Carolyn Hax: Advice

Mom can’t deal with son’s stint in rehab

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn: My adult brother is in rehab for the second time in two years. My mother is understandably upset and wants to talk about it every day. She is in her 70s and hasn’t told many of her friends.

I have encouraged her to go to Al-Anon or talk to a counselor, but she keeps putting it off. We don’t live in the same city but we have talked almost every day for the last two weeks, plus my dad wants to talk about it every other day or so. Every time I talk to my mom she is crying and wants to hash out all of the details again and again.

I am tired of talking about it and it must be showing. Mom got upset with me yesterday because she doesn’t feel like I am being supportive and can’t talk as often as she would like. I work, have two elementary school-age children, and my husband’s parents are having some medical challenges … so I don’t feel like I have any more time to give.

How do I explain this to my very needy mom without sounding so cold? I know it is her son and she is really sad but so am I. Ahhh … feeling overwhelmed.

Struggling With Mom Who Is Struggling

I suggest you to go to Al-Anon, talk to a counselor or read up on adult children of alcoholics, and here’s why.

Your mom is upset with you because, to her mind, you’re keeping her from talking “as often as she would like.” That is codependency: She sees it as your job to serve her need.

How much your mom wants to talk is her responsibility, and she’s making it yours, and so far you’re letting her: You’re listing reasons to justify not talking to her more often when in fact it’s your time, your judgment, your emotions, and you owe no one justification for your choices. “I don’t want to talk about this” is enough. A kinder version for Mom: “You’re right, Mom, I can’t/won’t talk as much as you’d like. That’s why I suggest therapy or Al-Anon. I’ll gladly help you get started.”

Then: no negotiating, no discussions beyond your limits, no guilt.

While it’s your brother who is in rehab, your family as a whole bears hallmarks of boundary problems and codependency, which aren’t just eye-roll-trigger words for skeptics of mental health care and its vocabulary. They’re also struggles commonly found alongside addiction. To better help your brother, mother and yourself, start by understanding the emotional dynamics better with the help of a qualified guide.

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