My mother is delighted to have him in her life, but I can’t bring myself to meet him
PROBLEM: I’m a 42-year-old woman; I am an only child of loving parents. I have two children of my own, young teenagers who have been the apple of my parents’ eye. After having me, my mother had three late miscarriages, so I know that I was always very treasured and very precious.
In the last couple of years, my mother has been contacted by my half-brother, a son she had when she was 19 and gave up for adoption. I knew about him – she told me when I was 14 – but I buried it and never talked or asked her about it.
My mother is delighted to have contact with this son and is getting on well with him. In some ways what is worse is my father has embraced this son and his two children.
This has been going on for two years, and I still can’t bring myself to meet him. I know it is not fair and I know my mother did not want to give him up. I know that it all happened for tragic reasons (his birth father, my mother’s boyfriend at the time, was killed in an accident), so I know that was very sad for my mother, but I can’t bring myself to meet him and can’t stop myself from feeling jealous of the attention his children are now getting from my parents.
ADVICE: In a way this is a very old story; that of sibling rivalry and questioning where we stand in our parents’ affections. The Prodigal Son story in the Bible has shades of this, and, as many people will have experienced, the death of a parent and the subsequent reading of the will can also bring these issues into sharp view.
As very small children we are allowed to have tantrums and get cared for when a new baby arrives into the family, but as adults we have to endure this extreme shock with supposed calm and acceptance. The problem is that these strong emotions get buried within us and this affects us in myriad ways: we can be irrational, judgmental, fearful and jealous. Nobody wants to be this kind of person. Unless we face the reality and engage with the truth, we are likely to stay unhappy.
There is much that is wonderful about this story: a rich childhood where you were precious; great grandparents who adore all the children of the family; and a second chance for a mother who had to give her child up for adoption.
But it challenges the core of your existence, the idea that you are so special: you still call yourself an only child. This is an opportunity for you to ask the philosophical question “Who am I really?” and to tackle your long-held sense of uniqueness.
It also brings up the idea that love is limited, and that your mum will have to divide her love for you with your half-brother. Is this true? You say you have two children yourself, so you no doubt already know that the more children you have, the more love there is to give them, and there is no division.
Fear is getting in your way and has been dictating your life for the past two years: fear of not being the centre of your mother’s attention; fear that your children will suffer from being second-best; fear of loss of position in the family hierarchy; and fear of meeting a half-brother whom you might find recognition and connection with.
Is this what you want your children to learn from you? If fear were not running your life, you might naturally experience curiosity about your brother, be supportive of your mother and find confidence in yourself that you are worth loving even if there is “competition”.
It seems that you would like to go back to a time before the reconciliation between your mother and her lost son, but we cannot stop change. Accepting the fact of the new, expanded family story is wise, as rejecting this would be to live in denial. It might be that when you engage with the new reality, you sometimes come across as petty and childish, but once this is expressed, it might leave room for your other natural qualities to come out: love and courage.
If you want to be a good model of how to take on life’s challenges for your children, this is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate big-heartedness and in the process discover more about your true self. Let go of fear and jealousy and take the risk of engaging with the complex experience of your family.