Unfortunately, my brother and I have very little in common. He’s extremely bitter and negative. He’s nearing forty and is unmarried with a dead-end career. I limit the time I allow him to spend around my children because he is incredibly vulgar. He often talks about graphic sex acts with no regard for who is around. In addition, he always bashes my dad and he tells me how much he thinks my mom should divorce him because he’s such a loser. He’s even told me that he hates my dad because he never played any sports with him while he was growing up. Clearly, my brother needs some counseling.
Recently, my mother has begun hounding me about getting in touch with him and about spending more time with him. She keeps telling me that he talks about my kids and how much he’d love to see them. What is bizarre is that he never calls me or makes any attempt to visit unless prompted by my mother.
At first, I just put her off because I didn’t want to get into all of the reasons I didn’t spend time with him. Then, she began to get more and more demanding. Finally, I sat down with her and told her (in the most polite but firm way possible) to butt out. I explained that some of his behavior wasn’t appropriate for children, and although I had discussed it with him numerous times, he continued to behave in that way. Although she defended his behavior, she admitted that it wasn’t her business and she should let us deal with our own relationship. However, it obviously wasn’t resolved. Then she began to avoid me. When we do talk, if my brother is brought up in conversation, her entire mood shifts. She begins cutting me down and closes up in conversation.
This past weekend, my parents were invited to come to dinner at our house. When they showed up, guess who was along for the ride? Big brother. He showed up unexpectedly at their house, so my mom just told him to come along. (We live a TWO hour drive from them.) I didn’t want to make him feel bad, so we welcomed him in. The entire dinner, I was constantly barking “Language!” in his direction. I eventually put the kids to bed early and asked them to leave.
I need to speak with my mother soon about this, but I’m not sure how to approach it. I feel like I have been very clear on everything and she is simply ignoring my wishes. Do I need to ban my entire family from my house until they realize it’s not ok to talk like a porn star in front of kids? And how can I get my mom to stop trying to force a friendship between my brother and me? — Family Knots
First of all, when you say that your mom and brother used to have a “strange connection” and that he had some health issues that resulted in her coddling him, I don’t believe that it doesn’t still bother you on some level despite you saying you’re too busy now to mope about childhood favoritism. Why even bring it up if it doesn’t relate in some way to the current situation? That might be something worth exploring here, if for no other reason that to provide another angle for the source of your resentment toward both your brother and your mom. Maybe there’s more than one reason you want to keep your brother away from your kids. Maybe, for you, it’s a chance for you to exercise some control in the family dynamics. As a child you couldn’t control the relationship your brother had with your mom — and maybe it was too close or “strange” for your comfort — but as an adult you can control the relationship he has with your children.
I understand that there’s the issue of your brother’s inappropriate behavior and language around your kids, too. But you can’t change that about him. You’ve tried talking to him and it hasn’t helped. What you can change is your reaction to him. Instead of giving him attention for the behavior — which may be exactly what he wants — try ignoring him.
“But my kids will hear him!” You’re thinking. And, yes, they will, if you allow them to have a relationship with your brother (and for the sake of your relationship with him and your mother, you probably should). To that I say: so what? I mean, do you plan to protect them from bad language forever? Do you plan to keep them away from “colorful” people for the rest of their childhood? At some point, they are going to be in the company of adults who are weird, and at least if it happens around someone you know and when you’re around, you can explain that adults sometimes say or behave in a way that’s inappropriate but it doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. As your kids grow and have better capacity to understand, you can even begin to explain that some adults have certain limitations — emotional, physical, and intellectual — that keep them from behaving in a way that looks or seems “normal” to us. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people. It means they’re different.
This is a complicated situation and there isn’t a right or wrong way to handle it. If you want to protect your kids from your brother, that’s your call (and if you have any reason at all to suspect he may be a threat to them, then, obviously, do everything you can to keep him away!). But understand that part of your motivation may be connected to childhood resentment on your part that you haven’t fully gotten over yet and that really isn’t fair to your kids or the rest of your family. And understand that sometimes in life we have to choose the lesser evil and maybe in this case that’s letting your kids hear some bad language if it means keeping the extended family unit intact and not compromising a relationship between your kids and their grandparents.
Finally, you don’t elaborate on what sort of “health issues” your brother suffered from as a kid, but if there’s any chance those issues are still affecting him in some way, it might benefit you — and certainly him — to try to find some compassion you can extend his way. It might even help explain some of his behavior (as well as anger).
Obviously, I’m filling in a lot of holes here and it may be that it simply isn’t healthy for you to be around your brother or to subject your children to him. If that’s the case, you need to be as clear as possible with your mother about that decision and let her know that he is not welcome in your home and the next time she brings him along, uninvited, none of them will be allowed in. It would suck if it comes to that, but if you’re adamant in your decision to keep him away from your kids, you need to make the boundaries very clear. I do hope it doesn’t come to that, though, and that you can find a way to foster a controlled relationship between your kids and their uncle. Good luck.
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