Moving back to my hometown - can I help my brother get out of a rut?
August 3, 2016 6:11 AM   Subscribe

My brother is generally a caring, generous, talented, and thoughtful guy. He is also almost the definition of "stuck in a rut" - partially due to bad luck (recession), but probably more due to impulsive/emotional behavior - moodiness, impulse buys, little white lies, throwing his smartphone when angry, got a DUI not long ago, etc. It's hard to watch because he works hard (if very disorganized), is at times brilliantly self-aware. But can't seem to find his footing, and still lives with my parents.

He's been there most of his life. They don't support him financially except that he lives rent-free. Although he's out a lot, it's still a tense atmosphere, especially between him and my father. The above-mentioned moodiness makes my brother quite difficult to live with at times - he can be very self-centered and rude, and takes my parents for granted more often than not (barely does household chores for example).

But he is aware of these problems and does make an effort. It is just inconsistent. I highly suspect my brother may have some "untreated condition X" that fuels the situation, but it's hard to tease out from just "being stuck at home at 30 and regressed to teenage years."

I've been living quite a distance from them the past decade, and what I see during visits home makes me increasingly concerned for my brother/family. Especially after his recent (first) DUI, he seems so... defeated. He barely talks and is ruder than ever to my parents (who drove him around while his license was suspended).

Now I'm moving back to my hometown with my spouse. Although I'm angry at my brother for treating my parents badly, and it's tempting to lash into him, I know that it's just not going to help the situation at all. Even though some of his difficulties come from his own choices, he is doing his best.
I'd really much rather be a positive part of his life and offer to help him out somehow. Non-financially, with ZERO expectations that he will actually change of course. I get the impression that he looks up to me and might welcome some guidance.

I have two ideas that I'd love to get AskMeFi's feedback on:

Idea 1: Help my brother develop and stick to a plan to move out of my parent's house, and help him stay moved out.

He desperately wants this, but doesn't seem to have the organizational skills to manage it. I would be happy to work with him as a buddy to make a financial plan/timeline (finances at whatever level of openness he feels comfortable with), and then meeting regularly to stick with it - celebrate milestones, talk over setbacks. I also have some financial goals for myself that we could incorporate, so that it's not all about his situation (which might feel more like "policing").

Idea 2: Help him get assessed for possible mental health issues.

This one is trickier for me, since I wouldn't know how to go about this practically. I do know that I've struggled with milder versions of similar problems, and there was a book that really helped me. When reading it, some of the anecdotes could have been from his own life. I've thought about suggesting it to him, and maybe going through some of the quizzes together.

Thanks for reading, I know it's long. I'd really appreciate any feedback or advice you MeFites could give about what might work, or what has worked for you in similar situations.
posted by puppet_made_of_sock to Human Relations (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in a similar situation. The problem is my mother, not my brother. She has gone behind my back and undone everything that I have done to try and get him on his own. I've had to just let go of the idea that he will ever be on his own while she is alive. I can see her trying to do the same thing to my adult son. Thankfully, he sees it too and he fights against it as much as he can.

Understand that the situation that your brother is in is not all his own choosing. To have your parent treat you like a child is emotionally damaging. He may not be able to get out of it. If you want to help him, build him up as much as you can without mothering him. Give him ideas of things to do but leave it to him to pursue them. Offer advice when asked, and only then. Lead by example. Do not do any of the things that your parents have done. Do not hand him money or give him a place to stay. Do not do anything that suggests that he can't take care of himself and don't give him a hard time when he fails.
posted by myselfasme at 6:37 AM on August 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think it's going to be so great for him to have you around. Some people really need mentoring or at least knowledgeable, caring friends to discuss plans with before they can put them into action.

This is totally my bias speaking but I'd suggest that when you come to town you have him over regularly for dinner, without your parents, just to get to know adult-him better and learn what's on his mind. Listen first, then by all means be a mentor/prop to help him wrap his head around #1, a road-to-moving-out plan. Of course, if he brings up the mental health stuff, by all means help with that, but I would stay away from that unless you see - after observing regularly for a while - that #1 won't happen without it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:37 AM on August 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

Can you give some more info? How old is he? What's his educational history? Does he work? Socialize? Date? Have hobbies? Do your parents work?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:46 AM on August 3, 2016

Response by poster: Sure, yes I said yes I will Yes - I don't want to give away too many identifying details, but to answer your questions:

He's 30 years old, has a Bachelor's degree, works as a freelancer in a creative field, makes probably something above the poverty line but not much.
He's an extrovert and does socialize, but has lost good friends over time due to them moving away/moving on in life (for example, years ago some friends didn't want to stop binge drinking, he did).
Dating - that's been a crazy roller coaster for him the past few years. He was single for a while but he's currently very casually dating someone.
Hobbies - I'm not too sure at the moment what they are, and I think he doesn't have too many of them
Parents - they are both retired, but are busy with their hobbies/interests (volunteering for example).

By the way thanks for the replies so far :-)
posted by puppet_made_of_sock at 7:00 AM on August 3, 2016

It's entirely possible that you being there to encourage and support him will get him to pursue treatment for what is at the very least probably serious clinical depression. It can be very hard, when you're in the middle of it, to even take the first step of seeing a GP for a basic physical and a chat, especially so for men.

If you can encourage (and maybe pay) and help build a narrative that hey, man, you clearly aren't feeling 100%, what if all this blah is just a vitamin deficiency or a thyroid thing that will totally turn around with basic medicine? Just promise me you'll be honest with the doctor about how you've been feeling, and consider bringing up antidepressants if he doesn't? You can get most of the starter options at Target/Walmart for $5.

You can't do any of it for him, but you can be a voice of reason. I think you should address that long before you start trying to be a financial coach, because none of that's going to work as long as he's deeply engaged in self-defeating behaviors. Which are one of the hallmarks of depression.

You can get the physical and bloodwork done via a GP, Urgent Care/Minute Clinic, Planned Parenthood (probably the only place that will do it on a sliding scale based on his income), or other local health clinic.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:15 AM on August 3, 2016

I think you could definitely be a positive force in his life. Maybe a way to get to #1 would be to help him change from being a freelancer to working a FT job? People get stuck thinking about the job they think they should be doing, and after a few years of not finding that job get discouraged. If you can help him reframe his thinking about jobs, where maybe he looks at other opportunities instead of specifically the one creative job that he does, he might be able to find something satisfying that would allow him enough financial breathing room that he could afford to move out.

Also suggest the idea of moving in with roommates. If he's an extrovert, living with other people shouldn't be too hard and might also be good for him. It doesn't have to be people that he currently knows, either.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:49 AM on August 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hey OP, I don't doubt you love your family and want to help your brother. But sometimes the most helpful thing is to love someone exactly as they are and let your loved one be in charge of asking for help and determining what kind of help is needed. I act as a sounding board for one of my sisters, and we often help each other brainstorm solutions to issues. Or act as goal buddies. This is a change from several years back when I thought I could rescue or fix her. Nope, couldn't do that. Also, your parents are in charge of their relationship with your brother. You can't protect them or change him. So by all means talk about the book you read and how you recognized family traits in it and offer to get him a copy if he wants to read it. But before you do anything else, spend time reconnecting with your brother and trying to appreciate and enjoy his company as he is. There's nothing so disheartening for most of us as realizing that someone sees us as a problem to solve or a defective person to be fixed. That's not what you've said but it would be easy for him to think, "My sibling only just moved here and seems to think they know how I should live my life better than I do." So tread carefully. Take your time. Assess the situation, be respectful, etc. Offer help and support but don't try to force it on your brother and let him take the lead. Be prepared for frustration and the possibility that the only change will be that you now live in the area. You may be a huge help, or you may not be. That's up to your brother, not you. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:56 AM on August 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think it's great that you want to be a friend to him and it may end up helping him a lot. I want to chime in in support of answers that suggest you make it about him and you-- and to caution you against getting involved in his relationship with your parents. As myselfasme has suggested, that relationship is a two-way street. The parents are getting something out of this and if they want it to stop, they need to take action themselves. If it seems like you are an advocate for them, you are going to lose his trust very fast. So build up your own relationship with him, quite apart from theirs. Of course you have your own relationship with them. But don't become a sounding board for their complaints about him. I realize you may be forming observations based on spending time with them, not on them complaining, but in any case try to stay neutral.
posted by BibiRose at 10:02 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would divorce the idea of him living at home from all his other problems. Many people in his age group live at home now. Now he may need to move out to get better, but moving out is not likely a panacea to his problems.

He also may not want help, or more specifically your help. That can be a painful part of family. Offer assistance, be patient, but you won't be able to make him do things if he's not prepared to change.
posted by French Fry at 10:46 AM on August 3, 2016

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