Care and Feeding

My Brother Has No Idea What My Mom Is Capable of Doing to His Family

She’s trying to control the baby.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 27-year-old brother just had a baby, and while he and his girlfriend are both pretty immature, they are taking responsibility for their little family. My mom is being overbearing and trying to control the baby, but I don’t think they even realize it yet.

For instance, my mom is keeping our family from meeting the baby, including my 80-year-old grandma who hasn’t even seen a photo of him yet. She’s also tried to borrow money after spending her paycheck on buying baby things, like formula. I reminded her that his parents could buy that stuff but she bought it anyway and then needed borrowed gas money from me. She’s even making them move in with her because she doesn’t like their neighborhood, and she told me that she doesn’t want the girlfriend’s mom visiting. (She’s an addict, but that’s not up to my mom to decide.)

I already know that it’s going to be insane for all of them to live together. I’m the oldest (and a girl), and my relationship with my mom is very different (I’ve been in therapy for years to fix myself), so I’m in tune with when her behavior is toxic. My brother is pretty naive and has no idea how messed up our childhood was, so he goes to her for everything, and so far she has free reign of their lives. He also has no idea what fires I put out in the background.

How can I relay to my mom that she needs to give them space, and to them that they can set boundaries? Is there even anything I can say?

—Tired Auntie

Dear Tired Auntie,

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much you can do here to prevent your mother from having the sort of hold on your brother’s life that you’re concerned about. If he and his girlfriend have decided to move in with her, they likely made that decision with their finances and childcare needs in mind; hearing from you about your mother’s toxic history is unlikely to sway their decision or make them less inclined to accept help from her.

That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you speaking to your brother about your concerns. You can advise him to be cautious when it comes to your mom, explaining that there are details about her that he wouldn’t remember that you simply cannot forget. Encourage him to set boundaries with her and remind him that he doesn’t have to defer to her just because she’s helping him and his family out. Let him know that no matter what, you will be there to support him. If and when your mother’s behavior takes the sort of turn you’re worried about, be someone he can turn to for advice about how to handle it. You can also encourage your mom to trust your brother and his partner, and talk to her about giving them the space they deserve.

Ultimately, however, it will be the three of them who determine how this relationship plays out, and you have to make peace with that.


Classic Prudie

I teach at a small liberal arts college where the work climate is fairly chill. There is a student who I have a teasing friendship with. He is not in my department, but he sometimes hangs out in my office and will occasionally join the group for lunch. It has recently been brought to my attention by a colleague that another faculty member has noticed and commented on the excessive amount of time I have been spending around this student. She (the colleague) advised me to separate myself from the student immediately, because the situation was bordering on inappropriate.