• Me: mid 20s, lived last 7 years away from home in a different city and then in a different country. I go back home for a week every 5-6 months.

  • Mother: clinically depressed since her and my father separated 8 years ago. She takes meds, but I don't believe it's a too extreme situation. What I mean is that it's under control and that she works a full-time job, she came visiting in 2 different countries a few times, she takes care of herself. But she's not as happy as she should be

  • Father: decided to separate form my mother completely out of the blue. He's been a good father to me, and to my brother until the separation, after that he became kind of absent at first (taking my brother only at weekends), then helpless in making my brother doing the right thing (going to school, etc etc) and now he's more present but my brother is also a young adult now, so they have a normal, good relationship

  • Brother: the focus of this post. He's turning 20 this year - so 7 years younger than me, which is quite a lot. After my father left he was still a kid and he just decided he would do what he wanted. My mother never had a firm grasp on him and could never be authoritative enough. Some episodes just to give an idea: He started high school at the right time, then lost two years because he simply decided he didn't want to go and just stayed home too many days. 3 years ago he decided to completely leave school and go to evening school, but then managed to enroll too late so he lost another year. 2 years ago he started on time but then decided it wasn't his thing. I think you get his way of approaching things. So now it has been around 3 years that he wakes up at 10-11, chill out at home, gets depressed/in a bad mood because there's not much to do and his friends are all working/studying, sometimes goes out in the evening, comes back late at night and then he starts a new day in the same way. And he brings that mix of boredom/bad mood out against my mother having a quite toxic attitude. He doesn't help at all at home, he only cooks - if asked a few times and reluctantly, but leaves everything dirty, doesn't do laundry, doesn't clean the house. Another example: he monopolized the kitchen a few years back with his laptop and it has been there ever since, so every time my mother cooks right after he wakes up, he thinks it's just to provoke him. He is basically a parasite doing nothing. This was much worse a few years back, things are slowly getting better with time but it's still taking him too much time to be a decent person, to start looking for a job, to take a driving license, to do some basic studying. Now he's a young adult behaving like a child. Things get a tiny little bit better every year, but not at the pace they should. To be fair he also started a couple of projects in the last two years with my father (a carpenter), building instruments first and now skateboards, but it never gets to the next step. So he' just treating his hobby like a job and with that excuse doesn't move on to something else.


As I mentioned before my mother is depressive and I feel like my brother is one of the biggest burdens to her. He never got physical, but when in a bad mood/depressed/bored he tends to insult - which happens every other day. Again, nothing too extreme and direct, (more of a "Shit, leave me alone" or "Why don't you do that" kind of thing) but still something he shouldn't be saying. And when these episodes take place, sometimes my mother gets more depressed, then call me to check up on me and have a talk, then tells me that my brother is a pain at home, then starts crying because she's fed up with it and I start thinking of ways in which I can alleviate her life. I'm not too worried about my brother himself, since I believe he will find his way at some point. But I'd like to help him to become better, so he can have a better life as much as my mother can have a better life too.

I tried the heart-to-heart talk, the long letters, the indifference and silence and nothing seems to be working, not even a tiny bit. He's just set on his road and does his own thing. My last resort was the "I refuse to talk to you until you start behaving as a decent person" but it seems out of my place as a brother and kind of childish. Any suggestion of how I could make my brother realize the choices he's been taking have played out quite bad until now and that he needs to start behaving differently (most importantly towards my mother but also towards life)?

PS: Re-reading this is not very clear, but neither my mother nor my father have ever pardoned or approved the bad choices my brother took of not attending school. My mother couldn't possibly physically force him to go to school and my father would bring him some days, the other 95% of the days he was at work and couldn't do it. So my brother ended up staying at home whenever he wanted

PS2: when I'm home things are better and if things start to heat up we usually manage to stop them before they grow. And out of the house my brother is a perfectly functional young adult with whom you can have normal conversations and he even admits his own errors. Which makes it even the more difficult to point out that there's something wrong nevertheless.

PS3: I don't know if it's relevant, but my brother doesn't drink any alcohol and don't do drugs. On the other hand most of his friends go kind of heavy in either one of the above mentioned, and this is one of the things we talk about when together, because it bothers him.

Sorry for the long post and thanks to anyone kind enough to give his or her opinion.

  • This is a parenting site and many of us are simply not going to be able to help. My heart goes out to you. It sounds like your parents have to parent. I would consider giving a deadline for paying rent and doing chores and if he does nothing, lock him out. If you fear for your mother, pur her up in a hotel or have her stay with a friend. Install locks and a security system. However, I am absolutely not an expert and am 100% inexperienced with this problem. Also as concerned as you are, it is your parent's problem to deal with.
    – WRX
    Jan 31, 2017 at 0:30
  • 1
    Yeah, I thought a lot about posting here before actually doing it since it seemed out of place, but then I read through a few posts and interesting suggestions to situations not strictly related to parenting and thought I might just try. Thanks for your thoughts
    – sumo
    Jan 31, 2017 at 0:33
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    Hi, sumo, and welcome. This isn't the answer you hope for (maybe someone will have some good advice) but what strikes me when I read your post is that your mother needs help parenting your brother. She's allowing your brother to, well, walk all over her. She can probably use the help of a wise therapist; she has issues with setting boundaries at home. It also strikes me that you're a wonderful son, and that you love her a lot. As much as you'd like to fix things, you can't. She has to stand up for herself and live with her decisions. :-/ I wish I could be more helpful. Search boundaries. Jan 31, 2017 at 4:15

2 Answers 2


It sounds like when he is at home, he cannot help responding (and thinking) like the child he used to be. This is not uncommon. I think we can all relate at some level, when we are outside the home we grew up in, we behave in one way, but find ourselves falling back into the psychological patterns of childhood when we go "home" to visit. Sometimes we don't even have to go home, just being in the presence of close relatives can trigger it.

Your brother is old enough to start taking responsibility for himself, and it sounds as if he is capable of it (unless he has some psychological disabilities which you didn't mention or don't know about). However, he doesn't want to do so, and unless he is motivated in some way, that situation might continue on for a very long time.

It would be, I think, a positive thing for your brother if your mother were able to put her foot down and say "I will continue to allow you to stay in my house, but these are the requirements..." Those requirements might include doing chores regularly, and going to school or getting a job. He is old enough that these can be reasonably expected.

If she can be strong enough to do that, and to weather the storm that comes afterwards, it will be better for both her and your brother. One of the reasons I say this is that I have observed that when someone falls into the sort of patterns that your brother is displaying (not doing anything useful, simply expecting to be taken care of and giving nothing in return), it eats away at their self respect. Deep down, your brother knows that he is only taking and not giving and it makes him ashamed. Nobody likes that feeling, so shame turns into anger (which can be a defense mechanism) and he takes it out on the "victim" of his shame, your mother. When we behave badly toward someone and we do not wish to acknowledge that, we often become angry at that person. Our anger becomes an armor against their disapproval.

If he refuses to change his behavior...here's where things get tricky. It doesn't sound as if your mother is capable of throwing him out of the house, either physically or psychologically. I've known parents who had this problem to such an extreme extent that they ended up selling their house and moving to a much smaller place and telling their deadbeat son that there was no room for him in the house, he would have to find his own place, because they couldn't bear the thought of throwing him out of "his own home".

Probably the only option she has is cancelling the internet, or locking him out of the network that she is paying for (if she needs the internet). Not washing his clothes (though that might not be very effective if he doesn't care about his appearance). Cooking to please herself, not him. That may sound petty, but he is no longer a child who has to be taken care of, he's a young adult who thinks that he is allowed to define his relationship with his mother as he pleases, and he needs to learn differently. Also, in a more practical vein, the idea is to make moving out to a place where he can make his own rules more attractive. If the place where you are is pleasant and meets all your needs, why would you go elsewhere?

From what you have said it sounds like once your brother is out of this situation that keeps pulling him back to child-like behavior, he will be able to grow up. Getting him there is going to be the challenge. Would your father be supportive in this? Would he take your brother in for a month or so ("Til you get your own place...")? A change of environment often helps a person to shed unhealthy or undesirable behaviors, and since it is made clear from the start that this is only temporary (with no option of moving back in with mom) your brother wouldn't expect he can ignore the ultimatum.

Anyway, good on you for being so concerned for all the members of your family, and for being willing to be a support for both your mother and brother. Keep doing that, but be strong and understand that what a person wants is not always what is best for them.

  • 1
    So very many good points here. "...when we are outside the home we grew up in, we behave in one way, but find ourselves falling back into the psychological patterns of childhood when we go "home" to visit." Like at a high school reunion... Feb 1, 2017 at 1:44
  • Thank you for the time you took to answer me. Talking about this and all your ideas helped me in finding a way on how to contribute to this and hopefully make things better.
    – sumo
    Feb 2, 2017 at 14:51

My take - passive aggression towards your parents and lack of structure. You mentioned he is a perfectly functional adult out of the house who can see himself clearly (i.e. Admit his own faults etc). As long as he is in the house, he cannot remove himself from the longstanding resentment of your dad leaving. If for some reason, he is sent to a completely new environment with structure (boot camp or spend a year volunteering overseas etc), he may be able to move on and kickstart again.


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