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Brother Jekyll & Uncle Hyde

Brother Jekyll & Uncle Hyde

By Amalah

Amy,

You helped me out when I was pregnant and when I had my newborn and so I turn to you again, with a very sticky situation. Bit of a long story, so I do apologize, but I am at my wit’s end and am hoping having an impartial person hear the story can provide some insight.

My son was born in this past spring and just turned a year old. He is my first child and the first grandchild on both sides of the family. My son is a sweet, wonderful bundle of joy – we love him so much!

My brother was married in this past summer in a neighboring state, in a city neither I, my husband, or my family was familiar with. During the leadup to the wedding and after the wedding itself, I found out that my brother is very resentful and bitter towards me and my husband (and our son by proxy) because he and his wife feel that “(my son) gets all the attention” and that he “steals their spotlight”. 

When I called to tell my brother I was pregnant, after a perfunctory congratulations, he told me (angrily) he would have no children at his wedding (the only communication I received regarding the matter more than a year in advance). Despite stress and anxiety leading up to the wedding, my son did not appear at any wedding related functions, despite some family members having to miss parts of the wedding (namely my husband missing the ceremony and my aunt missing the reception) – I didn’t want to leave my three month old with a stranger in a strange town and I was reading in the wedding – I offered to take my aunt’s place to let her attend both the ceremony and the reception, but was turned down, as she was “dying to babysit”, but still obviously an inconvenience to her to miss the reception and an inconvenience to my husband to miss the ceremony.  At the time of the wedding, my son was three months old. He was invited to the rehearsal dinner my parents were hosting, but was uninvited after my brother, to put it bluntly, pitched a fit. While I did not agree with his decision to not invite children (a decision that only affected me and one other person – and she came to the wedding with her baby!), I mainly was hurt by how he handled it.

My brother and I were very close as children – two peas in a pod, if you will. We are four years apart and since his attending college and my graduating college and moving into the real world, we have slowly grown apart. Some of it the natural course of two busy people, but also that I slowly no longer recognize the person he has become. Since the wedding especially, but somewhat prior to that, we have become virtual strangers, exchanging only the bare minimum of pleasantries, all initiated by me.

I am not one to beat around the bush (ain’t nobody got time for that), so I did address the awkwardness with my brother a few weeks ago and was told that my son would have “stolen their spotlight” at the wedding (the wedding that was almost a year ago that my son did not attend) and they were “very frustrated” with my husband and myself (and my parents) – saying he’s frustrated/angry that people consider my son to be more important than his wedding. I am not saying weddings aren’t wonderful and obviously happy occasions, but my son is a person and a wedding is a day, so it is hard for me to see his point – again, maybe that’s unreasonable. However, whenever we asked them about their wedding (focusing on them), we would get curt, one word answers. “How’s wedding planning?” “Fine” – after four or five of those types of answers, you tend to want to give up. 

My brother has never shown any interest in his nephew, despite saying he doesn’t “hate him” – gee, thanks. He didn’t call/text me after birth to find out if I was okay after my c-section (I had placenta previa) and that my son was born, saying over a year later “I didn’t know how surgery worked” – *eye roll*. Here’s a small hint – it doesn’t take a week, a month, a year, etc. He has since not had any interaction with his only nephew outside of attending his baptism, where he showed no interest in him and refused to hold him (minor, but annoying) and seeing him at my grandmother’s funeral, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (and by seeing him, please read he laid eyeballs on him – no interactions). I’m not saying he has to be super excited about my son, but nothing? Nothing for your only nephew? My brother loves children, so this is hard for me to wrap my mind around. It is doubly hard given his insistence that he “doesn’t hate him” – his actions seem to suggest otherwise – maybe I’m reading too much into this?

My son’s first birthday was a few weeks ago and my brother was the only close family member who did not in any sense acknowledge the day (I’m not saying it had to be complicated – a text would have sufficed). We didn’t really have a party – just each set of grandparents down on two back to back weekends – my son is pretty introverted and is shy initially around strangers, so I didn’t want to bombard him with a huge party. I didn’t invite my brother – partially, because I knew he wouldn’t come (assuming I heard back at all) and partially, because I didn’t want to have someone around my son who doesn’t like him. Maybe that’s unreasonable?

Even if the wedding wasn’t bad enough, now apparently my son ruins other events for them as well. My cousin gave birth to a baby boy only 4 weeks after my son, which is wonderful – he’s such a sweet little boy. At Thanksgiving, we all (whole extended family – 20+ people) got together for dinner, like we do every year and the two sets of parents (me/husband, cousin/husband and one of our other cousins) had both babies in a quieter room, so they could roll around and interact. My brother and his wife were in another room watching football, with 8 – 10 other family members. I hardly spoke 4 words to them all day – what I did say was met with silence or terse one word answers – things like “how is work?” – unrelated to my son. However, my brother informed my parents that Thanksgiving was “the (my son) and (my cousin’s baby) show.” My brother has also implied in other conversations that my cousin and I decided to get pregnant to “upstage his wedding” – I can’t believe I’m saying this, but let me assure you that was not the case. My husband and I got very, very lucky and got pregnant the first time we tried – we decided to try for a baby at the time that was best for our family, not because of my brother – *shudder*. 

I try to the best of my ability to not have my child be a bother – I obviously don’t want to be a parent that assumes their child can do no wrong and that everyone loves them as much as they do. I don’t like being the center of attention as a general rule, but two adorable, chubby-cheeked babies, in a family that loves children, do tend to have people love on them – I’m genuinely not trying to make anything worse. I don’t have him cry and annoy everyone – if he gets fussy, I take him out of the situation. But he’s generally a super happy baby, rarely fussy, sleeps like a champ, and generally very well-behaved (sometimes better than you could expect a 1 year old to be). I also try to not constantly bombard my brother and his wife with talk of my son – I know they’re not his biggest fans. I don’t want them to pretend he doesn’t exist though, so every (stilted, awkward) conversation is a balancing act.

Long story short, I don’t know what to do. I see my brother and his wife five or six times a year, including most major holidays. I obviously don’t want to make the situation worse (and I apologized to my brother during our recent conversation for anything I might have done to make things at his wedding not the way he wanted them, but he’s very deeply frustrated/angry about events of a year ago that I can’t do anything about, beyond apologizing). Am I being unreasonable to be hurt by this? I am deeply hurt, both on my own behalf and on my son’s.

I obviously want to protect my son now, and as he gets older, from any unwanted comments (assuming there are any) and I NEVER want him to feel unwanted or unloved, because he is both and I don’t want him to feel he has to apologize around his uncle, just for being there, but I don’t know how to proceed going forward – even after clearing the air, when asked that question, my brother responded “there’s nothing you can do.” My son will be around for many years and I would hate to have this be the thing that permanently drives my brother and I apart. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!

I’m sorry. Your brother is a jerk. A selfish, immature jerk.

I come from a pretty big family myself, and your letter hit me in a few soft personal spots because I am relating so hard to certain aspects here: The growing up and apart, followed by the painful, almost crushing realization that the sibling you loved/protected/idolized simply isn’t the person you thought they were. Were they even really that person? Have they really changed that much? Or were the signs of selfish jerkdom always there and you just missed them?

We could all sit here and hypothesize till the cows came home about the “why” behind your brother’s behavior towards his nephew: He’s lost his place as the baby of the family and isn’t handling it well? He’s got a lifetime of bitterness in his bitter bag over milestones he feels he didn’t get equal credit for? A general need/desire to be the center of attention at all times? Massive gaping insecurity? Some weird dynamic going on with the new wife? Maybe he really doesn’t “love” children so much after all?

But honestly, I don’t think any of that matters all that much, in the end. His behavior speaks for itself, and it’s clearly becoming established behavior. Not to mention APPALLING behavior. And I know it’s disappointing to witness and difficult to call it what it is, but yeah. He’s not being a very nice person, much less a supportive brother.

It’s perfectly fine to opt for a child-free wedding, but a decent human person will recognize that decision creates inconvenience for some guests and a decent human host will do whatever they can to minimize the inconvenience. And it’s one thing to not want unpredictable crying infants at the ceremony (understandable!), but to openly refuse to permit children (and only two! that you are related to!) on the basis that they’ll “steal the attention/spotlight” is some super immature bride/groomzilla crap that deserves little more than a “bless your heart” and a bunch of eyerolls from the grown-ups. So to pitch a fit and uninvite a 3 month old to a rehearsal dinner, and to continue to harp on that baby’s audacity to exist at the same time you were getting married! almost a year later is just all-around, classic immature jerk behavior. Welcome to adulthood, cupcake. It isn’t always about you.

“Oh, there’s Uncle Jerkface! He loves you so much. Go give him a hug and ask him where your birthday present is!” Nope. Don’t try to force any sort of relationship between the two of them.

This is not to say you should bother having another big showdown or confrontation with him about it. Let HIM be the person still whining about his stupid wedding that nobody else in the world cares about anymore. You’re the bigger person and (obviously) the grown-up in the room. So I think you need to stop trying to figure out how to “fix this” and get things back to how they were, and instead focus on how to navigate a relationship with the person he is now.

You’re right to be concerned about his coldness/indifference around your son as he gets older. But he’s likely to only notice it if you and the rest of the family give him an indication that he should expect anything different in the first place. “Oh, there’s Uncle Jerkface! He loves you so much. Go give him a hug and ask him where your birthday present is!” Nope. Don’t try to force any sort of relationship between the two of them, and your son will most likely not see his uncle’s behavior as any kind of rejection. He’s just stand-offish and not the fun sort of grown-up. Let him stay in the other room watching football; it’ll probably be better for everybody if you just keep the interaction short or even non-existent. Focus on the family members who do, truly, love babies and children and are delighted to spend time with your son. (Your aunt sounds like good people, and was probably right there with you in secretly thinking your brother’s wedding tantrums were ridiculous, but babysat for you anyway.)

In reality, yeah, your brother is harboring some really weird jealousy/resentment towards your son (and your cousin’s baby), and doesn’t seem to care that his treatment of his nephew is costing him a relationship with you. And if he doesn’t care, he probably won’t change. Unless he grows up a bit more, which of course everyone is capable of, and so of course you can give him a second or third chance down the road if he seems to exhibit a bit more self-awareness and less groomzilla-ur-baby-ruined-my-special-dayyyyyyy nonsense.  Don’t look at this as any one “thing” that is driving you further apart. Your brother is the one with his foot solidly on the gas pedal driving off in the opposite direction, unfortunately. Maybe he’ll relate to your son better at an older age, maybe he’ll chill out when he and his wife have a baby of their own (but may God have mercy on any woman who dares get pregnant at the same time), or maybe this is just the person he is now. You will always love that person, but it’s okay to admit that you don’t particularly like that person anymore, and proceed accordingly.

Photo source: Depositphotos/atholpady

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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