Ask Scary Mommy: My Brother Is Demanding That My Mom Stop Visiting My Kids To 'Keep Things Fair"
Family rifts are heartbreaking. What do you do to fix them? And, is it even worth trying?
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Dear Scary Mommy,
Three years ago, my brother, his wife, and their two young daughters relocated across the country for a new career opportunity. They are happy and thriving there, my parents visit them twice yearly (when there’s not a pandemic) and they typically come to the west coast once a year as well. We FaceTime occasionally, text often, and I thought we were all a tight-knit unit. We always have been!
That is, until recently, when I found out that my brother asked my mom––who lives less than 20 minutes from our home––to consider visiting us less often as it “wasn’t fair” to his kids that the time spent with each family wasn’t more equalized. He said it felt like favoritism toward my children, and made him resentful of all of us. My mom was devastated to hear this, as she doesn’t have “favorites,” it’s simply much easier (and much cheaper) to see her grandkids that live 14 miles away than it is to fly across the country. She’s absolutely heartbroken he feels this way. My brother encouraged my mom to talk to me about it, and texted me to confirm that I had received the message, and he seems pretty firm in his stance that this is a reasonable request to make things more ‘fair’ for all the grandkids.
I think he’s gone absolutely bonkers. I am waiting for him to tell us that this is a giant prank. But, it’s not. I know we can’t force him to change his feelings, but I also feel personally attacked, heartbroken, and pissed off that he even brought this up.
Yikes on bikes. Your brother sounds like the King of Assholes.
First, I want to say that I don’t think this has a lot to do with you, your mom, or the time she’s spending with your kids. There’s definitely some other factors at play that caused these feelings, and the subsequent ultimatum, coming from your brother, but we may never know what those might be. Speculation would lead me to say he’s likely homesick, unhappy with his current situation, struggling with his mental health, or yearning for more familial contact/support. Maybe a combination. All of those things are understandable and valid.
What is definitely not understandable, or excusable, and is a flat-out total dick move, is saddling your poor mom with a shitty, selfish, and unreasonable demand. And not only did he issue this ludicrous demand, he didn’t really offer her much of an explanation to go along with it. (Likely because there isn’t one that could justify this request.)
He had to know when he moved across the country that would mean less opportunity for your mom to see his kids. That’s just reality. Nothing wrong with moving your family wherever you want to go, but assuming that your family can adhere to equal visitation of grandchildren is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. And I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous shit––Trump is our current president, after all.
I don’t know that anything you could say or do could make this better for your mom. As a mom of four myself, my heart breaks for her. Having her love as a mother and grandmother called into question in such an abrasive manner would take such a huge mental and emotional toll on a mom’s heart.
I do know that she should not feel forced to limit her contact with your or your kids to appease him. Fuck that. I just hope that it doesn’t cause further heartbreak for her if he decides to treat her poorly because of it. I mean, he has no way of keeping tabs on your visits. Does he expect her to report to him? The more you dig into this, the more preposterous it gets.
From what you’re saying here, it sounds like this behavior is really out of character for your brother. That’s why I speculated above about the many things that could be plaguing him and causing him to lash out in this manner. If that’s the case, he may be able to pass on his King of the Assholes crown to someone else once you get to the root of the issue.
The first thing I would do is get on the phone with my brother, since a visit isn’t feasible, and say “What the fuck is going on?” This is not a texting thing. This is a candid person to person conversation. He needs to further explain himself and how he came to this conclusion.
Also, ask him if he’s okay. Truly. Check in with him. Express your concern that this behavior is out of character for him, and that you want to make sure he’s not struggling in some way. Maybe there’s resentment that has been building for a long time, or a childhood trauma that is resurfacing. Those are valid things that make someone act out of character, and they require professional intervention to work through. Your mom limiting visits to your house will not be the balm he needs if he’s facing down larger personal issues.
Tell him how you feel too—hurt, betrayed, confused, angry. Tell him what you told us here—that your mom visits twice yearly, they come to your home each year, and that you value/love him and his kids even though they are far away, but that doesn’t mean that he suddenly gets to demand control of everyone else’s time and familial interactions. And he doesn’t get to manipulate you, your mom, or anyone else. Nor should he use his children as pawns to punish her.
I think it’s important to go straight to the source with this stuff. Family deals with their family. But, if your brother is still set in his ways about this, I would reach out to his wife as well. Ask her the same questions you asked him, and see if she has insight or thoughts to share. See if either, or both, of them are open to a family therapy session. There are plenty of virtual options. I think it’s worth trying to get to the bottom of this for your mom, your family, and all of the grandchildren. And also to ensure that your brother truly is alright.
Just remember that you (or your mom) can’t fix this. It’s a damn shame, and it’s heartbreaking, and hopefully he sees the error in his ways quickly, but you can’t force change onto someone else. You can’t let this stop you from enjoying your family.