Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,
A few weeks ago you gave me some advice about my brother not attending my son’s 6th birthday party and how he rudely left a gift on our doorstep, even after I asked him to wait so he could hand the gift to my son in person.
I took your advice and asked my brother to join me in counseling, which he did. After years of my brother’s indifferent treatment of me, he made it clear that because he doesn’t like me, he didn’t attend my son’s party; further, because he doesn’t like me, he doesn’t want to talk to my kids.
How do I explain to my kids that what is going on between my brother and me isn’t their fault? I don’t know if my brother and I will ever have a relationship again. I don’t like to say never because people evolve and I have hopes, but I want to make sure I handle this appropriately with my kids – especially since I’m not sure when or if they’ll see their cousins again.
Appreciate any advice you can give. Thank you!
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response
You raise an important issue: how do parents explain to young children that some issues going on between adults, e.g., between their parent and their uncle, is not their fault, especially when the kids are often involved, as with your brother dropping off your son’s birthday gift in such a perfunctory way.
Talk About Niceness and Kindness
I think the key is for you to frame your explanation around concepts that both your four-year-old and six-year-old sons can readily understand – niceness and kindness.
You and your husband can explain to your boys that their uncle has informed you that he does not want to be nice to you. You feel sad that he feels that way, but that’s the way it is sometimes when people are unhappy – they are not nice and they do unkind things, like be rude and hurtful to others.
Assure your boys that their uncle’s decision not to be nice toward anyone in your family is their uncle’s problem and that they are not the cause of his problems. Also, tell them that you don’t want any of you to be around their uncle until such time he can be a nice and kind person towards all of you. Further, you can explain that this means they probably won’t be playing with their cousins, an unfortunate consequence.
The Benefits of Focusing on Niceness and Kindness
I am suggesting this approach for two reasons: First, it puts the problem where it belongs, on their uncle. He is the one who has said doesn’t like you, and because of his dislike for you, somehow he feels this gives him license to be mean to and dismissive of your children. Big line in the sand: adults do not get to mistreat innocent children.
Second, you can explain your brother’s unacceptable behavior in ways your boys can understand: when people are consistently and intentionally not nice and are unkind, we don’t want to be around them. Your boys can relate to this based on their own limited experience, as they don’t want to be around kids who are mean to them. Also, your boys need to know you and your husband will call them on the carpet when they are not nice and kind.
A particularly sad aspect of this situation is the real possibility that the four cousins will not be spending time together (if in fact, this is something the four cousins will miss doing). I am sensitive to how upsetting this situation is for your parents, but perhaps they can play a role in having the four cousins play together in their home or in outings. Of course, both you and your brother would need to be comfortable with the children spending time together with the grandparents. This idea may be worth exploring.
If it is clear that getting the cousins together is not a viable idea, I want to point out that an estrangement from their cousins may be less difficult for your boys than you are anticipating, especially if you and your husband have relationships with other family and friends with kids your boys like to play with.
If you and your family attend some event that includes your family as well as your brother’s family, for example, a wedding, I suggest you let your boys know that you and your husband expect them to be cordial and pleasant to everyone, including your brother. They should say hello and display good manners. It is in this way you and your family show yourselves to be nice and kind people.
I know you have tried very hard through the years to have a relationship with your brother; I also know that in the process you and your family have been on the receiving end of much disrespect from and mistreatment by him. You are doing the right thing by protecting yourself, your husband, and your boys from any future emotional damage he is capable of causing.
Some relationships do not, and should not, have a future. When you have exhausted all avenues, sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is walk away, put it behind you, and concentrate on all the wonderful people in your life.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected].
Like what you read? Check out Dr. Gramma Karen’s previous article here! Also check out our latest FREE online classes, parenting advice, jobs for moms, events, childcare listings, casting calls & raffles.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.