Monday, June 18, 2007

HTT: My brothers never visit, and I'm sick of it.

Dear HTT,

My mother is visiting from New York and has been here for a week. We live in Raleigh and so does my brother and his family. He hasn't been by to visit his mother, OK, our mother. He has called and invited my family and Mom to his house for dinner tonight. He will pick up my mother and I'll meet them after work. My husband doesn't want to go and when I mentioned it to Mom, she said her feelings would be hurt if he didn't go.

This same situation has happened many times in the past. Did I mention that I am from a tight Italian family and we do everything together? So my husband feels like he has always "given in," so as not to hurt Mom's feelings. I am on the fence here. On one hand I say, what's one more time to appease an old Italian lady? On the other hand, when does it stop?

The situation is the same when we visit New York; we have to visit another brother who lives there. We have to save one night to have dinner at his house. He has made no attempt to visit us. We've lived in North Carolina for ten years! And my husband always goes, in order not to cause trouble.

Help !
***********************

Crudely put, family dynamics are a pain in the ass sometimes. Now, before I get a lot of angry email from anyone in my own family, let me admit that I contribute my share of the pain. When my mother visits, for example, I’ve been known to become sullen if I don’t get my way about what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it. I once stomped my foot when I realized we weren't going to have time to see a movie I'd planned on. It’s like, for ten minutes at a time I’m 13 again, minus the braces and pathetic attempts at feathered hair. Not a pretty site, I can assure you.

Do your brothers actually realize that they never go to your house, and do they know how you feel about that? For the sake of argument, and because I know you’re not exactly shy about expressing yourself (New Yorker that you are!), I’m going to assume they do know and just haven’t made any attempt to change.

In which case, I’m sure you and your husband find it frustrating that your brothers never make the effort to visit you. No one likes to feel that they’re doing all the giving in. But since neither your mother nor your NY brother lives here, it seems that by default this situation can only get so out of hand, right? What’s a couple of dinners a few times a year? Annoying, sure, but is this worth starting a family argument about? I know. You’re probably more upset over the principle of the matter than over the gas money you spend getting to either brother’s house, be it the one across town or the one in New York.

Can you and your husband take some measure of satisfaction in knowing that you’re doing the right thing? There’s a lot to be said for appeasing “an old Italian lady” who happens to be your mom. Be the good guys. Go to dinner. Don’t offer to help with the dishes if that makes you feel better.

Good luck,
HTT

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm in a similar situation, and interestingly enough, also in a family of Italian descent. I've lived out of state for 16 years, and my brothers have never visited me. I go "home" once a year to visit, and 50% of the time they are “too busy” to see me. They didn't show up for my wedding because they supposedly couldn't get away from work (more like, they didn't want to use their vacation time to attend). I don't even know if they know my phone number--they've never called. My Mom is also always asking me to take the high road, be the one that visits them, or at least initiate the visit with them when they'll bother to accept my visit. But Mom is also the person who taught my brothers that this behavior is OK. She's the one that gets upset and yells and criticizes me when I dare suggest confronting my brothers about their apathy.

When we're little, we're taught (or socialized) to know when someone is interested in being our friend and when they're not. We're told that there is a point when it is wrong to continue to pursue someone's friendship when they have given signals that they are not interested in spending time with us--it can amount to stalking to ignore those signals. We’re taught to feel uncomfortable where we’re not wanted. But we're simultaneously told that nothing is more important than family and (some of us) told to maintain those bonds no matter what. It creates a lose-lose situation with brothers like these. I'm sick of it, too.

So what happens to the family when Mom is no longer around? What happens when brothers are allowed to live the rest of their lives without their sister? Does anyone have any experience with this?

Anonymous said...

I know (actually, knew, but we'll get to that in a moment) a woman, also of Italian descent, who had three brothers and on sister. One of her brothers did the same routine with her--distanced himself from her, never had time to visit, never called her. He 'didn't have time' to drive an hour from his home to see her when she had flown in from distant parts to New Jersey where he lived. He said to her, "If you want to see me, I'll be relaxing by the pool in my complex." Which struck me, at the time, as openly hostile. I know it hurt her deeply, and she never understood why he had decided to shut her out of his life.

There were some other factors (which, thankfully, don't seem to be present in the situation described here, or in the other anonymous poster's situation), and I think they hold the clue to why he pushed her away: she had a life-threatening illness at 27, and though she survived it, there was always the possibility that she would become ill again. He was a health nut, and was having a problem dealing with the fact that people who don't deserve it can become ill and die... (If she got sick, it must have been her fault... He wouldn't get sick because he took care of himself and therefore didn't deserve to become ill. Y'know, your basic denial of mortality.) She was evidence that people who don't deserve illness get sick anyway, and he couldn't stand to see her and be reminded of his own mortality.

Unfortunately, she did become ill again, and died a few years ago at the age of 46. Her brother did finally phone her and talk to her not long before she died. I don't know if he would have bothered had she not been terminally ill. And I don't know if that was really a resolution of the situation, or if their other siblings just shamed him into contacting her...

I don't know that this really pertinent to the situation here, but there does seem to be anecdotal evidence that it's not that unusual for Italian brothers to be selfish with their time and always expect their sisters (and said sisters' families) to be the ones to give in...

Anonymous said...

Why are the brothers never the ones writing to HTT in distress over the situation? I, too, live far away from home and have brothers back home who never call or visit me. I like to think that while I am forgiving them for never visiting me, they are forgiving me for not helping to deal with the day-to-day stress of handling cranky old parents living nearby. We all live very busy, stressful lives. I think HTT's advice is spot on.

KC said...

I am the originator of this chain. And I value HTT's advice. She is a wise woman - way beyond her years.

Here's what happened last week. I DID go to my brother's house straight from work and had dinner there. I DID NOT help with the preparation, table setting or even the dishes. I drank some really great wine. My husband showed up after dinner and we watched videos of a family wedding. We had a great time, left a few hours later and nobody had hurt feelings.

A few years ago (one of my milestone birthdays) I decided to act the same way the boys do. I don't go out of my way as much as in the past. I don't ignore them either. Life is short and I don't want to alienate any of them. (The wifes on the other hand can kiss off). OK - I don't mean that. Actually no-one even notices. We are all so busy and involved in our own lives. And.... the times we are together are still priceless.

calypso said...

Yes. I have been here 35years my brothers have been out so many times anew one visited once years ago. I have been to UK many times to see them. My parents when alive made excuses for them. I was very hurt when they came out and were nearby, never even called. Finally after 35years, I wrote and told one brother that me and my kids were hurt and he blew up and said it was terrible to say that. I got my feelings out and feel relieved. I'm a single mom with four grown kids and it would have been nice for us to have visits. I am glad I got it off my chest and now I can get on with my life.

calypso said...

Yes. I have been here 35years my brothers have been out so many times anew one visited once years ago. I have been to UK many times to see them. My parents when alive made excuses for them. I was very hurt when they came out and were nearby, never even called. Finally after 35years, I wrote and told one brother that me and my kids were hurt and he blew up and said it was terrible to say that. I got my feelings out and feel relieved. I'm a single mom with four grown kids and it would have been nice for us to have visits. I am glad I got it off my chest and now I can get on with my life.