My older brother and I have always had a rocky relationship. It started, my mother tells me, when I was brought home from hospital after being born and I was not the fun companion my brother had been promised.
Recently, my mother accused me of saying something to make my brother feel unwanted, and she is still bringing it up weeks later, saying I am making him stressed. I am truly sorry for what my mother went through when we were children, but I can’t seem to make her understand that we are trying to be amicable, and that we cannot rewrite history
Although as adults you have to own your own behaviour, you and your brother not getting on as children is not your fault (nor is it your brother’s); it is the responsibility of parents to make sure siblings get on as well as possible. That doesn’t mean all siblings will be best friends, but parental guidance can go a long way to help. Your parents didn’t help, either by over-involvement or absence.
I question why parents tell children about sibling reactions when they were born – unless they were positive. Such throwaway comments can shape relationships for a lifetime. I consulted Susanna Abse, a psychoanalytical psychotherapist, who is very experienced in sibling relationships. She was struck by how involved your mother is. Abse went straight to the nub of this, which is that “as long as your mother is the central figure, you and your brother may never have a relationship. And your father sounds displaced. There is no sense of a parental couple.”
Abse and I talked about why some siblings don’t get on, and why a parent may get over-involved in a sibling relationship in the way your mother has. It may be that the parent is “full of disappointment and anger, but that anger may be suppressed and then it pops up elsewhere in the family system, such as between siblings”.
Your mother places herself between you and your brother, in the “centre of the drama”, as Abse puts it. Who knows how she or your father handled you coming into the home as a baby? Maybe your brother felt displaced, Abse suggests – it certainly sounds so – but instead of managing any understandable sibling rivalry, they seem instead to have fuelled the resentment your brother felt.
“It would be helpful,” Abse says, “if you could try to develop something with your brother that is separate from your mother or other members of the family. Where is the sibling space for the two of you? Where is the relationship that is separate from your mum and other family members? Adult siblings need to develop a relationship outside of their parents.”
I hear that you “love but don’t like” your brother; but if you two were ever able to sit down and talk about things, away from your mother, you might be surprised at what you learn. You need to start to see things from each other’s point of view to get on better, instead of seeing everything the way your mother wants you to. And you should accept that you may just never get on brilliantly with your brother.
Perhaps in becoming over-embroiled in your lives, your mother doesn’t have to look at her own life. “A parent can feel left out of their children’s relationship,” Abse says, “particularly if that parent is lonely and doesn’t have a partner they can be intimate with.”
Your mother believes that you and your brother are warring for her love and affection. I disagree; I think it is your mother who is fighting for the love and affection. But that is her issue. As you have already seen, away from her, your relationship with your brother is better: work on that.