Dear Christine, Cinderella in Clinton Township

  • Posted on November 12, 2017 at 10:40 am

Dear Christine,

Sometimes I feel like Cinderella in my family. I went to college, have always been ambitious, have always been responsible. I got a great job after college working at a successful law firm, I saved enough money to buy my first house. On the other hand, my brother has accomplished nothing yet has the heart of my parents. He’s way too attractive for his own good and my parents have done nothing but coddle and support him. At a family dinner last week, my parents suggested I take on Billy when they are gone! I was too shocked to say, “oh hell no,” which Is what I was shouting in my head. I’ve always been obedient and good and never heard a word of praise from them, yet they lavish it on my lazy, live in the basement of their home brother. He’s 35 by the way. How can I stand up to them and let them know I don’t want to pick up where they left off? They are getting older and having health problems. I don’t want to be my brother’s keeper! Thanks for your thoughts,


Dear Cinderella,

This is not a news flash for you, but life isn’t fair and parents do favor one child over another! I often hear this problem occurring in families. It is understandable if your brother is disabled and cannot take care of himself, say if he had epilepsy or was a paraplegic. It is completely unfair when parents coddle a grown son who is lazy. It’s unacceptable for them to expect you to take on their relationship with him when they are gone.

The term you cited “my brother’s keeper” is a Biblical phrase from the story of Cain and Abel, in which the LORD asked Cain “where is your brother Abel?” and Cain replied “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain had just murdered Abel. (Genesis 4:9)

There is another Biblical story about a lazy brother: The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11 –32.) Prodigal means “wastefully extravagant” and well describes the younger son became poor and begged his father to be hired as a servant, expecting to be cut off. His father welcomes him and throws a big party for him. The older son, who has worked hard and never had a day off much less a party, is angry. These are very different stories and can be interpreted many ways, but neither one is a roadmap for your own family relationships. Killing your brother is not advised, and complaining to your parents about their laxness towards him has not changed their behavior. However, you can set your own boundaries. You are not your parents and you do not have to treat him the way they do. Make it clear to your brother and to your parents that you will not be caretaker for your brother who is capable of taking care of himself. It is hard to confront all of them, so I would suggest writing a letter. Take your time with it. Write and rewrite it, so that you can drain the horror and rage from it. Outline what you can and cannot do. Your parents are aging and facing their own health challenges. It is very possible that they will drain their resources caring for your brother to the point of not being able to afford to care for themselves. This is unwise, but if it were to happen, they may expect you to pick up their care as well as your brother. Start with a letter. Try to talk to them about this very real problem. It would be great if you knew your parents had arranged a will or trust and had adequate finances to take care of themselves. It is essential that your brother know upfront (though he may not believe it) that you will not be funding his existence after mom and dad have died. They all need to know this fact well before your brother is pounding on your front door, expecting to be welcomed to live in your basement. This situation will push all of your buttons. Family does that. If you aren’t ready to start writing letters or talking to your family, try getting into therapy yourself. Figure out what is blocking you from taking action that you need to take to protect yourself. If you understand what feelings or beliefs are holding you back from taking action, you will be better prepared to challenge those beliefs or let go of those feelings. And you will get support you will need to set healthy boundaries. Good luck. Christine Cantrell, PhD

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067

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