Prodigal script

My younger brother, an alcoholic and former drug user, has seldom done anything right. I took care of his two children. In December 1999, sibling rivalry caused him to take my niece from me and force her to live with our elderly mother. Still, I paid for things and attended school activities. Then, he moved to Texas and moved my niece to Philadelphia to live with her mother’s sister, Lisa. My niece protested, but there was nothing I could do. I was so upset with our mom for allowing this that I stopped speaking to her.

I have learned that Lisa allowed my niece to become pregnant. Lisa did not tell our family about the baby until months later when my niece turned 18. My niece has yet to tell me anything. Lisa is now pressuring my niece to attend cooking school and to leave the baby with her. My niece received a car as a gift and totaled it. I am concerned that she is depressed. What should I do?

Step out of the prodigal script. The belief that your brother has squandered his life while you honorably met familial obligations harms you both. Consider this: Your brother gave the world two children that you love. Sift through your heart and find ways to appreciate him. It’s also hopeless to be upset at your mother. If you could not stop your niece’s move, why insist that she could? And why is Lisa shouldering responsibility for your niece’s pregnancy? If your then-underage niece freely consented to sex, she and her sexual partner are responsible for the pregnancy. To a far lesser degree, their families, certain teachers, and society bear graduating degrees of culpability.

It’s essential that you stop stirring the drama in your niece’s life. Write her a letter saying only that you love her and support her. Do not ask why she did not tell you about the baby (it’s none of your business) and do not criticize family members. This is not about you competing to prove that you love her more than anyone else. This is about you dropping the role of the elder sibling who, in the prodigal story, needs to learn that a life of fulfilling obligations just to be seen as “good” is no life at all.

Readjust your focus (perhaps volunteer with teen moms) until your niece contacts you and invites your help. If you are truly concerned that she is depressed, ask Lisa’s opinion. Doing so will help you determine if you are projecting this emotion and need help yourself.

My 23-year-old son has verbal tirades that turn physical (hitting himself, thrashing objects and recently assaulting me). He refuses counseling, claiming it doesn’t work. During his teen years, I modeled anger management (self-awareness, de-escalating, disengaging) but once he moved in with his girlfriend, I was no longer a factor. Protecting myself from his abuse, when he trapped us at his home or in his car, made him angry and he cut me off. Ideas?

Is his anger directed only at you and himself? Or does he behave similarly with his girlfriend and his other parent? If there is consistency across relationships, he may have a mental disorder and need medication, not just talk therapy. This situation is complicated by your view that he traps you. Are you saying that his aggression is pre-meditated, or do you need to believe that you are a victim? Employ your self-awareness to wake up, then de-escalate and disengage from the victim mentality. Arrange a family intervention to get your son a complete physical and a referral to mental-health services. If his girlfriend is being abused, she needs to contact Women Escaping A Violent Environment (WEAVE) now and follow their recommended process for healing.

Meditation of the Week

A 44-year-old friend of mine said that he was fearless in his romantic relationships 20 years ago. He isn’t certain whether he’s now afraid of hurting someone, or of being hurt himself, but he knows that he holds back. What did you love about yourself (or the world) 20 years ago that needs your love and attention now?