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How can I help my dysfunctional family?
September 29, 2003
12:16 pm
Nina Lee
New Member
Forum Posts: -1
Member Since:
September 24, 2010
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Hello all, I am new to this forum. I am married with 2 children, but I am very concerned about my parents and my brother, but don't know how to help them. My 43 year old brother still lives with our parents with no goals of ever moving out on his own it seems. Although he does support himself financially and voluntarily contributes to the household expenses, he has always been dependent on them in every other way.

He has no social life or outside relationships whatsoever. His friends since high school have finally given up on him, after years of trying to remain in contact with him. He does not ever date & has not had a girlfriend, since his high school prom date cancelled out on him at the last minute. He has never even mentioned another female since then. He has no hobbies.

Although he seemed fairly "normal" growing up, he seemed to have developed numerous problems over the years, starting in his late teens. He was an excellent student, but suddenly quit college, just shortly before graduating, for no apparant reason. He has since taken on rather low end jobs for years at a time, seeming to need the easy & secure routine.

He seems to have OCD, although he has never been diagnosed, as he has never seen anyone about his problems. He sets fixed & rigid time schedules & routines. He has odd counting rituals and is fascinated with remembering numbers, like phone numbers, bithdates, etc. He loves games like jeopardy and knows most of the answers. He has a great & unusual fear of his or anyone else's bones being broken. If someone should bump into a chair, he demands that you to tell him you did not break or fracture any bones & you must say it x number of times. He must walk sideways when going through doors. He will not speak on the phone or answer the door. He has a huge fear of change and of failure. He will not ever even try something he may fail at, no matter how small. He speaks and walks rather loundly, though his hearing is fine. He pays cash for everything, refusing to obtain any credit cards, or loans, therefore having no credit history.

He suddenly quit his last job 3 years ago, due to a change in their management & would not even consider going back, even after they begged him numerous times, and even after they offered him a HUGE salary increase. He just sits in their house almost 24/7 watching t.v., or goes on their computer, while living off his savings. He is now looking for work again only because his money is finally running out. He has always payed them rent, even while unemployed, which he & our parents seem to think makes it all okay. I don't think he would ever allow himself to be finacially dependent, though, that would kill him, I think, as he takes great pride in that he pays rent to my parents & likes to remind us all of this. He seems to think that this alone makes his a responsible adult. Never mind that he is completely emotionally dependent. A new neighbor is theirs once made a remark to my brother about her shock upon discovering that he was still living with his parents at his age. He told me about how "mean" she was for saying such a thing to him and how afterall he pays them rent. He expected me to agree with him.

I must say that when he does work, he is extremely hard working and reliable, to an extreme. He never, ever calls in sick or takes a personal day no matter what. (a compulsion?) He would never, ever refuse any OT whenever offered to him, even if it meant missing his nephew's baptism. He does not do this for the money, I am sure. He just can never say "No" when asked to work. He is also still quite proud of his consistent perfect attendence during his school years as well.

He seems to suffer from very low self esteem. My parents only make matters worse by going along with all of his routines & not insisting that he atleast seek some help. They praise & gush over every little thing he may do. It is not normal or healthy for him to continue to live such an empty life. It is like he is just afraid of life. He relies heavily on our mother and she has become his emotional lifeline. She is his main companion. She cooks all of his meals, does his dishes, laundry, etc., even though I am sure she is tired of still caring for him at this stage in her life. I know she no longer enjoys cooking anymore & would prefer not to. She is also very arthritic and has a very hard doing things. But she must downplay this to him, as it seems to upsets him too much.

Although my brother is basically a good, kind, generous person, he has become somemwhat of a tyrant in that house. He makes the rules as to what day & time & how much money he will pay. My mother then has to count out the money x # of times for him. He even offers our mother what he calls "bonus money" for when she will agree to do something special for him, like fix his favorite meal. She then just gushes about how generous her son is to her. It is so bizarre & most difficult to witness.

He is apparantly very used to getting his way, as if I tell him "no", he can not even deal with it. For example, he is a very good uncle to my children & enjoys spending time with them, which is great. But one day he just announced that he, my parents, my sister, my husband & my younger son would all join me & my older son to his den meeting. Well, people just don't bring their entire extended family to these scout meetings & I tried to explain this to him & explained that the room is just too small to accomodate so many people. (Not to mention how strange it would seem to bring so many people!) But his reaction was that of irate shock! He just kept saying "You are joking, you must be joking, ofcourse you are joking, ofcourse we are coming, why wouldn't we?" etc., over & over. It was so weird! I notice he gets extremely angry and dumbfounded whenever I do not go along with every little thing he says. My parents apparantly always go along with him.

Another problem is that even though my retired parents have enough income with my dad's 2 pensions, social security and a part-time job, my father has a gambling addiction. Sadly, he won't even admit to it, much less treat it, though. But my mom takes care of the bills now, as she has for years, since he started gambling away much of their money and they had to file for bancruptcy many years ago. He seems to do it much less now, but he still does. It is his favorite passtime, it seems. Anyway, because of this, my brother seems to have a position of power of them, as he pays them generously and he also is the only one with a car. My mother never learned to drive, but my dad does, but chooses not to buy a car & has not had one in years. I guess he figures that he doesn't need to with my brother around. No car payment free's up more gambling money, I suppose. So there is this weird, unhealthy interdependence on one another, enabling my dad to have more gambling money & enabling my brother not to have to live his own life. I guess my mom feels that she owes him for this and caters to him.

So my brother with this power seems to be "in charge". He is good to them by driving my dad to work and my mom shoppping, etc. But it is done according to his schedule. I live 2 hours away from them & so when they want to visit me & their grandchildren, it is up to my brother. He decides what time they leave, etc. This means they are often late for holiday celebrations and even to my children's birthday parties. I don't think he does this to be cruel but I think my brother likes to spend time with them alone, opening his Christmas gifts, just like a child. It is also due to his set upon schedule to do things. Ofcourse my children are always anxiously awaiting their arrival, but only to be dissappointed that they have to wait so very long. My parents will never admit that their lateness has anything to do with my brother, but I just find it very hard to believe that they ALWAYS hit tons & tons of traffic, each time, like they claim. We always manage to get to their house in 1/3 the time they take to get here. It's just not fair, but I have no proof & even if I did, what can I do? I can't force them to get their own car.

And ofcourse there is no visiting my mother alone without my brother always there too. So I rarely get to speak to her alone, without him sitting right there with us. So there is no "girl talk" between me, my mom & my sis, as he always listens in & joins us. Whenever I try to take just my mom out to lunch, he always joins us. My mom will always say it like I should be happy that he is coming & is very put off if I even imply that I don't want him to join us. If I do that, she gets mad at me. He will even often to treat us, so what can I say?

He also drives my mother crazy with his being there all the time. Because he chooses not to have his own life, he demands most of her time and attention and nit-picks at her a lot. I know this nit-picking bothers her, but she submissively puts up with it. It was bad enough when he spent all of his free time there with them after work. But now that he has been unemployed, he is there all the time, bored and cranky. At this point my mom says she will just be happy when he finally goes back to work, but that does not solve the real problem. He needs to have his own life.

My dad keeps himself busy and escapes with working part-time and gambling. My poor mom is basically a home-body, especially now with her arthritis. She is content to just read or listen to talk radio. She just wants free run of her house, but she can not seem to bring herself to say anything to my brother. I think she & my dad just feel sorry for him. The closest my mother has ever come to admitting her feelings is to say "When is it gonna be my turn?" to my brother when she is really fed up. My brother will then look embarrassed, but says nothing. So I am sure he knows what she means by that. That along with her locking herself in their rec-room should be enough hints I would think, not to mention social norms. But most of the time she just bottles it all up inside her and soldiers on.

My mother would occasionally vent to me that she wishes he would get out of the house, atleast for a few hours. Never mind, permanently. But if I agree with her, and tell her that she has every right to want an empty nest & that he NEEDS to get his own life, she gets very defensive of my brother & will hang up on me. No matter how nice I try to put it, even emphasizing that it would be for HIS own good (never mind hers too), she just can not deal with the truth. So now she doesn't say a word to me anymore, fearing that she will have to hear the truth. So, now she just keeps it all inside. I think she has just resigned herself to living this way.

My 32 year old sister lives very close to them and recently just moved out herself, but she checks in often. She tells me that our mother spends a lot of time locked in their basement rec-room. She does this to get some time to herself and get some relief from my brother's constant presense. I worry about her being depressed, but she down plays it whenever I ask. When I mentioned my concern of her to my father, he denies that there is anything wrong with her, assures my that she is just fine and even seems quite annoyed that I would even suggest it.

Whenever I have tried talking to my parents about my concern for all of them, they refuse to ask him to leave or even insist that he atleast seek counseling. They remind me of how he pays them rent & drives them. My sister has tried too, but also to no avail. If we pester too much, they turn on us. My mom will say things like I must be angry at my husband and I am taking it out on them if I talk about my brother. For some reason my mother can openly discuss her 2 daughters problems, but not her sons. I don't know why, but it is vey frustrating.

For some reason they have always been extrememly defensive & protective over my brother. They do not treat & never have treated their daughters this way, though. I don't know why, but it was always this way. Even when we were little, my sister & I had to share the smaller bedroom, while our big brother got the bigger one all to himself. The reason being simply that he did not want to change rooms after my sister was born & that was that. My mother even offered to give me & my sister her bedroom, which was ridiculous. Anything, but upset their son. Ofcourse we didn't take her up on her offer, so we just remained in the smaller room, to accomodate our brother.

I have also told my brother directly that he may have OCD and that there is treatment, but he just shrugs it off. He will never see anyone about this on his own, atleast not while all of his needs are being met for him at home. My parents make it very easy for him to continue this way, by catering to him and allowing him to have this power over them, so he really does not have much incentive to change.

I have also mentioned that a small condo would be nice for them, much easier to manage in their "golden years." This would also be a way of getting my brother to move on with his own life, without kicking him out. But they claim they are happy where they are, but I know my mother has such a hard time climbing the stairs in that house. Not to mention having to clean it. My dad still mows the lawn (afterall their son pays them rent!) They won't admit it, but I am sure the real reason is my brother & his fear of change. He is the one who "MUST" live in that same house. He seems to want to forever remain their child in that same house. He could not understand why our neighbors sold their big house & moved. I told him that many people their age do that when their children are grown, as they don't need to care for a big house anymore. He still seemed quite puzzled over it.

I am sorry this is so long. After trying so hard to get through to them, but to no avail, I have learned to remain silent to keep the peace. If I persist, my mom won't speak to me. Or she will remind me of some other grown men whom she knows that also live with their parents. Or she will complain about my dad & his gambling, my sister & her boyfriend, etc.

But watching them live this way year after year is just so depressing to me. None of them seem happy, yet no one is willing to make any changes. So nothing ever changes. My brother should WANT more out of life. My mother should not have to care for him anymore, even though he drives her & contributes money. My parents could buy their own car & live quite well on their own money. My dad would just have to stop or reduce his gambling. I guess my mother fears this being a problem & my brother picks up on this fear of hers & uses it to be needed by her. But at what cost?

I almost feel like my silence is enabling them too & that I am also then partly to blame. But at the same time, if I say anthing, I get shot down. So does my sister & so she has given up now. Besides, she has her own problems with her boyfriend, but that is another story. One that she must face, when she is ready.

Is there anything I can do to help facilitate changes in them? I love my family, but find get togethers with them are becoming too depressing, knowing no change is even in sight. I don't want to deprive my children of their grandparents and uncle who are so good to them.

Thanks so much for even reading this. I woould be very grateful for any insight or advice.

September 29, 2003
2:24 pm
New Member
Forum Posts: -1
Member Since:
September 27, 2010
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

It's their life, their choices and their consequences....and things will come to roost and there is little if anything at all that you can do about it.

I'm sure he does have OCD but what are you going to do about it if he doesn't want help and your parents are enabling him? What are you going to do about any of it really?

There's something just a tad bit strange with your parents affixation with your brother. I'm not gonna go there but - let me just say - there may be things under the carpet here that you don't even want to know...

Separate bedroom? He was the priviledge one? They are enabling him now? He has all these problems? And btw, OCD stems many times from a child needing to have power over something because they had "no power" over something else that really hurt them, so they develop this order to somehow - stay in control. Trouble is - it's a constant and rigid thing you have to do all the time - when trying to keep Pandora's box shut so that those ugly little things we don't want to remember or realize keep jumping out at us...so we count, we do all kinds of rules and regulations and that keeps us very, very busy so we don't have to time to think...to put pieces of the puzzle together, to remember...

Sounds to me like you're wondering what's up here? The "why" of everything. You're looking at this strange puzzle and going.......something just isn't right here, something very, very wrong with this picture. I think there is more here, than meets the eye....

September 29, 2003
4:01 pm
Nina Lee
New Member
Forum Posts: -1
Member Since:
September 24, 2010
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Hi Ladeska, thanks for posting. Yes, I agree their attachement is very strange. I have often wondered why and have even asked them what happend to cause this. Did they feel guilty over something horrible they did to him? I don't know, I was never given any reason to explain their behavior.

I honestly have no recollection of anything specific happening to my brother. My parents fought a lot & my mother drank. She would spend hours complaining to all of us about our dad & his family. How rotton they all are. My dad would just sit there or leave. She would just continue on & on whether he was there or not. We kids had to listen to it. When they fought, it got really bad, no physical violence, but a lot of screaming & yelling, mostly about stuff from years ago. We all had to endure this, though, not just my brother, so I don't get it.

As a child, I just had to accept things, but I questioned things more as I got older & my mom hated me for that, I think. My brother just kept his mouth shut. The closest my mother ever came to explaining things was to admit that every family has a scapegoat & that she was her's & I was ours. Just like that. Then she would tell me how mean her mother is/was to her.

I guess your right about it being their life with not much for me to be able do about it. It is just so hard for me when I know my mother is suffering because of it, even if it is her choice to do so. I also hate seeing my brother waste his life away this way. It is to the point where being around them makes me feel ill now and I hate that they effect me in this way. But I just have to continue to put my happy face and pretend everything is okay when we get together for birthdays and holidays. I don't even look foward to these special occassions anymore, because seeing them just reminds me of how they all are living.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, I appreciate it.

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