Dear Richard Madeley: ‘My mum has always favoured my brother. Should I give up on them both?’

'He said some awful things about my son, then poked me as I made to leave'
'He said some awful things about my son, then poked me as I made to leave' - Ron Number
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Dear Richard,

I am a 60-year-old woman and I have a slightly younger brother. He has always been the favourite child in my mum’s affections and over the years this has become more apparent. My dad died many years ago and was always fair and equal to both of us: I think he kept Mum’s favouritism in check.

My brother has no partner or family and during lockdown moved in with my mum. It was reassuring and beneficial for us all as she had to have major surgery in that time. I didn’t visit during the pandemic and with one thing and another didn’t try to arrange to do so for 18 months afterwards.

Last year I went with my daughter without warning them and my brother went through the roof. We had to get a hotel nearby. This year, I went again, and again booked a hotel; as before, he was rude when we visited the house. He said some awful things about my son, who is kind and decent, then poked me as I made to leave.

Needless to say my mum has taken his side again. I look back over the years and she has always defended his behaviour. Now, I don’t see how I can visit her any more. She is very elderly and has little interest in my life or my children. I almost feel like giving up on them both, but at the end of the day she is my mum. I would be grateful for your advice.

Anon, via email

Dear Anon,

He poked you? What peculiar behaviour. Eccentric might be a more accurate word to describe it. Why lose his rag over a friendly (if unscheduled) visit? And why would your mother, elderly or not, defend such conduct?

Allow me to answer my own questions, because I think I can guess what’s going on here. It sounds to me as if there’s a classic folie à deux playing out. Your brother and mother live alone together, and they’ve begun to endorse – and reinforce – each other’s eccentricities, rather than correct them. It happens. They’re isolated and they’ve turned inwards, towards each other.

A history of favouritism from mother to son will only intensify the effect.

I’m not sure there’s a lot you can do about it, Anon, other than accommodate and tolerate it. The pair of them spend all day and every day together. You bowl in as a breezy visitor from the real world outside their cloistered one and your brother, in particular, takes it as a threat. He’s a bit young to have developed such an idiosyncratic outlook (I’m assuming from your letter he’s somewhere in his 50s), but there we are.

My advice is to give plenty of advance notice of your visits, and make sure you don’t go alone. If you can, take both your son and daughter. Safety in numbers. While you’re there, focus on your mother and try not to get sidetracked into arguments with your brother. When the time comes to leave, make it a swift exit. Minimise any poking opportunities. But if it happens again, tell him in no uncertain terms to keep his hands to himself. This nasty little fraternal habit needs nipping firmly in the bud.

You can find more of Richard Madeley’s advice here or submit your own dilemma below.

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