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When Family Fails You

Q. Hi Bonnie, I hope you can help me with this. I’m 31 years old and single.  My dad died a few years ago and my mother hasn’t been well and is in and out of the hospital. I have no other family except for my older brother, and this is freaking me out. My brother and I have a terrible relationship and always have. We never got along, mainly because he always felt the need to put me down. He’s very cynical and very materialistic and never has a kind word for me. I do everything for my mother, but because he’s married he feels his duties are at home with his wife and child and not with his mother. Therefore all the worrying, consoling, errands, driving, visiting, decision-making with regards to my mom is left up to me. Besides this, my brother still puts me down for everything I do (or in his mind don’t do) and everything I am as a person, even my job as a paralegal. He also badmouths me to my mother. Believe it or not, my mother, who knows what he does and doesn’t do, still comes to his defense and is starting to believe his lies. Therefore, she has been taking all her fears and miseries out on me (the only person who is taking care of her) and telling me I do nothing and never come to see her! So now I’m doing all the work, and getting all the grief. I’m at my breaking point knowing that my mom may die in the near future and the only family I’ll have left is my cold-hearted brother. In fact, the thought of that rocks me to my core.


A. Isn’t it amazing how sibling rivalries so often follow us into our adult years? The reason for that is probably that as we grow older, we really don’t change all that much. It often feels like some sort of cosmic joke when two opposite personalities are born into the same family. But spiritually, I believe they are put there for one of two reasons: either to teach us how to work through conflicts, or in some cases, how to cut the ties that bind us to unhappiness. When you have a toxic person in your family, the best thing to do is to stay away and have as little contact as possible. Of course that is difficult right now with your mother being sick, but I would urge you to try it just the same. He is always going to be your older brother, and he’s probably never going to change, so unless you want to perpetuate an abusive situation, you have to distance yourself from it. Contrary to popular belief, blood isn’t always thicker than water; sometimes it’s friends that become our family in life. If you have a handful of good ones, you won’t be lonely or alone. As for the way your mother is treating you, I understand she is sick and probably afraid, but that doesn’t give her a license to abuse you either. You need to lovingly and firmly set down the ground rules and tell her if she continues to put you down and give you grief, you’ll end up spending less time around her instead of more.  Lastly, in between work and caretaking, it’s really crucial that you carve out some time for yourself, and some time to nourish the friendships I mentioned. Good friends will appreciate you for who you are and be there in the tough times, so they are every bit as important to your life as your responsibilities. Be good to yourself and do what makes you happy. Stay strong and never let anyone devalue you, and if they try, remember that’s your cue to either lay down the law—or simply walk away.

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17 comments on “When Family Fails You

  1. Shad_ow says:

    Oh the stories I could tell, but won’t bore you with the tales of my 3 sisters and my Mom who has Munchhausen. Just know that many families experience similar things and you are not an isolated case. We cannot control the actions of those need to cut others down in order to feel better about themselves but we can control how we react. Do what you know in your heart is right and let God take care of the rest. Do not let negativity weaken your resolve and steal happiness.
    Thank you, Bonnie, for the good advice. It is encouraging, especially during the family gatherings around the holidays.

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  3. Great post, Bonnie. Sometimes there are people in our lives that aren’t good for us and that means making a tough decision.

  4. Kit Domino says:

    Excellent advice.

  5. Anneli says:

    This is excellent advice, Bonnie. I especially like the advice about how to deal with the sick mother.

  6. JB Johnston says:

    Apart from my kids, hubs and inlaws, that is the only family I have contact with. I so agree that friends become your family. Better to have a healthy and loving relationship with friends than a destructive one with family. x

  7. Oh, I so agree. Often bullies tend to take out their own insecurities on other people. It’s hard to distance yourself, I know. You are obviously a very caring person though,. Don’t make the mistake of putting yourself down. Build up you own life and friendships and be confident in yourself as a person. You’re worth it. :)

  8. Excellent advice Bonnie. It’s exactly how I feel. Years ago I moved away from my family and it was the best thing I could have done. Now the visits and phone calls are nicer with much less sarcasm and finger pointing. I always say “We can pick our friends but not our family”.

    • These are wise words, Bonnie – but so hard to do and to let go. I’m going through this right now with one sister – we don’t even speak and yes, it’s all because of my sick mother. But I’ve distanced myself because my health was in jeopardy over all of it. I feel better for it too, but I see problems down the road when I have to have a family function. To invite, or not to invite… that is the question…

      • Yes, I know, Elyse, but like you said, it can affect your health and so is often a necessary mode of action. Sorry about your situation, seems to be a fairly common one. Hope things settle down in the future as they did for Barbara. Best of luck and thanks so much for your comments!

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Barbara! Glad the distance helped bring some civility!

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