How to deal with disruptive brother

  • By Carolyn Hax
  • Thursday, December 4, 2014 8:08pm
  • Life

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi Carolyn:

I’m a 19-year-old college student. I attend a university close to home and often visit home on the weekends because I value my relationships with my family (especially my much-younger siblings). I will likely have to live at home during the next school year for financial reasons. My brother is … well, a teenager. He’s often extremely mean to my parents. In particular, he gets angry at them and says they’re awful/horrible/he hates them when they are strict about his grades and schoolwork (which I have come to realize is genuinely loving and kindly meant).

Worse, he’s extremely dismissive and angry when my mother gives him presents (something she loves to do). Every time he does this, he makes her cry, scaring my other siblings (ages 9 and 6) and infuriating me.

Logically, I understand that it’s hormones, that the teenage years are challenging, and all that. Emotionally, though, I can’t handle this. Not only do I get angry at him in the midst of the situation (making the whole thing worse), I have trouble forgiving him or treating him kindly even later. How can I get over this so that I still care about my brother at the end of it?

— Teenager

From the safe and comfortable distance of my desk, the problem here seems to be that your mother is trying to raise your brother the way she raised you, when he’s a different kind of kid. If nothing else, she needs to lay off the gifts; making herself feel better is a lousy priority for a parent to have, especially when she is in possession of solid data that her actions are making her son feel worse.

This observation is about as relevant to your situation as broadcasters’ play-by-play is to the outcome of a game, but it seems worth mentioning.

Plus, your mother is the adult and so, presumably, more capable of hearing constructive suggestions from a bystander to her drama with her son. Talk to your mom, and float the idea that while you benefitted from your parents’ child-rearing methods, maybe Brother needs to be handled in a different way.

And then — at the risk of inducing advisory whiplash — please find a way to get yourself out of the middle of this. If there’s no way you can avoid living at home, then make the campus your center of emotional gravity, and treat your home time as a means to an end. This battle between brother and parents is not your battle to fight, and so being this invested emotionally is not good for you.

There are ways to stay involved without getting sucked in — for example, taking your younger sibs outside/to the store/anywhere else when you feel an argument coming on. It will be difficult, but if you prepare ahead of time to draw certain lines on how you will and won’t get involved, then that will make it easier for you to stay off to the side where you belong.

Re: Teenager:

Sometimes an older sibling saying to a younger one, “You’re acting like a jerk,” can be very effective. Don’t ask how I know this.

— Anonymous

Heh. Deal. Best if said nicely, though.

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