So the title says it all, but let me give you a short rundown of what has been going on.

My parents are divorced and have been for 15 years now. They live relatively close to each other to make life for us more doable. They succeeded. But my mother and little brother had a falling out over stuff happening at school and with the authorities. (You know boys, they mess things up from time to time.)

So my brother just up and left to live with my dad. He was 16 at the time. My mother was heartbroken and had a very tough time doing anything for a while. We talked a lot and to me it seemed like the incident that caused the divide was rather minor and not deserving of such hefty repercussions. I myself had done this to my father when I was about 16 years old also about something relatively minor in hindsight.

But years have gone by and my father has, as far as I could see, been working toward getting my mother and brother's relationship back on track but to no avail.

None of us are experts in parental relationships but it seems like something has gone very very wrong here.

My interpretation has always been that my little brother made a split second decision based on an option he shouldn't have had in the first place and is afraid of going back on it. My fear is that the situation has been going on too long and things have settled in too much to really repair what has been done. (as I have been able to do with my father.)

And that as my little brother goes off to college this year he and my mother won't be able to reconnect, ever.

So my question to you is, what could I do to help?

My brother and I don't seem to really sync up on a mental level and he doesn't take advice very well. (He often feels assaulted) So being the typical older brother with advice hasn't worked out for me so well in the past.

Thanks a lot for reading my struggles, and if you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them!

  • Just to clarify, it was your brother (not your mother?) who decided to end all communication? Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 14:11
  • 1
    "And that as my little brother goes off to college this year he and my mother won't be able to reconnect, ever." Why do you feel that this would be the case. I also had a stormy relationship with my mother. During college I cut off all direct communication with her. After college, she mellowed out and apologized and we reconciled. The fact that your father, who he seems to have a better relationship with, is advocating reunion is a good sign. Why do you think he will "never come back" after college?
    – sharur
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 0:18

3 Answers 3


First of all, these sorts of things are rarely caused by one event. Rather, that one event is usually the "straw that broke the camel's back" after a long series of problems in a relationship. If I had to guess, I would say your brother's "stuff" that happened was at least partially motivated by trying to elicit a certain kind of attention from your mom. When she reacted a different way than he hoped, even under relatively extreme circumstances, that probably confirmed ideas in his mind that he had been mulling over for some time.

It's almost a cliché that "time heals all wounds," but there are reasons behind it. A 16 year-old has not had enough life experience to truly understand that different people having different reactions doesn't mean they care about you any less. They don't fully understand things like different love languages. As your brother gains experience and maturity, he will be better able to understand your mom's point of view, and he will be more amenable to having it explained to him.

Also, milestones like going off to college can cause people to drift further apart, but it more often has the opposite effect. These milestones signal a shift in everyone's relationships. The child no longer has to assert his independence, because he is actively practicing it. You might find it's much easier to get along once the idea of moving back in with mom is completely off the table. It moves from being an ongoing source of pain, to being a pain over a past event, for both of them. Other milestones like marriage and having children of your own have a similar effect. Your parents' divorce had that effect on their relationship with each other.

My parents divorced after all their kids moved out, but the effects were felt much earlier. My mom's stress often ended up directed at the kids, which resulted in a falling out between all of us that lasted for the better part of a decade. It was a little better for me as the eldest, because I understood she was not really angry at me, but I still wanted her to acknowledge her behavior toward me, at a time when she was completely wrapped up in her own feelings of victimhood. I maintained a rocky relationship, while my siblings cut her off completely for a time.

Two milestones happened that enabled all of us to reconcile:

  • My mom got remarried and finally moved on. Consequently, she stopped blaming our dad's influence on us for every small slight, and started acknowledging her own part in our falling out. My stepdad was an extremely good influence on her in this department. He was able to counsel her without her feeling like she was being attacked.
  • We all had kids of our own, which helped us understand her point of view a little better about things like unintentionally snapping at your kids when you're angry about something else.

Trust me, you can heal with time. Just keep making an effort to provide opportunities for them to get together, and be patient. It may not result in an ideal super-close relationship, but there is still a very good chance for them to have a relatively normal parent-adult child relationship.


As always with complications between parents and children (or any humans, actually), to me the most important questions seem to all start with: Why?

  • Why did this seemingly minor thing make your brother move out?
    (If it is as you say, it probably wasn't the cause, but just the trigger. So what's the cause?)
  • Why weren't your parents able to mend this?
    (Of course, first and foremost it's the parents' task to mend the relationship with their children, and it's their fault when they fail.)
  • Why would your brother rather move out than accept parental intervention/scolding?
    (You said he did something wrong, and it's normal for children to accept that there are consequences when they get caught doing something wrong. It's not normal for a child – not even a 16 year old child – to dismiss one of their parents over this.)
  • Why has this been going on for years?
    (You said "years have gone by", so I assume at least three or four, which would make your brother 19 or 20 now. Usually there's quite a step in maturity between 16 and 19/20, and people change a lot during this time. So why has there been no change in this?)

I suppose answering these questions might be very hard, but I believe that it is essential to understand the problem before you can help solving it.

You have said that your brother doesn't want to take your advice in this (or at all). Now, that might not be uncommon for younger siblings, but given the tragedy of the situation, it seems pretty fierce, still. But have you considered not advising, but asking him, what he thinks? How about you sit down with him and (separately) with your mother and let them do the talking? Only ask questions, do not judge, and do not advise – just learn. You might learn about all those Whys there, and that might give you ideas for how to untie that knot.

BTW, getting external counseling from good professionals is always good, but requires all participants to want this.


It's not uncommon for people to develop a stormy relationship with one or the other parent during adolescence, even under the best of circumstances --one might even argue it's part of nature's plan. Personally, I had a good relationship with my parents, and I still elected to go live with my grandparents during the last years of high school.

I wouldn't worry about this unless it really does persist past the first few years of college. I think it's likely their relationship will repair itself without your help, and that your intervention might only delay the process.

With that said, it might be better worth you working on improving your own relationship with your brother instead --maybe developing one that includes more listening and less advice.

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