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What To Do About My Brother And My Parents' Enabling Him

by Rebecca
(Virginia)

Personal Boundaries In Relationships

Personal Boundaries In Relationships



I am 28 and I have an older brother who is 31. My brother has always been very volatile towards my parents. He has made poor choice after poor choice.

A year ago, he moved home from Las Vegas where he had a 7 year stint of bar-tending, alcoholism, and a pill addiction. My parents welcomed him home with open arms when he said he needed to get out of that environment, paid all of his bills, and basically let him free load.


Just recently, he decided to go work for some of his high school friends who are running a marijuana farm out in California. He told my parents that they had all the permits to legally manufacture and sell to medical companies. I know for a fact that they are also selling on the street but he neglected to tell my parents about this.

My parents were originally against the idea, but after time they even bought his plane ticket out there. They continue to enable him. It's almost like they are afraid of him. I have had countless conversations with them about how the enabling only makes it worse. They don't listen. All they say is when I have kids one day, I will understand (I hope I don't ever understand or agree with their thinking).

Anyways, my brother is coming home in a week. This job was supposed to be a one-time thing but I have a feeling he may go back out there to make more easy money. I will be seeing him and my parents for Thanksgiving. They are going to continue enabling, he is going to continue making poor choices.

I feel like I am caught in the middle of a triangle, almost like I should be the one parenting. What should I do? Just ignore what's going on? Tell my brother that if he continues these illegal activities I can no longer have a relationship with him? Please help.



Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Rebecca, and thanks for telling your story here. I can see why this situation would be very upsetting to you. You love your family, and it understandably bothers you greatly to see them in unhealthy behavior patterns.

I have had a lot of experience with this type of situation, both professionally and personally. It is not at all uncommon, as I'm sure you know. It is very difficult for some parents to say no and set healthy boundaries with an adult son or daughter, even if that son or daughter is involved in destructive behavior. But, as you perceive, it is enabling, and tends to make things worse, not better.

Regarding your position, the best advice I can give you is to let them (your brother and your parents) have their relationship, and manage it in the way they choose. This is for two very important reasons: 1) it's much healthier for you, and 2) your involvement will not help, and it could actually make things worse for everyone.

I suggest that you "find the distance from which you can love" them, all three. That means keep your involvement and conversation at such a level that you do not feel "pulled in" to their drama. It's theirs, not yours. At thanksgiving, for example, you may want to keep your visit short, and/or simply walk away from any conversation that sounds/feels like it's in the problem area of enabling your brother's problem behavior.

As difficult as this may be, I think you will find it to be your best possible choice. Basically, it's based on the idea that if other people (adults) want to create problems for themselves, the best choice for you is to love them and stay out of it. They (as you have discovered) will only resist any efforts you make to intervene, anyway.

You will find this web page on personal boundaries to be relevant and helpful.

Meanwhile, Rebecca, focus on creating as much joy and fulfillment in your own life as you possibly can. And, I agree with you, you will not repeat your parents' mistakes when you have children of your own. You're learning from their mistakes.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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