Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: My middle-aged brother has lived with our mom rent-free since his divorce. It was supposed to be short term but it’s now been several years. He blows what money he does earn and I consider him a poor role model for my kids. I told my mother I wouldn’t visit while he lives there, and that it’s time she got to relax and stop parenting a grown man. Now she refuses to visit my house and see her grandchildren. What do I do?
Say sorry and make nice
It’s more likely your kids consider you a role model than think “I want to be a loser just like Uncle Cedric.” And the lesson they’re learning from you is that it is okay to make demands of your parents and then punish them if they don’t acquiesce. Stay out of your mom’s and brother’s business. Apologize and have everyone, including Uncle Cedric, over for a family barbecue.
– Eva Guzewski, Burlington, Ont.
Understand the dynamic
Put your concerns aside for a second, and try asking your mother and brother what they’re each getting out of the situation. Instead of attacking them with your version of how things should be, you might be surprised when you open the door as a concerned family member who’s trying to understand what’s going on. Judgment is easy. Understanding takes work and patience.
– Joe Fantetti, Toronto
Think of the future
Where I live in Canada, this boomerang son would not be unusual. And not too unusually, the boomerang becomes the caregiver in his or her own turn. So, get over it. You probably have some making up to do with your mother.
– Dale Dewar, Wynyard, Sask.
The final word
After I gave birth to each of my kids, both my mother and mother-in-law provided much-needed respite. But as my mother-in-law reminds me, both of them were younger then and had more energy. Now that they’re older, the cycle has reversed and they are the ones who need help.
And that is the crux of this issue. Does your brother provide your mom with assistance? If he’s sitting in the basement with an electric heater, driving up the bills while smoking pot and raiding your mother’s fridge, I imagine she would have complained.
As Joe mentions, your brother and mother may have created a situation that works for both of them. Older parents, especially widowed or divorced parents, can suffer from loneliness after the kids have flown the coop.
Dale is correct about boomerang children becoming caretakers of their parents. Illness and frailty make chores like grocery shopping and meal prep more difficult. Adult children can provide a great deal of comfort and support, as long as they’re pulling their weight to make up for the rent-free living.
As for your own kids, as Eva suggests, most don’t dream about spending their futures hanging out with their aging parents, so I doubt your brother is sowing those seeds. If anything, he may be a cautionary tale.
My own children look at us in mute horror when we joke about which of them will change our diapers and puree our food when we get older. They just point to the nearest nursing home.
So apologize to your mother and keep the peace. It’s good to keep ears and eyes open for future problems, but let’s keep mum for now.
Regina-based Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Next week’s question
A reader writes: We’re in our late 20s, together five years since meeting while working on overseas contracts. I left when mine was up, while my boyfriend stayed on to finish his. Then, over my objections, he signed up for two more years. So I moved back to a country I don’t like, to be with him. I recently got a better job offer elsewhere. I took it, but he wants to continue in his job yet another year. Should I be patient? Or just give up?
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