Q: My dad just died, and my brothers and I are having some tough times. We’re all trying to act grown up, but we seem to have reverted back to our childhood roles, and are fighting about the same old stuff. Is it possible to move beyond it? I’m the middle child, with two older brothers and a younger sister. I’m just trying to hold it all together.
A: As my kids say, “GLHF,” which stands for “good luck, have fun,” a snide way of saying, “It’s going to be hard to get this to work.”
First of all, I’m sorry to hear about your dad. This seems to be a summer of a lot of people dying, but maybe I’m just noticing it more.
I don’t think we can ever underestimate the power of birth order and sibling rivalries, no matter how old we get, but it is possible to get to a mature place of understanding, and grow beyond those childhood limitations.
But it’s a lot harder if you’re the only one trying to grow up. From what I’ve experienced, it’s a pretty natural thing to all revert back to your comfort roles when you’re all together. The path of least resistance, and all that.
Like when you get together, then, “Bob’s the peacemaker, Jan’s the troublemaker, Brett always checks out,” and on. It doesn’t help that you’re a middle child, a position that is notorious for trying to keep the peace.
From what I can see, your older sibling (it looks like the oldest of the two) is really self-centered and immature, wanting everything his way. The next oldest brother looks kind of lost, but willing to make changes. Your younger sister, likewise, looks really sweet, but like she is struggling to find her place right now.
You three youngest look honest, but it looks kind of murky with your oldest brother, like he’s hiding a lot of stuff. I’d watch that.
The first thing I’m seeing is to chill for a while. You’ve just lost your dad, and that’s a very tender time, all around. It can enflame everyone’s emotions, magnify all the old issues so that they hit you full in the face.
You could think that this is a perfect time to move through the old, move in a new direction with everyone, but realize you may have to do it all by yourself, if your siblings aren’t interested in the new.
Maybe take six months not to worry about anything. Let everyone handle their grief and adjustments in their own way, and in their own time. Above all, don’t get bossy, or try to push anyone around. I don’t think that will work.
You might want to try something different, like honesty. Hey, radical idea, but it may just work. If you’re feeling frustrated that your oldest brother is being selfish, maybe taking more than his fair share of Dad’s stuff, or not pitching in to help with the tough stuff, you could say, “I’m feeling like things aren’t really fair around here, and I’m wondering how you are feeling about all of this. Are you willing to take a load of Dad’s stuff to the Boy’s Ranch?”
Maybe set aside some time to all go out to dinner (in a neutral location), and vow not to discuss any family hot issues for the evening. Try to get to a place of friendship and camaraderie with each other. That can ease some of those old pressures, and start the building up of relationships.
If it’s a question of divvying up Dad’s stuff, employ an outside party to come in, gather up everything, and do an evaluation for you all. Then it’s all black and white, no heat.
If you still can’t make any decisions, again, bring in someone from the outside to referee or mediate until you can get through everything.
It may be tempting for the oldest to think they’re in charge, and for the youngest to think they’ve got to stay quiet, etc., but once you get to a certain age, those rules should definitely break down. For goodness sakes, you’re all adults, right? It is possible to act like adults, no matter what kind of childhood you shared. As I always say, “Grow up.” It’s never too late.
Are you taking care of yourself? How? Take these six months and concentrate on yourself and your own recovery. Unless it’s a monetary issue, or something that needs your attention right away (like the sale of Dad’s house), don’t worry about it.
Again, if there are things you need to take care of right now, get some outside, impartial help. I think it will ease your stress greatly, as I’m sensing that you’re getting a little frazzled.
This is something new, you’re navigating tricky waters, and it takes some strong boat skills to make it through the storm unscathed, but I have every confidence that you can do this, with your desire and your two siblings’ willingness to try.
Your oldest brother? If he doesn’t want to play by the new rules, you explain them politely to him one last time, then you don’t let him play anymore. Be fair, don’t exclude him forever, but make it clear that his old behavior doesn’t work anymore.
I think everyone will be relieved as powers shift, and independence and respect are the new words of the day. Good luck.
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