Am I My Brother's Keeper?
October 15, 2009 10:15 AM   Subscribe

My parents are divorced; my father has custody of my younger brother, but is leaving the country for a few years for work. He wants me to live with and take care of my 16 year old brother until he graduates from HS. I love my brother, but I have some objections and I’m not sure how to handle this. (long explanation inside!)

God, my family is so complicated.

I’m 24, my brother is 15 and is a sophomore in high school. We live in the same metro area, but about 30 minutes away from each other and in different states.

My father is going overseas as a contractor for a few years to pay off debts/earn money, etc. He wants my brother to stay in the same town and continue going to the same school that he’s in now.

Originally, the plan was that my brother would stay with my mom, who lives three blocks away (yes, three blocks!) from my dad & brother. But then my mom moved from a two-bedroom to a one-bedroom apartment (still in the same apartment complex) and now she’s decided that she doesn’t have room for my brother and she doesn’t “feel like” moving again, even if my dad pays for her to move and pays the difference on her new rent. She's worried that if something happens to my dad's job, she won't be able to afford the new apartment and she'll have to move again, on her own dime. I also think another issue is that she had kids when she was pretty young, and she feels that she missed out on life, so now she’s enjoying an empty nest. (She’s a classic narcissist and probably not the best parental figure for my brother, but then again, I don’t think I’d be a good one either.)

So now my father has come to me, asking me to move out to their town for the next few years to live with my brother. If it were just a year, it would be inconvenient (breaking my lease, living further away from work, living in a town that I hate), but I’d do it. But we’re talking about the next two and a half years. The job I have now will be ending in June, and I have no promise of a new one, especially in this part of the country. I had plans to go to grad school next year, out of state. I'd have to put all of my plans on hold. My brother and I are not close, but I do love him. I just feel like this isn’t fair. I’m only 24, I don’t want to be a mom yet!

My dad is obviously stressed out. He’s sacrificed a lot and he just wants what’s best for our family. At this point, he doesn’t want me to talk to my mom about this anymore, but I think my mom is being selfish. On the other hand, am I being selfish too?

My brother's emotions are key in all of this too. I don't want him to feel like a human ping-pong ball.

I’ve got about a week or so to figure this all out. Everything is happening so fast. Some guidance would be appreciated.

More info:
- My brother is not responsible enough to live alone. That’s not even on the table.
- Moving in with a friend is also not an option.
- Moving with me anywhere (in the metro or out of state) is not an option, in my father’s eyes. My brother struggles academically and has a well-developed support system in his current school.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (60 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't offer much good advice; this is a complicated problem, but you may want to consider how your brother feels about all of this. He's definitely old enough to have an opinion about the issue, and it should factor into the calculus.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:17 AM on October 15, 2009

You are not responsible for your yet-of-age brother, your parents are. Flat out refuse and tell your parents in a letter to both of them that you will not do this. This is not your responsibility when they are in the picture. He needs his parents. Either your Dad cancels his trip, or your mom takes him in. They cannot force you. Stay strong. Your answer should be no.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:23 AM on October 15, 2009 [30 favorites]

A few thoughts

-Have you considered boarding school for your brother?

-Are there any other relatives nearby with whom he could live?

-Maybe your father should postpone his plans for a couple of years until your brother is out of high school.

-This whole thing is putting a huge burden on you, not just the care of your brother, but the postponement of your plans.

-Will your father pay for your grad school education?

-Can the graduate program be done online?

Good luck!
posted by mareli at 10:24 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe your father should look into boarding schools, either near where he lives now or in the country he's moving to, for your brother. I realize that people have different expectations of how much family members owe each other, but it's really not your responsibility and you putting your education on hold for two whole years doesn't sound like what's "best for the family"-- it sounds like what's convenient for your parents.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:25 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Moving with me anywhere (in the metro or out of state) is not an option, in my father’s eyes. My brother struggles academically and has a well-developed support system in his current school.

Well, then, your father has two choices: he either takes your brother with him and gets a new support system, or he stays put. HE is the father. You are NOT the parent. What happens when you become a parent is you make difficult choices. Your mother has already made hers; does your dad want your brother to feel like no one wants him? That he's a nuisance to be passed on to whomever will take him?

I'm sorry if I seem judgmental. This just hits a raw nerve with me. Your brother should be your parents' first responsibility. The fact that your mother has already thrown him away means that your dad needs to step up and make tough choices.
posted by cooker girl at 10:26 AM on October 15, 2009 [30 favorites]

Your mother's behavior is outrageous. Can your mother's behavior be changed? I mean, can she be reasoned with? Can your father cancel his plans to go overseas? It sounds like there are three choices, your father canceling, your mother stepping up, or you. The first two choices (parents are primarily responsible!) should be exhausted fully before your playing parent is even considered. Honestly, I think the obvious choice is your mother needs to get a grip. Does she have a mother or sister who could talk to her? Someone with influence over her or who could shame her into behaving? Don't be afraid to push back.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:26 AM on October 15, 2009

Tough situation. Perhaps you can work out a compromise with the mother to shoulder some load and have her take provisions in case your job future remains unclear and you end up going to grad school. If you have a system where he splits time between the two of you, perhaps that would satiate her desire to have free time while not puting to much strain on you (and her). Time abroad with the father for your brother might help in the summer months.

Basically I think you might need to sit down with everyone and formulate a plan where responsibility isn't being passed around, esp from the adults (less-so from you).
I hope you all the best.
posted by stratastar at 10:26 AM on October 15, 2009

So your mother is basically refusing to be, you know, a mother? Ask your brother what he would prefer, but really, your father needs to tell your mother to get with the program here. If she won't do it your father can't move. Period. (I'm so sorry for how much stress this must be causing you, but actually, you are NOT a parent here and this situation should not be dependent upon you at all.)
posted by meerkatty at 10:28 AM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

The job I have now will be ending in June, and I have no promise of a new one, especially in this part of the country. I had plans to go to grad school next year, out of state. I'd have to put all of my plans on hold.

If this was me, I'd start looking at local grad schools. Having a free place to live would be a big plus in my book if I was not working anymore. I'm assuming that your dad will still pay most of the household bills including rent/mortgage.

Yes, I think your mom is being selfish, but you can't change that. I don't think you are being selfish, but I do think you should fully explore the options you would still have if you lived with your brother. You may be able to sublet the rest of your lease, or ask your dad to pay the rent for the rest of the time. Your mother should be able to keep enough of an eye on your brother to allow you to get away from time to time, or even just stay out late once a week. You don't have to act like a mother to your brother in every way. The two of you may end up more like roommates than parent/child and you will have a few unique experiences.

All of that said, don't beat yourself up if you don't do it. Your life is yours to do as you wish.
posted by soelo at 10:31 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

This may be unpopular, but:

Take one for the team. Two and a half years is not that long. Your path is clear, and an extra year or two delay toward your own goal is worth your brother's well being. What happens if you don't do it? What happens to your brother? Sure you are not responsible for his upbringing, per se, but it appears that life has conspired to thrust these circumstances upon you, and you have no choice but to take up the burden.
Will your brother's life be better for it? If the answer is yes, then you should do it.
There will be those that argue that your responsibility is nil, but there is the obligation that comes with birth order, which isn't of our choosing.

I guess that I should add that I am the oldest, and wish fiercely that I had intervened earlier than I did. I could have done two of my younger siblings a world of good if I had more of an influence in their life at an earlier age.
posted by msali at 10:32 AM on October 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

Something similar happened to a friend of mine - her father forced her to live with, and be responsible for her 15-year-old sister after her mother died. It did not go well.
posted by pinky at 10:35 AM on October 15, 2009

Your parents are pretty horrible for trying to foist this responsibility on you. I know you believe your father just wants "what's best for the family", but it's pretty clear he just wants what's best for him. And his enabling of your mother's narcissism is classic (and gross).

Tell them no, live your life, and have faith that your brother will escape your parents' clutches in one piece. It is not your responsibility to be your brother's mom. He already has parents, even if they're selfish assholes.

And by the way, I sincerely doubt it's mere coincidence that this is falling on your shoulders as you just so happen to planning on leaving the state next year. Looks like classic sabotage to me. Don't fall for their emotional blackmail and manipulations--get out while you still can and show your brother that it's possible to be a healthy, independent adult even if you grew up without decent adult role models.

So sorry you're going through this. Therapy will help, a lot, as will this book.
posted by balls at 10:37 AM on October 15, 2009 [9 favorites]

you are not your brother's keeper. your dad has admirable reasons for what he wants to do, but his primary resposibility is the child he has custody of. that's what custody is.

this does not mean he passes your brother off on you - you are young, not much older than your brother - you are right in thinking you are not the best role model - you are not a parent, you are a sibling, which is hardly an authority figure.

if your dad can afford to help mom with all those expenses, then maybe he could use that money instead for boarding school, as suggested by others. there would definitely be a great support group if he is academically challenged and he would have the kind of structure he needs a teenage boy.

hopefully your dad already thinks your are reasonable and responsible since he wants bro to live with you, so perhaps he will be understanding about this.

good luck to you! you need to be strong and firm and put yourself first in this case. make sure you let your brother know, through word and deed, that you care about him and want the best for him but you being a "parent" isn't in the best interest of either of you.
posted by sio42 at 10:39 AM on October 15, 2009

Your mom is being selfish. She took on responsibility for your brother when she decided to carry him to term. You are not your brother's keeper. Furthermore, you're not responsible for ensuring that your mother gets to live in the style to which she'd like to become accustomed (solo, comfortable with her budget, etc.).

Your dad is also being selfish in trying to pass on this responsibility to you. It was his responsibility to take care of your brother, provide food, housing, etc., and to make compromises in his lifestyle to accomodate that fact. As the custodial parent your dad has 3 choices: find someone responsible willing and able to care for your brother, take him along out of country, or turn down the job opportunity. Anything else is abdicating his responsibilities.

You have every right to say no and put the burden of caring for your brother squarely on those who volunteered for the job, your parents. If you decide that you are willing to become his guardian, you get to dictate the terms: where, when, for how long, what school, what curfew, etc. They don't get to dump him on you AND dictate the terms. They get one or the other, not both.

I feel sure your brother has an opinion on this, and he should be consulted. That doesn't mean he should get the final say, but he will be strongly affected by whatever decision is made. I feel for your brother, because it's almost certain he'll feel "pawned off" as a result of this. You're in a tough position here, and there is no good, easy solution. Best of luck.
posted by notashroom at 10:40 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look, I'm sorry but this IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. Two and a half years IS that long at this point in your life. It's potentially damaging your momentum and your own life plans for your father's benefit. He's able to change and it's his responsibility to; this is an imposition and far too much to ask of you.

While you may upset him temporarily to say no, it needs to be said. You need to explain to your brother your very valid reasons why, but it's your father who's the "bad guy" here, not you, and it's his responsibility.

Do NOT accept this. You will end up bitter and resentful. This is for your parents to work out, not for them to drag you into. Play possum if you need to, but please don't cave in to their insanely unreasonable and selfish demands. (Mom "doesn't think there's enough space"? Tough. Fucking. Shit. Narcissist or not, that's insane and SHE LIVES THERE AND IS ALIVE AND COULD HAVE THINGS PAID FOR. She doesn't get to control your life by virtue of pure selfishness.

This is a battle in selfishness between your two parents and they figure they can just lump it onto you and neither will have to break. Do not allow this.
posted by disillusioned at 10:41 AM on October 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

So let's imagine you do bite the bullet and decide to have your brother move in with you for two years or so while you put off your plans for grad school.

Are you prepared for the following scenario?

Dad doesn't come back
Mom moves farther or away or still doesn't want anything to do with the situation
Your brother graduates and doesn't pursue further education and cannot get a good enough job to support himself.
You and bro end up being even longer term roommates with you still carrying most of the burden of responsibility.

If that doesn't happen great but I could see that being a possible reality.

If I were in your shoes I'd tell your Mom to get over herself and take care of her child for a few more years esp. since your Dad is offering to pay for rent and hopefully sending some child support money.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:45 AM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

I agree with msali. Do it for your brother, if he and you will be better for it. I am the oldest too, and I have a parent that no one should live with.

Can you do it without acting like a martyr? That means asking yourself some hard questions like, can you do this without daily resentment at your parents and brother, and stop from acting it out? Even if you are tired and crabby? And get it really firmed up with your dad. When is the money coming to help out? Monthly? What happens if your brother has a medical emergency? Do you have medical power of attorney? And if you can't do it with a good attitude, you probably shouldn't.

Some parents have bad problems and we can end up in role reversals with them. It will happen with them anyhow when they are elderly.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:46 AM on October 15, 2009

If your parents really really really flake, which I don't think they will in the end, then you can step in. But I don't think you should agree to it right off the bat. Maybe tell your mother, "Mom, I'd be happy to take brother two weekends a month, but I'm too young to take care of your child. I really think it's your responsibility." Same message to dad. If it gets to the point of your parents actually dropping the ball (beyond just threatening), then you can play parent.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:48 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to admit that I have a tendency to side with msali on this one -- if there is incentive from your father to do so. This may sound mercenary, but I think that if he's going overseas to make money, not because he has to, then it's a perfectly reasonable expectation. If the situation were one where your dad was unable to care for your brother, I'd be suggesting the "take one for the team" approach, since I think that's how families should work. This is not that case, however, so financial recompense is completely acceptable, imho.

It's not clear from your post if your father is offering to provide any of this. However, if he is, I'd HIGHLY suggest that you explore your options for grad school locally -- you have an opportunity to go to grad school quite cheaply if this is the case.

Also, soelo hits it as well -- your father needs to negotiate some "you" time from your mother -- that's the absolute LEAST she could do, if she's not willing to actually fulfill her obligations as a parent.

Good luck -- I don't envy the difficult situation.
posted by liquado at 10:49 AM on October 15, 2009

Your mother's behavior is outrageous. Can your mother's behavior be changed?

I believe it is called child abandonment and it is illegal. It is a criminal act.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:51 AM on October 15, 2009 [7 favorites]

You can be supportive of your brother and a great role model for him without being his full-time parent. Be his place to escape to when he needs a break from Mom and Dad.

Your Mom and Dad need to work this out between themselves, and one or both of them will have to care for your brother. Dad leaving the country while simultaneously saying that your brother needs support and can't move sounds contradictory. Dad may have other options for dealing with debt. Dad may want to get away from Mom and younger son for a harder, but in some ways easier life.

At the same time, your Mom needs to be a Mom. This means making changes. Finding a place to live with room for a 15 year old son.

Maybe she really can't be a parent. It's possible. Maybe she's a full-time hard core drug addict, or abusive. I'm not saying she is, but maybe there are serious and untreatable reasons why she cannot be a good parent. In this case, she can call on her parents or siblings, or your dad can call on his parents or his siblings.

What I'm saying is that there are likely many solutions that do not require you to put your life on hold while your parents continue with theirs.

Right now, Dad's running away and so is Mom. That's not right for them to do to your brother or to you.
posted by zippy at 10:56 AM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

The two of you may end up more like roommates than parent/child and you will have a few unique experiences.

This could happen, but don't count on it. This is sort of what I envisioned when I took on the task of raising two brothers through their teens, and it is so not what happened. Those boys needed some intensive mothering, and the teens years are tough under the best of circumstances. I had to deal with rebellion, drinking, girl issues, won't do their homework issues, one ran away for awhile, there were visits to juvy, psychologists, etc., etc., etc. Seriously... I was about your age and I was really NOT ready to take all that on.

If I had it to do over again, I think I'd have let them go to a foster home and given them emotional support from the outside. I'm really not sure I did them any favors, and it really wore on my marriage and the parenting of my own child.

If your brother has any issues (and it sounds like he might, since he needs so much "support" in his schooling) please don't underestimate what you might be getting yourself into.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:56 AM on October 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

Right now, Dad's running away and so is Mom. That's not right for them to do to your brother or to you.

Zippy and everyone else who sees this as not 'being right', or 'mom and dad need to step up', I wish I could explain just how it can be to have parents who should have never been parents in the first place, and others are left to clean up after they have failed at being parents. More often then not, this burden is placed upon the elder children, and it doesn't even really matter whether it is fair or unfair, right or wrong. It just is. It's life. The OP sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders. She sounds intelligent, loving, clear-minded and unselfish. She sounds like the adult child of irresponsible parents. She sounds like the best person for the job, like it or not.
posted by msali at 11:03 AM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is Not. Your. Responsibility.

It sounds like a completely sucky situation, but your parents need to step up and be, well, parents. If your mother is being ridiculous, your father has a responsibility to stay in town. THE END. Stay out of it, don't discuss it, don't argue about, step back and remember that this is not your job.

Did I mention?: Not. Your. Problem.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:08 AM on October 15, 2009

If you consider doing this, you need to have a clear understanding with your parents as to what level of authority and decision-making you will have. It sounds as if your dad is looking at you as a free nanny--you supervise and care for his kid, he makes the major decisions about the kid's life--but if you're truly going to be the primary caretaker of a 15-year-old boy for two years, you need to have your legal rights/responsibilities ironed out and you need to have an understanding with your parents that you are authorized to make decisions on your own behalf and for your brother.

I don't know if you should or shouldn't take your brother in. You're in an incredibly hard situation. However, it cannot be good for your brother to have one person making decisions for him from afar (your dad) while his actual caretaker and supposed authority figure (you) lacks any power to make decisions or really be an authority for him. I know it makes sense on some level for him to remain in a good school situation, but if you're literally taking him in and acting as his guardian for two years with minimal support and participation from Dad, you need to have the right to find alternative ways to provide your brother with a good home and school situation if and when you need to move for your own school/career.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:08 AM on October 15, 2009

You seem to be cutting your father a LOT of slack in this situation, and I think you should reexamine that: it seems he is being the most selfish of anyone! He is the custodial parent and has the responsibility first and foremost. Just because working in a different country might be a chance to make more money, obviously that should not be an option because he has a child at home to be responsible for! He can't just decide to dump him on whomever because he has this whim of taking a foreign job. Sorry if that is harsh, but I'm not sure why you are so willing to put blame on your mother and even yourself.

It is admirable that you would consider this, and of course, it feels frustrating that your mother is apparently incabable of taking on a better parenting role, but you are not obligated to do this at all. Putting your schooling plans on hold would be a very bad idea.

It seems to me, that the only option would be if your brother would want to relocate with you so that you can continue your plans and support him along the way: IF that is truly acceptable to you and if your brother would adjust to that. If not, then your father needs to make other career plans.
posted by Eicats at 11:10 AM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

In your parents' decisions to offload parenting on you, did they ever consider that your brother might not even respond to you as a parent? I'm 24 with a younger brother just entering college, and he would never ever accept me as a parent figure. If your parents really believe what they say about your brother needing the right support system to succeed, part of that picture is an authority figure he will listen to. You might not be able to provide that even if you wanted to.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:11 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

oh: I guess charmedimsure said it best!
posted by Eicats at 11:11 AM on October 15, 2009

My answer is based on the assumption that your dad taking this job really is what's best for your family, and that your mom can't be persuaded to stop being so outrageously selfish:

I think a lot of the answers here are taking a very narrow view of family responsibility. In much of the world, it is commonplace for older siblings to help raise younger siblings in times of economic necessity or parental flake-out. Yes, it is a sacrifice, but in your case I don't think it necessarily will derail your life plan, and in fact may end up being a big economic boost to you, since you can receive free room and board while attending grad school locally. If the above assumptions are accurate, then it would be the right thing to do.
posted by HotToddy at 11:13 AM on October 15, 2009

Both of your parents are trying to hoist their responsibilities, ie raising your brother, onto you. It's not like either one of them are incapacitated, or unable to properly care for your brother. It is just no longer convenient for them to do so. They don't like the situation anymore, so they're leaving you to pick up the pieces. You don't have to be their patsy, you don't have to go along with their immature, selfish behaviour. What you need to do is live your life. You are not the selfish one here -- they are. Remember that.

This is not your responsibility. You can be the worlds most fantastic big brother, but you are not the parent here. You never will be, at least not to your brother. How will you react the first time your brother pulls the "You can't tell me what to do, you're not my dad!!!" line?
posted by cgg at 11:13 AM on October 15, 2009

I can't give you any answers with regards to who should be your brother's guardian/landlord/whatever. The only thing I can say here is please, please, please make sure that you are there for your brother and let him know that you love him. He's at the age where he can probably understand why you wouldn't want to be his guardian but still feel a sense of "nobody wants me" VERY acutely. Any teenager of that age has a hard enough time with that in a normal family and social setting.

Let him know that even if you are not his primary guardian, you will have a place he can go when things get tough. Take him out and help him shop sometimes. LISTEN TO HIM. Basically, be the cool aunt/uncle. Show him that there are people out there who do just fine playing by the rules and caring about each other.

Also, I am not necessarily advocating going through your area's foster system, but I had a friend in high school who had a fairly nontraditional foster parent setup. I think it was just that his parents, who were pretty well-to-do, were just so ridiculously high-pressure that he couldn't live with them anymore, so he lived with some random family near school. He was a good kid, they were pretty decent people, and everybody kept up contact with everybody else. So maybe there's some family out there, perhaps recent empty-nesters or something, who aren't necessarily parents of his friends but who would be willing to help you out. Go through a church, talk to parents of your own friends, etc.

But above all... remember that you can't provide him with the kind of support he needs if you can't take care of yourself first. This is the best lesson he can learn for himself, too.
posted by Madamina at 11:15 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wish I could explain just how it can be to have parents who should have never been parents in the first place, and others are left to clean up after they have failed at being parents. ... The OP sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders. She sounds intelligent, loving, clear-minded and unselfish. She sounds like the adult child of irresponsible parents. She sounds like the best person for the job, like it or not.

I'm not seeing anything in the OP's description that suggests that the OP is more capable of being a parent than the mother is.

The fact that the OP sounds like an upstanding person based on the paragraphs she wrote up about the situation doesn't really mean much. We don't know these people; the OP does. The OP said that her mother is "probably not the best parental figure for my brother, but then again, I don’t think I’d be a good one either." I think we should defer to her in this assessment.

Also, the OP is 24 years old and has never been a parent as far as we know. I assume the mother is in her 40s or 50s and has been a parent for at least 16 years. These facts alone suggest that the mother would be a better -- ahem -- mother.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:16 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh one more thing: I second Ironmouth and disagree with everyone characterizing the situation as very "complicated." It doesn't seem very complicated to me: don't do what you're being asked to do.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:17 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

So I'm of two minds on this. It's hard, because I relate to you and to your brother.

Relating to you:

If your mom doesn't want to move again, then worst case scenario your bro lives in her living room for 2 years while he rounds out high school. It'd suck, but it's not like he'd be homeless. Lots of kids have to live in cramped quarters. Hell, I lived in my sister's living room for the summer before my senior year and it wasn't an issue.

Your brother deserves a good life, and so do you. You can be a role model for him, but you can't be his dad and you shouldn't be forced into the position of doing so. So your mom had kids young and couldn't live her own life? TS. That was her decision. Now you make yours: do YOU want to allow yourself to be in the position of having a teenage kid when you're 25?

Relating to your brother:

I lived with my sister for my senior year of high school. She moved into a 2-bedroom apartment, which she paid for with money from my uncle. It was a sacrifice for her. It was also the right thing to do, as my dad wasn't in the picture and my mom couldn't take care of me (borderline personality disorder), and this gave me a year of seeing at least quasi-functional family life up close before going to college. I'm so so so thankful she did this, because it involved me moving across the country and getting to know the rest of the family on my mom's side (my mom's the black sheep).

That said! It was HER idea to get me out, and she pushed my uncle and aunt and talked with them about it until they all, together, decided on who I should live with and how the money would be ponied up etc. She wasn't giving up her dreams to care for me, either. She lived in the same apartment complex, just upgraded to a two-bedroom. She worked the same job. She hadn't had plans to move or change much of anything in her life for the next year. She was also older, around 30 years old. Also, I was easy. I had some control issues re wanting my space to be a safe area, etc., but academically I excelled and didn't have any special needs. Though, I will say that she didn't know I wouldn't have major problems going in, she didn't know me too well and I know it was a very risky proposition from her side of things. Also, one year is very different from two years. Also, she had my aunt and uncle around for extra support.

In general:

You seem to feel like this is all out of your control. Let me correct that -- You don't "have objections" to a plan that's being laid out for you. If you just have objections, you're already accepting that this is the plan. No. They shouldn't even be asking you to do this, and it most definitely is not a foregone conclusion that you will, such that you'd have some "objections" to it. Similarly, you feel like this "isn't fair". You're phrasing it like a kid. Their request is *unreasonable*, not unfair. Something unfair happens to you. This is not something that is happening to you, unless you let it. So, realize that you ultimately decide, and then live with, whether you stay or go. Further, if you DO accept your brother into your home, you cannot ever complain about it in front of him, argue with your dad about money in front of him, and you must be there for him academically and socially if he needs it. Consider whether you have enough self control not to do this over the course of two years of constantly sharing your space. Also, consider what affect, if any, having womenfolk over might have on your brother, and what affect he might have on them.

Finally, be sure to ask the questions others have laid out above, I think mareli's are really good ones, but do keep in mind that what you do is in your control. Not your parents'. They have absolutely no say in whether you keep your plans and obligations to yourself or not. Be careful of postponing plans or of not moving -- If you start breaking commitments to yourself in order to take on the load for others, are you going to be bitter and resentful 20 years from now? Are you going to be saying "now it's my turn, finally" instead of giving up everything for your own children? People get fatigued by things like this, and you do need to protect yourself.

I wish I had a simple answer for you. Unfortunately, this is just really a complex situation that depends on you. Mostly, just remember that what you do is for you to decide, based on your rational assessment, and not based on pressure.
posted by lorrer at 11:17 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I assume the mother is in her 40s or 50s and has been a parent for at least 16 years.

Of course, I should have said "at least 24 years."

posted by Jaltcoh at 11:21 AM on October 15, 2009

She sounds like the best person for the job, like it or not.

Really? Let's compare. The OP is:

-not the boy's mother
-not a mother herself
-leaving the state next year

compared to the father, who is:

-a grown-ass man
-financially capable of supporting his son AND his son's mother, if she weren't a crazy bitch

Maybe he doesn't want to take care of his teenaged son anymore, but you know what? Tough shit. He chose to be a father, and now he can see it through to fruition. After all, as I'm sure he's told OP while trying to pressure her to do this, it's only a couple of years. He needs to fulfill his obligations instead of trying to pawn them off on his daughter.
posted by balls at 11:22 AM on October 15, 2009 [7 favorites]

My maternal grandmother died when my mother was 13, and her alcoholic father bailed on the family. My mom's oldest sister took on the responsibilities of the family (my mom was the youngest of four) and it made a huge difference in my mom's life to have a stable guardian in her life. So if I were in your shoes, I would do it. Yes, it's not fair to you, but the benefit your brother may receive from it would, I think, outweigh the trouble caused to you.
posted by Ruki at 11:24 AM on October 15, 2009

msali, above you call out my answer, and I'd like to add to it in response. It is not the poster's sole responsibility to take care of the sibling, and it sounds like the parents have not explored all the (reasonable) options.

Perhaps they are absolutely unable to, but we do not know this. Perhaps instead it is because they have an out - rather than explore difficult options (dealing with debt in a way that excludes traveling abroad for years, for one example) they can put everything on the responsible older child.

Pushing back is one way to find out. So, what would they do if the older sibling didn't take on full time parenting? Perhaps they would then shoulder the burden themselves. Perhaps they would find a way to get more experienced relatives to take on the responsibility, perhaps more of the extended family would be involved.

Perhaps, and this is really a hypothetical, the sibling is so difficult to care for that not even an experienced parent could do a good job (mental or emotional issues), and that's why neither Mom nor Dad want to be present.

I don't know. We don't know.

By pushing back, everyone (Mom, Dad, and the family as a whole) must consider more options than "let's forget about this child and let the older sibling raise him."

On other cultures, where siblings raise kids, there may be a whole network of family and a cultural worldview to make this possible (everyone around chips in). In this case, it sounds like the extended family has not yet been called in.

You have options here. I am sure that the court agreement for custody says who the kid has to be with. Do you think your Dad and Mom could explain to the judge who wrote the order why neither of them care to raise the child?

If they cannot, then why can they expect you to?
posted by zippy at 11:27 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why are people comparing this situation to child abandonment? The OP's father HAS A CHOICE about going out of the country to work. This isn't a case where the parents have died or run off and the eldest has to step up and lead the family. This is a case where the parents are making choices as though they don't have the responsibility to parent. If the OP bows to her father's wishes, she's just enabling this irresponsible behavior and both she and her brother will suffer.

Don't do it.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:36 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is not your responsibility.

I would like to say though, that with whatever happens, be sure to be there for your brother. He needs a sister no matter what. So when you go off to grad school or whatever make sure to keep in close contact and to visit him what not.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 11:39 AM on October 15, 2009

He’s sacrificed a lot and he just wants what’s best for our family.

This, in particular, struck me. What's best for your family is to NOT abandon his son and force his daughter into a parental role just because he got a good deal on some contract work out of the country.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:42 AM on October 15, 2009

This is really tough. I think you need to sit down, the four of you, in a family meeting, and lay all options and preferences on the table, but with the clear understanding that the final compromise is whatever is best for your brother. I don't think there is any way to please all parties here.

I do not agree with the posters upthread that you shouldn't be asked to do this. When I was a little younger than you I had the option to drop out of school to take care of my fatally ill mother, and I have regretted for 30 years that I did not do this, but instead let her basically die alone in a hospital. I was young; my life would have gotten back on track.

The options seem to be:

• Dad takes job, takes brother with him.
• Dad postpones job until brother is out of high school (if he can).
• Dad takes job, leaves brother with mother, in an apartment big enough for both of them (can they move into your Dad's place? Mom pays what she was paying for the smaller apt, with Dad picking up the rest. Although I have to say, your mother sounds like a piece of work.)
• Dad takes job, leaves brother with you. You either take him with you to grad school, or postpone full matriculation until brother graduates HS, or find a graduate program closer to his current home (back to the why-not-move-into-Dad's-place question).

I look at that and I see two really good solutions-- either you, or mom, living in Dad's house with bro. I know you've probably got a lot of emotional history in this and are probably sick to death of the bullshit, but think about the history you'll be sparing your brother.

Hope it all works out. Blessed be.
posted by nax at 11:50 AM on October 15, 2009

I will add that if you can milk dad for tuition to grad school in your area, if you decide to care for your brother in all of this, you should do it, since that'd be the best thing for you.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:54 AM on October 15, 2009

Your parents are the parents. Until he's 18, they have legal and moral responsibility for your brother's well-being.

Just because they'd rather be off doing other things doesn't mean that the Universe, the Law, or you have to accommodate them.

Nor does it mean that accommodating their preferences is likely to be viewed in hindsight as a good idea.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:06 PM on October 15, 2009

Seconding balls-- I'm kind of surprised that so many of the responses focus on whether you should look after your brother, without addressing the (to me) more fundamental question of whether you're even capable of so doing.

We're not talking about a dogsitting gig, here. We're talking about a teenage male with existing issues (definitely academic, possibly behavioral as well), about to enter a period in his life that will be critical for his long-term professional and personal success. The stakes are really high, not just for OP, but for her brother.

You sound like a sensible person, but you're also a 24-year-old (girl?). How will you guide him through the next few years? How will you feel if you take on this responsibility and he gets someone pregnant, or gets into drugs, or is convicted of a crime, or ends up dropping out of school-- and what resources do you have for helping him if he gets into any of those situations? You're not a parent, so you don't even have authority to make medical decisions for him-- and maybe Mom is around now, but with no formal responsibility for his welfare, she could skip town tomorrow, leaving you in the lurch.

Your brother doesn't need a housekeeper or a babysitter; he needs a parent, and that's just not you. If neither Mom nor Dad will step up, then either foster care or boarding school seems like the way to go.
posted by Bardolph at 12:11 PM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

This is eerily too close-to-home for me. In fact you're the same age as me and my brother the same age as yours.

My own father abandoned our family (two teenage daughters and an elementary school-aged son) after being in and out of our lives year in, year out (he also did contract work around the globe, but even when he was at home their relationship was tumultuous as they were parents before they wanted to be as well). My mother, never one to stand up for herself to begin with, decided that when he finally left for "good" that she was throwing in the towel and slowly started falling apart; little by little taking less and less responsibility for our brother and blaming us for "not caring" about him. A very "if I'm going down, I'm taking everyone with me!" sort of mentality.

I realized in my mid-teens that life at home was taking even more of a nosedive than it had been all along, and began isolating myself as much as I could. By the time I was 18 I was living with my then-boyfriend and rarely ever seeing or hearing from anyone in my family.

When I did it was nasty emails and voicemails about how selfish I am and "how could I do this" to my little brother. I told them time and time again that whenever I brought them back into my lives, it dragged me down. Whenever I held out a hand they'd pull my entire arm in. I told them I was living for myself and providing for me what they could never provide for any of us, and if I ever found a way to help them once I was afloat, I would. But I'm not so sure anymore.

At the end of the day, you realize "How can you as the parent do this to all of your children?" I think about this every day, and every day it continues to further blow my mind because I can't imagine ever willingly to put a child in that position, and furthermore act a victim and do nothing to resolve it.

Now my case is a little different because my brother has a social development disorder, so it's hard to really relay any of this kind of stuff to him, no less any sort of apology for not being able to do more. I don't know what he does or does not pick up on, and for some reason he thought that people were moving out of the house "when it was time for them to die." He still acts surprised when I come to visit every few months (when my mother isn't there), although I don't think that mindset is still in place.

Hopefully your brother is a lot more in-tune with what is going on than everyone gives him credit for and can fend for himself for the most part -- after school activities/classes/video games with friends, but the fact that your mother doesn't just get a futon and get over it is absolutely beyond me. As far as your father's devotion to his family (monetarily anyway), I can understand his position to want to take work no matter where it is so that he can at least provide, in some way, for you guys. It was the route my father took, and while I didn't understand it when I was young, I had the invaluable opportunity to be able to see him again and really get to know him and why he did what he did. I don't forgive him, but I can put it in a better perspective.

I'm not very close with my sister because my mother made us out to be enemies for "choosing sides" between who is in the right between our mother and father (neither of them are, but she lied to us throughout our childhood in order to look the better person). I don't know how things are between you and yours, but I've found that being calm while she kicks and screams and argues with me until she gets it all out helps. Then you can try to hash it out like adults. We basically have a heart-to-heart once or twice a year before going back to not being civil with each other. Obviously he isn't going to heed your advice 100% and he may not even take anything you say seriously the first few times around.

This sucks, but be patient. Do well for yourself and you will see that while it may take time, he will be inspired by you. No one else knows your family as well as you two do and you will keep coming back to each other, thick or thin.

This is such a terrible situation, but I can somewhat relate. If you'd like to get in touch, please MeMail me :)
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:19 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine was in a similar situation when she was around 17 - torn between divorced parents with no place that she could really live - so her dad rented a little bachelor/guest room that was in the same apartment building as he lived in. It worked pretty well (she loved it) *but* she was a mature, independent girl, doing well at school and holding down a part-time job as a lifeguard - she didn't need that much parenting. It sounds like your brother does need guidance - and is very likely to see living with you as a "whee! I'm free!" situation, and run kinda wild - trampling over you in the process.

If you lay down rules, will he respect them? what authority will you have over him, in his eyes, and in your parent's eyes? If things don't go well, will you have a way out? these are the sorts of questions you need to think about before getting into this situation, because you're both at stages ion your lives that a bad living situation can have a huge negative impact on both your lives. Personally, I'd never agree to it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:33 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's not your responsibility to be a parent, but you can be a good sister. Talk to your brother. He got a raw deal with your mom and probably with your dad. Let him know that you're there to listen and to help when you can. But also let him know that living with you isn't the best choice for either of you.

Providing for a minor child is a parent's responsibility. As everyone said, Mom and Dad need to step up to the plate. That applies to the their treatment of you also. It's incredibly selfish of your father to ask you to uproot you entire life for his convenience. Wants you to take his responsibilities for 2.5 years because he doesn't want to talk to your Mom? WTF?

Your parents are going to be there for a long time to make wacky requests. Make the next few decades of your life a lot easier. Demonstrate to your parents that you can set and maintain appropriate boundaries. Then teach your brother to do the same.
posted by 26.2 at 12:49 PM on October 15, 2009

In reality, you cannot put your life on hold for 2 and a half years.

You will be resentful of it afterwards. Make a list of things that you are likely to be putting on hold if you do this: education, friendships, growth, romance, maybe starting your own family, jobs, travel, meeting new people, living in new cities, personal development, etc. It's not like you will be spending every waking minute taking care of your brother but if you are working and doing this it will consume your life.

It is not selfish of you to what these things, your life and growth is your responsibility, your brother is your parents' responsibility.
posted by bdc34 at 12:55 PM on October 15, 2009

I assume when you say 'going overseas as a contractor' we're not talking about Paris or Aruba. (If we are, then skip the rest of this and have him take your brother with you. It'll be a fantastic experience for him.)

I've worked in a lot of foreign crapholes because the money was good, even if everything else sucked. I was fortunate enough to do it before I started a family and would only consider it these days if I was in dire straits, which, since your father is in debt, he may be. A lot of the guys I worked with had families back home, it wasn't easy for them, but a few years as a welder in the Nigerian Delta meant a big difference in quality of life for the family over being a welder in Manchester or Arkansas or wherever else these guys were from.

Even if it were allowed, which most of the time it isn't I wouldn't bring a teenager to any of the places I worked. Where there are schools, he's not going to get any support there. Where he's even allowed off the company compound, he's going to be in 10 different types of shit, literally and metaphorically, before he gets half way up the street.

In my case my work abroad got me out of debt quick and gave me a comfortable emergency cushion. That was my goal. My Granddad spent the first few years of his married life building dams, a long way from home. His whole paycheck went straight to my Grandma every week, minus whatever building materials he'd bought at cost through the company that week. On his trips home he'd work on the house. After a few years he was able to spend the rest of his life taking care of his family in the beautiful house he'd built.

I'm guessing your dad would much rather stay home and take care of his parental duties, but sometimes the need to provide for your family conflicts with your need to be there for them. It also sounds like your Mom has checked out, which, unfortunately, leaves you. Make sure there's an end goal in this for the family and know how you'll benefit, is this going to allow your Dad to pay for your tuition, for example? Finally, your dad probably has an out in his contract, talk to him about it and under what circumstances he'd be able to invoke it if you weren't able to cope.
posted by IanMorr at 1:00 PM on October 15, 2009

Keep in mind that if you take on this huge responsibility then every time there is an issue regarding your brother requiring communication between the three of you you will be faced with: tight deadlines preventing a reasonable appraisal, guilt, acting as go-between your parents, and hiding information from the other parent. They aren't acting like adults in this situation and there is no reason to believe their problem solving skills are going to improve once you have taken their immediate worry off their hands. As your mother is concerned with your father losing his job and he has a lot of debt, I wonder too if he has a history of financial irresponsibility that may endanger your own precarious financial situation.
posted by saucysault at 1:06 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your dad could put his plans on hold for 2.5 years.

You could live w/ your brother, save a lot of money because your mom and dad are responsible for your brother and his expenses, which include having someone take care of him. Is your dad really going to make so much that it will cover all household expenses, incl. rent/mortgage, food, car & insurance, etc? Because that is the only deal that's even remotely fair to you. And at that point, it's an opportunity to save money for grad school, as well as make sure your brother is properly taken care of. It's family, and money is not the prime issue, but it's still an issue.

If you do this, talk to a lawyer to be sure you have good documentation. What if your brother requires medical care, or gets arrested? There has to be a solid plan in place. And your mom has to agree to it so things don't get more difficult. She could change her mind and assert parental rights. It's a minefield.
posted by theora55 at 2:20 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Once again it is difficult to see the OPs question for all of the baggage piled up in this hallway.

First of all, if the father is looking at a pile of debt and a kid to put through college in 2 years, then going off to the UAE for a 2.5 year contact may be the very best, most responsible decision that can be made for this family. So maybe a little less shock and horror and a little a more "there but for the grace of God" may be in order here.

Second of all, if the mother is unwilling to take responsibility for her teenage son, nobody can make her.

Look, Anonymous, if both your parents were killed, you'd pick up the slack and make this work. (The idea that you are not responsible for your underage siblings is silly. You are, though most of us don't have to take up that responsibility and it is always inconvenient.)

However, I would make very sure of two things. First of all, if you are inclined to find a way to make this work, I'd insist you be treated as an adult and that your father share with you the full financial situation - the debt, the income from the contract, and the plan or no deal. You need to make sure there is enough money to cover rent, expenses, and possibly a six or seven week summer programme for your brother each summer to give you some respite. If there is enough money to pay you a stipend for childcare, or there is even enough to get your grad school costs covered, this could work out well for you in the long term.

Draw up a legal agreement with your dad, and also make sure that you have full legal guardianship for your brother. Find out about insurance coverage for your brother.

Second of all, I'd sit down with your brother and tell him you understand how much this sucks for him, but that you want to make sure the solution all of you work out doesn't end up sucking more. Make sure he knows this is something you're willing to do for him and for your family and that you need him to be on board. Discuss rules, how you'll change them, what you'll do when you come into conflict, and maybe have a monthly family therapy meeting to clear the air and get some more support with resolution.

This is doable, and if you can set it up in such a way that you want to do it, it could be good for you. If it works out so that your food and shelter are taken care of and you have freedom to do something 5 days a week - either paid employment or something you've always wanted to do that could contribute to your career - this could be a challenging but positive experience for you. It does depend a lot on your brother's personality, but I could have made this work with any of my siblings if I'd had to.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:24 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

The idea that you are not responsible for your underage siblings is silly. You are, though most of us don't have to take up that responsibility and it is always inconvenient.

In our society, the idea that you are not responsible for your underage siblings is not only NOT silly, it's a fact. You are not legally responsible for them. Even if your parents both died, you would not automatically be responsible for your underage siblings. It'd be one thing if that was the situation, or if both parents were in jail or sick or whatever, but there are other solutions here.

Any parent that would choose to leave the rearing of their teenage son up to a 24-year-old who is not and does not want to be a parent is not thinking clearly, frankly. Sure he can feed himself, dress himself, goes to school all day, etc., but teenagers need a lot of discipline a lot of the time, and do you want to be responsible for all that? Signing permission slips, getting calls from other parents if your brother acts up, going to school events? It's not really fair to you or your brother. Your dad really needs to think better on how to do this. If he can afford to support you while you raise your brother for over two years, he can afford to send him to boarding school (even if it's in your town so he can see your mom and you), or take him with if there's an American school.
posted by ishotjr at 3:43 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

DarlingBri that's ridiculous. I can't even begin to list all the ways that would have made life worse for everyone around me if I were the guardian of my two younger siblings, especially with family dynamics like mine.

Our parents' lack of responsibility and our biological relation to such a person shouldn't equate to us living a less than fulfilling life so that they can pretend to go back to the way things were without us. I'm sure we'd all like to believe in some Disney BS with kids in a log cabin out in the valley, singing while they do chores and frolicking around the forest telling each other scary stories around the fire, but that's not how things are. Stopping a young adult's life abruptly so that their mother can skip out while their dad tries to keep ends meeting.. that's something else entirely. That's not to say the OP's mom isn't successfully making enough money to support them but it sounds like she doesn't want to.
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:20 PM on October 15, 2009

We can agree to disagree on this. I understand you are not legally responsible, but I find the idea that grown adults are morally and familialy responsible for their younger siblings to be far less objectionable that the upthread suggestion that this teenager be put in foster care so that everyone can absolve themselves of responsibility for him.

In terms of what is fair and what is unfair, I'm not interested. Most of life is unfair, but adults step up the plate and do what has to be done. Is it fair that adults care for their aging parents because they failed to earn or save adquately for old age? No. But you do what needs to be done, unpaletable though it may be.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:26 PM on October 15, 2009

Having lived with parents who wanted no part of parenting, I can see a virtue in his being able to live with you. Sixteen is not a great age, but might be much easier than say thirteen...
I can't agree with those who are calling the dad selfish - if he has debts that he is trying to square away, and wants to be in a better position to provide financially, in this economy he doesn't necessarily have a lot of options. Working abroad for a few years has helped many people to dig their way out of financial holes, and he seems to have made it clear that he will send back as much of that money as is necessary to continue to support the family back home. It's easy to call someone out when you haven't had to make that kind of tough call yourself. Ogg my high horse now...

For the sake of finding the lemonade in these lemons, let's maybe look at it this way: school is hellishly expensive in the states. If you agree to take on the care of your brother for the next few years, and if your father is willing to support you financially in that time, would it be at all possible to use this financial cushion to do a couple of years of study locally? Maybe you can get your degree nearby, or maybe you can use those two years to study other subjects that will benefit you in your chosen field - it's a rare luxury to have the financial support to be able to give yourself extra grounding in your chosen field. This might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
posted by Billegible at 5:39 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

DarlingBri - I can see your point, but her parents aren't deceased. They are able to parents and want to opt out and draft the OP to do their job. That's not how parenting works.

Also, it seems unreasonable to decide the the OP must move to care for her brother. There are other good schools - perhaps even one near her proposed graduate school. Refusing to allow her to consider other options is silly. If he trusts her to be the parent for 2.5 years, then she can make assessments about schools. Her father wants her to drop her own life AND do it on precisely his terms.

Dad may need money; lots of people do. Most of those people don't bail on their kids.

Like I said, I can see the point. If they were dead, then things would be different but they're not.
posted by 26.2 at 9:22 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most of the 24 year old's I know would be totally incapable of taking care of a teenage kid. I think this is a pretty dangerous scenario for both you and your brother.

On the other hand, if you can handle it, it could be amazing. You'll develop a very special bond with your brother. That's gold.

It's so sad your mother isn't willing to look after your brother. Unfortunately, that says it all. She's almost certainly not fit to.

Either your father gives up this opportunity, or you go to grad school a year late. To me, this isn't an issue at all, and the time spent with your brother would be so worth it in the long run. In fact, that you would even think a year is any kind of big deal speaks to how young you are. I am a lot more concerned that at 24 you won't be able to take care of him.

If you do take this on, come up with some ironclad ground rules with your brother. Write them down. Know that there will be times when this situation is the worst, and times where it's the best.

I wish you the best of luck. Despite what everyone says above, this is your problem. Family is your problem, and dealing with it is what separates the men from the boys so to speak. It may not be fair, but you may have to be the one person in your family that does not abandon your brother.
posted by xammerboy at 10:09 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

First of all, you may be more capable of taking care of your brother than your parents are, but that doesn't necessarily make you capable to take care of your brother. You're 24 years old, and you don't have the position of authority that comes with being his parent.

Second, I'd advise you to ask yourself two questions:

1) when you and your brother hit a rough patch while you're living together, who is going to help you through it? Can you rely on them to help?

2) what if things really go wrong while the two of you are living together. Let's say your brother runs away from home, or gets in trouble with the police, or gets seriously ill, or gets addicted to drugs. Who will you turn to? Can you rely on them to help?

If your answer to either of this questions is "nobody", "no" or "I don't know", please do not go through with this.

Best of luck.
posted by rjs at 8:28 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Butterfly hands   |   Holy Shit, that Incoming Plane is Getting Big! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.