I agree that it can be very hard to force oneself into adulthood when the people around you are determined not to let you. Or at least to control what kind of adult you are, which is close enough to be almost the same thing to me.

    • My family’s complicated because there are five siblings. I’m the fourth, so not the oldest, not the youngest, and not the “we’d better not make the middle child feel left out!” So I’m not sure exactly who was in what role, but I would be a good contender for Fuck Up Child considering I actually got them to break their no-grounding principle when I went through a short phase of stealing shit in my early teens, have the least education in a family where academic achievement is a *huge* deal, and ran away to Australia to get into a relationship that they didn’t know about until we told them we were engaged and then had to be helped to get back home a few months later when I realised how abusive it was. My older brother who’s the second child has largely kept to himself historically but he’s doing really well now, while I’m sort of trying to get on my feet and working on a diploma and the first job I haven’t royally fucked up, age 27.

  11. If I’m getting this many phone calls

    They are calling you when their emotional state is most worked up, as this emotional state is what is goading them into calling, looking for some relief by unloading onto you. Do not ever answer the phone when they call. Only call them back when you are comfortable doing so, and when you are well prepared with the excellent scripts the Captain has suggested. And people’s emotional stress tends to be greatest late at night and early in the morning, so try to call around mid-day.

    Also, it can really help if you start your call by making it clear that the call is for a very limited time and will end on schedule. For example, calling at 10:45AM: “Hi, Mom! I’m returning your call from yesterday, since I have some time right now before my meeting at 11AM.”

  12. Problem #1 here isn’t Brother, it’s Daddy, who needs to grow a pair and insist that Brother either get a job and start paying rent or GTFO. There are government agencies that will help the homeless, if it comes to the latter.

    Problem #2 is “Libertarian”. And yes, from personal exposure to Libertarians it is completely in character for them to be okay with sponging for whatever they can get. Because, you see, if the spongee is willing to let them get away with it, then it’s no more than they deserve. AKA “never give a sucker an even break”.

    LW, is your Christmas trip home something you can do by car, or does it involve a plane ticket? If the latter, I *strongly* suggest that you make other plans, and tell your parents WHY you are not coming home this year. This is a game that you can’t possibly win, but you can refuse to play.

  13. Oh man, I’m not sure i’d even go home for the holidays if that was the situation I was facing. My dad is an alcoholic, and one year when it was particularly bad and the rest of the family refused to do anything but allow it to happen, I just took a mulligan on going back home, stayed where it was sunny, and had a christmas party with some friends.

    I like the script too – when you enact it I think it’s important to realize you don’t owe any of these people anything. You love them and want to help them, but this isn’t your responsibility and you can’t make your little brother do anything even if you wanted to. Hopefully it works and you can have a pleasant stay.

    Like LB said, It seems like a resolution to this might go through Dad. If you agree with your mom’s assessment, maybe talk to him about it privately once you’ve been there for a while and share your own concerns? It would reduce the chance that he’d feel ganged up by both of you on and derail the conversation, or keep him from admitting there’s a deeper problem because he wouldn’t want to concede the argument he’s been having with your mom.

  14. Oh man LW, I feel you. Not so much on the parenting front- thankfully, my mother is of the “taking everything on herself” school of thought- but on the younger sib who refuses to contribute and gets tons of leniency. In my case, it’s my cousin who lives an hour away but comes to crash on our couch whenever he wants emotional support or help with school (he’s in college) or home-cooked food. I feel for him, to a point- his parents are atrocious, hence why he comes to our place instead of home- but when someone comes to your home and uses up your resources without contributing any kind of relationship or emotional feedback, it gets tiring. A lot tiring.

    I second all of the Captain’s advice. You’re smart to realize you can’t change your brother; your mom is still stuck in the “he’s family and we should Stand By Him” mindset, and your dad seems to have checked out altogether. You can’t convince your mom otherwise (believe me, I’ve tried) any more than you can get your dad to involve himself or your brother to act like an adult human being. What’s healthiest for you is to just not get involved. Possibly if/when your mom’s attention dries up, your brother will be forced to take responsibility for himself; until then, the only one who can make him behave is him.

  15. I am so keeping a copy of this script for later. My mother would do this with my little sister and me all the time up until she moved out with her. I’m sure when my sister starts acting out in high school I’m going to get the same kind of calls and emails from her about it. This script will help so much to keep it from becoming my problem.

  16. I haven’t read all the comments but I sort of disagree with the script.

    I have to assume that part of this situation is that Mom wants to vent to someone. They may not want advice or expect a solution. If Mom is even halfway bright she knows that having LW talk to their brother won’t get anywhere. Saying “That sucks please talk to them directly.” over and over again may make Mom hear “I don’t really care about how this is making you feel.” It sounded to me like Mom was desperate to have a face to face conversation with someone that will validate her feelings and position in this situation. I think there’s a good chance that the script above will make the situation worse and leave the LW with a new problem of Mom feeling like the LW doesn’t care about her feelings.

    First, It’s not LWs job to fix this. But people often complain and brign up problems to people they don’t expect to fix.
    Second, boundries are good. There’s a limit to how much venting a person can take before it really upsets them. It might be that LW is there and the script needs to be

    “This is really upsetting to me I can’t talk about it.”

    If that’s not the case yet than I’d suggest a script like this.

    “Wow that’s rediculous. I’ve talked to him before and it doesn’t work. He’s not listening to me. I’m really starting to stress because it seems like you want me to fix this and I can’t. Are you really looking to me to me make him change his behavior?”

    If she says yes, it might be good to talk about how that won’t work.
    If she admits that she really just needs someone to talk to than it goes like this.

    “OK. I can listen for a bit but this also stresses me out. So how about we change topics/go to the bar/go for a walk/ whatever in a bit and take a break from it. I want to spend time with you that isn’t all about brother.”

    Just my 2 cents but I’m really not sure Captain gave good advice here.

    • Mom may need someone to vent to, but her daughter is not that person. Putting someone in a position where they have to listen to bad things about someone they love is not nice. Sometimes it’s necessary – “Your brother is violent and may not be safe to be around” is worth causing some emotional distress for. “Your brother is a mooch and making me unhappy!” isn’t.

      Mom needs a friend, or a therapist, or to work something out with her own husband or her own son, or all of the above. Expecting someone who also has to have those relationships to be her emotional support isn’t fair. I mean, what’s the end result? Daughter listens to lots of negative stuff about her brother and acts like she didn’t hear it/decides it doesn’t matter. Daughter chooses to side with dad/brother, mom is alone. Or daughter chooses to side with Mom and the family is split 50/50. No good results.

      • You beat me to what I was going to say. My mom used to vent to me a lot about my brother and sister, and as the oldest and someone who is really close to her siblings? That sucks. Even if I agree that they are acting like turds.

        So for stuff like that, I will acknowledge that it sounds really stressful… but also remind Mom that she should talk to her friends, or her therapist. Because I don’t want to be stuck in the middle. The mileage may vary for LW, she may not be able to stand her brother, but it’s still not fair to put her in the middle of this.

      • Mom is someone loved and who loves them too, and not having anyone in the family support you because you couldn’t say it isn’t a good result either. If someone you love is doing bad things, it’s not wrong for the person who had those things done to them to tell you, especially if that person is someone you love too and who loves you back. Of course I don’t think this should happen continually, but saying it ever is as wrong and hurtful and unfair as drawing a boundary, which is to say it’s not. Even if it hurts feelings, the way people will get hurt feelings if you draw boundaries.

        • I disagree. The LW has her own issues with depression, anxiety, and PTSD and this crap is triggering for her.

          There’s a difference between a one-off thing and using someone–especially a child–as a receptacle for your grievances. I’ve been on the receiving end of this (from both parties in a conflict) and they made the same comments you just did when I told them that I didn’t want to hear it and that they were making me uncomfortable. They are grown adults and putting me in the middle was NOT OKAY.

          The LW’s mom would do well to talk to a therapist about this, as a therapist is a disinterested party who can provide a space where she’d get some clarity. Unfortunately, it’s not the mom who’s writing in, it’s the daughter, who–as she said in her letter–has her own issues with PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

          • Well, I have been on the receiving end also, but that doesn’t mean what I said is wrong. I am agreeing with you, in fact. I don’t think this should keep happening, but there’s nothing wrong with saying it at all. You were saying it was wrong to tell someone bad things about people they love, and that’s just not true as an absolute, especially when the not saying anything at all whatsoever will hurt the person forced to keep it inside for the good of the family or because having issues means you’re too delicate to know the truth. Because that (and everything else you’ve said about mom dealing with her problems like an adult and taking care of it herself) is exactly what I’ve been told to do about my problems when I say them, from people who espouse the belief that they are supportive loving people who I should trust with my problems and depend on. That is abusive and unfair also. Putting someone in the middle is what the mom is doing, but there’s a difference between that and saying ‘your brother is a mooch and it’s making me unhappy!’

          • LW already knows this. And *she* has anxiety, depression, and PTSD issues that she has said this aggravates. I’m not seeing much room for her needs in this.

          • “There’s a difference between a one-off thing and using someone–especially a child–as a receptacle for your grievances.”

            I agree with some of this, but the child comment, IMO, is irrelevant here. All of the people involved are clearly adults. Although I guess it may have been a pattern that started in childhood.

          • To be honest even as adults there’s a power differential between parents and children. I’m 27 and I *hate* it when my mother vents to us about my father. It’s really fucking uncomfortable, even though I agree with her, and I honestly don’t know how much of the distance between me and him is because he wasn’t around much when I was a kid and how much is because of her reinforcing all the bad shit he’s done.

          • I don’t think the power differential thing is universal, but I still do agree about being careful about venting about someone to another person who also has a relationship with that person.

            My parents wouldn’t never vent about each other to me, but I’ve had friends vent about other friends to me and I really hate it, because it’s not pleasant to hear angry or insulting things about your friends, and it can feel disloyal to one or the other however you react, like the person who’s venting to you is (intentionally or not) making you one of their ‘allies’.

    • Seconding Rosa here. Also, it’s clear from the letter that it’s not just about venting; the LW’s mother explicitly asked her to take responsibility for fixing the problem – a problem that 1) she can’t fix and 2) isn’t her responsibility to fix even if she magically could.

      But even if it were about venting, I still would disagree with you. It is not fair to make the LW responsible for her mother’s emotional stability and happiness, especially at the expense of her own. As long as the LW is not behaving in an assholish manner (and saying “I can’t deal the stress of this, find someone else to talk to is NOT asshole behavior), her mother’s emotions and anxiety are her mother’s problem and something her mother should deal with herself, like an adult. If this means therapy, if this means finding another adult who is *not* her daughter who has the emotional resources to spare, whatever – but dumping it in the LW’s lap without regard for her needs is, at minimum, assholish. If she does it repeatedly she’s verging on emotional abuse.

    • Good 2 cents.

  17. LW, there are several problems here, but only one of them is affecting you directly.

    The problems that aren’t affecting you directly are: your brother’s sense of entitlement (odd for a supposed libertarian, but whatever), your father’s coddling of your brother’s bullshit and dismissal of your mother, and your mother (and father’s?) thinking that your brother’s political beliefs are things that he needs to be talked out of.

    I know it feels like they are affecting you directly, but they aren’t. They feel like they are affecting you directly because of this problem:

    Your mother thinks you should intervene, and always asks you to do so.

    The thing is, I feel for your mother. I do. I’ve been with people who have dismissed and belittled my concerns and it’s rage-inducing. I would imagine that when your spouse does so and is okay with you (because I doubt very much your dad is doing this) cleaning up after a grown-ass adult who isn’t even bothering to look for a job and isn’t doing anything around the house, you feel like you need allies. I get it.

    But she’s still out of line in asking you to intervene, to talk to your brother, to speak up for her. The fact is, even if you agreed to play Game of Unending Ulcers, nothing would change because your father enables this bullshit. It sounds like the problems run way deeper than a loafy brother. You cannot fix these problems. It is not fair of your mother to ask you to fix these problems. (Also? Your brother’s political views are not things you should talk him out of–he’s entitled to his views, even if you or I or the Flying Spaghetti Monster feels they are wrongheaded.)

    So feel free to draw that boundary. You can be nice about it–the Captain gave you a great script. You can be supportive without intervening. And if she won’t let up, then frankly you may want to go the alphakitty route. Because yes, people love to use how TERRIBLE YOU ARE BEING TO THEM OH MY GOD HOW DARE YOU DRAW A BOUNDARY but seriously? It’s okay to draw them. And sometimes they need to know “When you keep asking me to do this after I’ve told you I do not want to do it, it makes me want to stay away from you.” That is not mean. That is not unreasonable.

    Your mother is an adult and needs to fight her own battles and draw her own boundaries. I truly do sympathize with her, but you are not a weapon in her arsenal.

    • Yep, when we decided to cut off contact with a relative over her illegal, dangerous behavior, the family’s attention focused on how cold and hard-hearted we were, instead of on the illegal behavior. No one seemed to recognize that we wouldn’t be in this position if not for the behavior of the other party.

      Because it was easier to get mad at us. It was easier to argue with us than try to have a difficult confrontation with someone who would respond with threats to hurt herself. We were the above-mentioned, “reasonable ones.” We still cared whether relatives liked us, where the criminal relative was so assured that she’d be forgiven, she didn’t care. They were so used to us going with the flow, the rest of the family was shocked that we dared to put our foot down.

      It sucked, but we stuck with it. The rest of the family eventually figured out we were budging. And our decision has proven to be the right one over and over.

    • Co-sign ALL of this.

      I’m also considering whether or not this is a system of behavior that has existed since before this situation, specifically mother’s anxiety and dad’s aloofness/denial. If so, this is a negative feedback loop that has brother and sister right in their assigned roles, one playing the opportunist, and the other being the reasonable kid enlisted in the Army of Mom. This is ridiculously familiar.

      In my experience the most confusing emotional and behavioral aspects of my family have been there long before I ever came into the picture. My choices was to learn how to game a sick system or learn how not get involved.

  18. One thing that did occur to me – with the huge big caveat of ONLY IF you can see boundaries being respected – it sounds like your mum’s having a crappy time of it and your dad isn’t helping her out. I expect he’s also not the one having to bear the brunt of your brother’s mooching. IF you normally get on with your mother – IF you like the idea of spending time with her (and if it can be done without the incessant intervention chorus) – IF it’s not going to reinforce any ideas of taking sides – you could consider inviting her to stay with you, without your dad, for a long enough period of time – maybe a week or more – that he and your brother are really left to fend for themselves. Hell, if it weren’t such an emotionally charged period of time, I’d say invite her up for Christmas. It would give her some space away from what sounds like a frustrating situation, might refocus your relationship on happy positive time-sharing, would relieve you of the need to go down there into that situation, and who knows, might give your dad a kick in the rear if he’s the one dealing with your brother.

    HUGE BIG CAVEAT FULL OF IFs: You do not have any responsibility to do this or offer this if it will make your life miserable, or even uncomfortable, or if the thought of spending a week with your mother makes you feel unhappy, or any other reason that you might have for looking at that suggestion and going “I don’t want to.” I’m throwing it out there in case it sounds helpful/fun/healing (as opposed to, y’know, draining or miserable or wounding), but I am absolutely 100% behind firm boundary-drawing. Especially since having one’s mother to stay for a week would be a nightmare for many people, even without the boundary issues!

    • I think this is a great idea. I had been tempted to bat around the idea of LW inviting her mother ONLY to come over for Christmas, but that is fraught and I was thinking the mother would want to bring the whole crew down. But if her mother can respect boundaries (and I truly do think that if her mother is able to talk to a therapist and get her feelings out there, she will be able to do so), this is a good option. Also, talking to a good therapist would help the LW’s mom some effective ways of drawing boundaries herself and/or what the actual underlying issues are. (I suspect they are not “My son is a slacker and my daughter won’t talk sense into him.”)

      • I’m glad you brought this idea up, it was my first thought. The letter doesn’t say it implicitly but it seems to me LWs Mom is stuck in a bad place with two entitled types to deal with. It might be just the thing to invite Mom to stay with LW for a couple of weeks with a promise from Mom to just enjoy one another and leave all the brother issues at the door, hosting her in the spirit of “you need a break to just enjoy yourself” kind of way. I’d say, don’t even take much time off work so Mom has a peaceful place to find her happy again. And definitely don’t do it at Christmas that would just make it all full of drama, do it before the holidays. Of course first the boundary has to be respected by Mom for this to work.

    • I sort of love this. I would never invite my mother to stay for a week…but if it’s something do-able for the LW. Or even just to go with mom on vacation, or to visit another friend or relative, so she’s not staying with you. Any amount of time to compel dad and brother to have to fend for themselves.

    • If this is something LW feels comfortable with, with all those caveats, then I think it could be wonderful. Sometimes I’ve wanted something like that with a few of my own family members, but I couldn’t do it and it was unlikely to work out anyway.

  19. LW, I give you the solidarity fistbump of the confusing libertarian little brother. (Mine grew out of that phase, thank goodness, but I figured it was the only way he could rebel against our super-permissive hippie parents.)

    I’ve used variations on the Captain’s script with my own mom to great effect. Don’t be afraid to sound like a broken record; don’t be afraid to hang up the phone. You shouldn’t be expected to take responsibility for a grown-ass man, you shouldn’t have to take sides within your immediate family, and you don’t need to act as a mediator.

    And if your mom lets it go but starts up again if and when you’re home for Christmas? Just go back to the script. Get out of the house and go see friends or visit the local sites you miss when you’re a thousand miles away.

  20. Since my dad died last year, my stepmother and half-sister have been having lots of problems relating to each other. Between emotional fallout from my dad’s death, my sister graduating from college and coming back home, and my stepmother starting to date, that house was an emotional time bomb. And I kept being caught in the middle, because I’m 1) aware of all the issues 2) had experienced the same trauma and grief and 3) am a Fixer.

    I finally had to come out and say, “Sorry you guys; I’m Switzerland. I love you both, I see where you’re both coming from, but I canNOT take sides.” It’s made my life easier, let me tell you. And honestly, I think it’s helped them, too; once they didn’t have me to act as amateur therapist, they got some real, objective therapy and they both say it’s been really helpful.

    Jedi hugs, LW. This situation sucks and you don’t deserve to be asked to be an enforcer!

  21. Two things are jumping out at me: 1)Dad needs to come off the sidelines, and 2)The family all need to put the brother’s politics aside. First off, he isn’t really living up to them anyway, so they’re moot in this situation, and second and more importantly, they’re HIS business. If LW’s parents saw their son announcing that he now has different political views from theirs as cause for a “huge fight” (as opposed to a lively debate with a fellow adult), then seems to me no wonder that they are having trouble treating him as a grownup in other ways. I know we are in the throes of campaign time here and everybody’s ginger is up, but I’m a tiny bit disappointed that in the impressively judgment-free zone I believe CA has established here, more folks chose to belittle the LW’s brother’s politics than to note the simple truth that an adult is allowed to choose his own views and his parents should not attempt to bully him into doing otherwise. If the script were flipped, and the family were all conservatives and the brother suddenly came out as liberal, the commentariat would be howling.

    • The only legitimate reason I can think of why politics might be coming into this is because of the glaring hypocrisy: the guy supposedly says he’s a libertarian, yet it sounds like he’s expecting financial charity as a given, which is inconsistent with that. Of course maybe he isn’t getting charity and it just sounds that way, or perhaps he isn’t expecting it but isn’t about to refuse if they’re giving it. Except that if he isn’t getting charity from them than the rest of the letter doesn’t make any sense, because why else would his finances be something up for discussion by other people?

      Other than that, I agree. His politics are none of his family’s business and it’s way out of line to treat them as their business. Same for that matter with his career or finances except as they actually affect the rest of the family (i.e., if they are giving him charity).

  22. Actually, I imagine the reason most folks didn’t address the brother’s politics is that as Sheelzebub said, neither the Dad’s role nor the brother’s behavior is directly affecting the LW. The brother isn’t choosing his politics at her, or dropping out of grad school at her, or mooching off his parents at her. The dad isn’t failing to support his wife and letting the brother get away with shameless mooching at her. The mother IS dumping unfairly and inappropriately dumping responsibility for other people’s behavior on the LW, just because the mother hasn’t had any luck fixing it herself and hopes, however unrealistically, that the LW (who has always been easier to manage) will miraculously do what she could not.

  23. One more way for LW to think about this: Don’t allow your mom to convince you to take on the role of a parent to your brother; that’s her job despite not getting supported by her husband. This will allow you to keep your relationship with your brother as healthy as possible. Good luck!

  24. LW, have the conversation with your mom, set the boundaries. It does get better. Your situation sounds shades of mine. I’ve done this conversation with my Dad. My family situation is different of course. My brother & I are kids of bitterly divorced parents. It’s over 40 years on, my parents still do not speak to each other. I’m the politically savvy kid, I get along with everyone. My brother and my father constantly miscommunicate and with different expectations; I was always the one trying to fix things up. It was frustrating and painful, I love them both, and can see both sides of all the crap, but I can’t fix it, and often I only exacerbate things when I try!

    I had a conversation with my dad about how painful it was to get involved and feel that I’m failing when it’s nothing I have any control over. He was unaware that he was putting me in that position with his venting and lamenting his relationship with my brother to me.

    That reframing for him helped tremendously. He didn’t want me in the middle of it, especially not when it hurts our relationship, and I feel like avoiding everyone so I don’t have to deal with untangling the “he said, but he said, and he did..”.

    My dad still likes to talk to me about his frustrations with my brother, and I’m careful to be aware of my feelings and explicitly state when I’ve had enough; something along the lines of “Hey Dad, I’m starting to feel like you’re asking me to fix things, so let’s just agree he’s a loveable idiot and change topics”, and he’s fine with the reminder.

    Jedi hugs, I hope it gets better for you too!

  25. OMG you guys. Let me just skip right to LW’s troublesome brother because I think I have the same one.
    He also tried to drop out of college (we pushed and pulled him through it just to get him to graduate so it would seem normal, but you know it wasn’t). He also lives with parents, plays computer games all the time, and deeply and emotionally believes in libertarian stuff, which is why he won’t get a job because that would mean paying taxes and that would just break him apart. Parents are also freaking out because they have no idea how and why this is happening, and also how to deal with it. The way that many people here suggest charging rent or kicking him out seem to me counterproductive and heartless (and oppressive, hah, am I not more-liberal-than-thou, sorry, but it’s funny).
    So anyway, what I did: since I’m also in therapy, I just took the opportunity to tell my bro a lot about how my therapy is helping me to deal with oppressive authorities (and parents), since this seems to be the root of the libertarian problem, and also I was very understanding and non-oppressive so he kinda listened to me for a few months, and then he eventually saw the light and started going to therapy himself.
    So now he’s learning a useful trade (apparently his college choice gave him no good career opportunities and it gets him down very much and hence the escapism of computer games), he’s cutting down on computer gaming already (not like overcoming addiction, but like running outside with the dog and tackling his problems instead of escaping all the time), he is way more grown up around parents than he was, and his business ideas are getting smaller, less costly and weird, and more realistic. He’s still upset and libertarian, and I think it will be a big sign of emotional health when he figures that out and gets bored with it, but I believe he’s on his way there.
    I realize that the LW might be unable/unwilling to approach their brother to get him to therapy, but I’m certain that their mother might, or there might be someone else who could talk to him in non-judgemental way. Or they all might decide on charging rent or kicking him out UNLESS he goes to therapy. But still I think that therapy is key. The guy just painted himself into a corner and can’t find a way out without crying and asking for help, which he probably thinks is unmanly and unlibertarian and shameful, so just get him to get professional help which can be paid for, and it will probably turn out just fine.

    • Personally, I didn’t suggest charging rent as some kind of punishment or manipluation tactic.

      I just took for granted that adults living together would normally be sharing expenses in some way unless there’s some other arrangement (e.g. one person doing much more unpaid labour), or if someone’s sick, or in special circumstances from time to time as a special favour to a family member in need.

      If any of my family was stranded, they could certainly stay with me and if they could only afford reduced rent they would pay reduced rent and if they couldn’t afford any rent then they wouldn’t pay rent. But we would both take for granted that it was a temporary thing, helping a family member in need.

      The tone of the letter was such that it made it sound to me like it was just assumed that this was basically like a teenager — of course he doesn’t do his part, because he’s a child… Which was jarring given that the guy is clearly a grown man.

  26. I don’t think it’s right to talk about parenting your brother. He’s a grown-up man with serious psychological problems. Which might be solvable with some therapy. It’s up to you or your other relatives or some friends to get him there. Living with parents who keep freaking out and triggering his childhood emotional traumas is not good for him. It’s not good for the parents either. I wouldn’t call it parenting if you stepped in and helped him out in this unhealthy situation (by getting him to therapy since he seems nearly unemployable right now). It would be “being there for him”, which is your choice if you want to do that or not.
    Also, I hope I’m not banned or blocked from this site, since my last comment went missing… I’m honestly trying to share my experience.

    • You’re not banned or blocked, I just have a job and sometimes it takes 12-24 hours for me to clear out the queue.

      Is it the sister’s job to “get” her brother to therapy? She can mention/encourage, or advise parents to mention/encourage, but she can’t get another person to do anything.

      • oh thank you, Jennifer, both for the personal reply and for not banning me :)

        no, it is not the sister’s job, but maybe she is his best hope. since she’s in therapy and knows the benefits, and her brother just might need some serious therapy too (even though he doesn’t look like it, he just majorly failed at life and retreated to the only safe place he has left: not home but computer gaming; also what a coincidence, they have the same parents, and although the siblings’ issues seem day-and-night different, they probably aren’t), she just might be the one who is best equiped to see that and to help him get there.
        of course, she can’t _make_ him go there, but she might be able to talk to him about it, and it might take some time of regular no-pressure encouragement and sharing war stories etc. she might also tell parents he needs therapy so instead of freaking out in unproductive ways their mom might start encouraging him to therapy in her own ways.
        and it’s really really really not parenting. I just don’t see parents prepared for anything like this. I wish he had friends who could drag him into therapy, but in my experience, libertarian guys usually don’t. also, the whole libertarian thing is probably related to parental authority and abuse thereof, which parents are never prepared to hear, let alone handle. so, yes, it’s not the sister’s job, but since there’s no one else who can even grasp the problem..?
        another way for him might be getting kicked out of the house, falling into scary real-world problems and growing up real fast. but as an overanxious sister, I just wouldn’t want my brother to go through that. therapy seems faster, safer and much more effective than the school of hard knocks.

        • I have libertarian friends who are probably twice the LW’s brother’s age. They’ve held their political views for a good long while, and most of them have had great relationships with their parents.

          They also wouldn’t think highly of a grownup person who could work but sponges off parents anyway, so maybe the combination is the red flag, but I can testify that not all libertarians believe what they do because of some kind of pathology.

          • That’s been my experience with libertarians, too… they were pretty well-adjusted people who felt strongly about being personally self-sufficient, in fact that belief in personal independence and self-sufficiency formed the core of their political beliefs.

          • And they weren’t/aren’t necessarily against volunteering or against giving to charity, just anti ‘government mandated’ charity.

          • maybe self-sufficient and well-adjusted are the keywords here. these guys are neither. being a loser and a moocher is bad enough, unless one is a sociopath. but being a loser while hating losers is a very bad place to be. you have to play computer games just to escape the cognitive dissonance. and asking for help when you despise those who need help is nearly impossible. maybe it was just me but i saw clear parallels in reactions to scary oppressive parents and evil oppressive government. i do hope these young libertarians grow out it.
            also it may take a while for a college grad to realise that a useless degree is not the end of the world and it doesn’t make one a loser for life. debt is very bad as well if you have no idea how to pay it back. old style debtors suicides spring to mind. i’m just saying these guys need help. being libertarians just means they need extra help to get over the shame of asking for help.
            reminds me of the story in one of the feminist blogs where an anti-choice lady was having a secret abortion and the nurse just noted the need for extra support instead of being mean in any way.

          • btw, so you won’t think I’m just throwing losers and other disparaging terms around, I’m a veteral recovering loser myself. so I know what I’m talking about. except I’m not libertarian (I might have become one, but I had all that arrogance knocked out of me when I fell right on my butt), so mooching while getting help for a while did not make me shut down that bad. coming to terms with my loser status was hard, but still not as hard as it would be for a loser-hater.
            loser: you know, the high flying type, the smart, elite, imma-get-a-good-job-and-be-real-rich type? who then discovers that no one is willing to pay them to do no work and the stuff they learned in college is revolting and useless? yeah. like that.

  27. And in my missing post, I mentioned that I seem to have the same brother. Younger, tried to drop out of college, went all libertarian, living with parents, playing computer games nonstop, unemployable because taxes-are-theft and so on.
    Also, I was the only one with sufficient experience to spot an emotional problem in all that libertarian BS. I don’t think that’s parenting because most parents are clueless and helpless in face of this.
    So I talked him into therapy. It helped that I have some kind of emotional connection with him, so he kinda listened to me. LW might know or find someone else fit for the job. But leaving this to parents who probably caused some of his problems in the first place… Nope, it’s not gonna work.
    And yes, the therapy seems to be helping.

  28. Oh, younger brothers. Can’t live with ‘em, but it’s hard to get away from their drama. If my experience is anything to go by, the Captain’s advice is solid, and your minimal level of self-care should include setting and enforcing boundaries. I also agree with what alphakitty suggested in terms of expressing that continuing the status quo may lead to a serious breakdown in your relationship with the family as a unit.

    It may be that this is all you can do, and that maintaining the boundaries that you need will occupy as much energy as you can expend on this facet of your life. But the possibility that things will improve is very real. If that happens, and if you think it’s a viable option–and not a potential wedge that will allow all of the old bull to squeeze back through the gap–you may consider putting yourself out there to do small, self-contained things to help your brother.

    The help you offer has to be of a sort that has clearly-defined tasks, and a point at which you can say that you’ve fulfilled your role. I’ve had some success doing things like helping my brother with cover letters when he’s looked for work. He sent me a draft, I read the draft, I sent him some suggestions, done. He even reciprocated in his own way by using his more aggressive social approach to find some job opportunities for me when I needed them. Ultimately, nothing came of it, but it was nice to have that demonstration of care.

    I want to stress that you’re under no obligation to do anything like this. I’m fortunate to have a family that won’t try to take a mile if I give an inch. If that’s not the case for you, then keep the boundaries firm. I just know that it can be hard to find yourself in a position where you have to refuse to help a parent who is becoming desperate for support.

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