The Crooked Brother

Vanessa says her brother took over the family business for their mom. They found out he was taking money from the business. Now her brother wants to move back in with Vanessa's mom. What does she do?

QUESTION: Vanessa in Dallas says her brother took over the family business for their mom. Her mom called Vanessa several years later with no money. After some investigation, they found out her brother was taking money from the business. Her mom paid off most of her debts, and now her brother wants to move back in with Vanessa’s mom. What does she do?

ANSWER: I don’t think this is a mother-son thing; I think it’s an enabling thing. He’s a thief. Can a mother help a son who has been a thief turn around? The answer is yes. If you’re going to do tough love, you have to keep the love part in there. But you also have to keep the tough part in there. In this case, she’s not helping him at all. She’s harming him.

What would happen if you told your mom, “You absolutely cannot let him move in. You are harming him. You need to love your son better than this. The only answer is no, he cannot move in because you are doing him a disservice. You need to quit giving a drunk a drink. Mom, if you want to help him, I’ll help you get an apartment figured out, and we’ll get him a little apartment, and you can give him a little money to get set up in the apartment. But he cannot live here. This is not healthy. It is not good for you. And it’s really, really not good for him. No.” What if you did that? You should intervene on your brother’s behalf, because your mother is doing your brother harm. The fact that he has never been told no in his entire freaking life is why he’s acting like he does. Your mom coddles him and has turned him into a crook. She needs to be more loving than she has been. Those are the words you need to use, because she thinks her weakness is loving, and it’s not because she’s not helping him.

The problem is not that your mom can make money, it’s not that she was taken advantage of, and it’s not that your brother stole from her. The problem is not that he might steal from her again. If you present the problem like that, she’s going to get all noble on you and go, “Yes, but a mother’s love… We have to take care of Junior because Junior’s a doofus.” Don’t even go there on any of that. Just explain that she’s killing him, hurting him, and being a bad mother. He shouldn’t move in for his sake. The byproduct is we keep him out of her pocket. We couch the whole thing in, “You’re going to have to love him better. You’re doing a poor job of loving your son, Mom.”

“She thinks she doesn’t have a choice.” Did you hear that phrase that she used? That phrase is the phrase of an enabler. This is a toxic relationship. This kid being under this roof is not going to go anywhere good for this kid or this mother. It sounds kind of mean the way I’m talking about it, but it’s not mean at all. What’s mean is if he moves in. That’s being mean. That’s putting a sharp stick in your own son’s eye. Don’t let her do that to your brother. That’s the way you’ve got to get this in your head, because that’s how you break the language of the enabler. If you try to go all mother on the thing, the mother card trumps everything. The only persuasion tool is to explain to her all the different ways she’s hurting him. He’s like a baby bird with his mouth open and an alcoholic, and she’s just pouring the moonshine straight down his throat. It doesn’t work. It’s not working for him. It’s not worked for him his whole life. Every time he screws up—every time he does nothing—he’s always got the ability to come back and take advantage of his mother again. We need to help this young man have some problems.