Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grown Siblings Have Grown Apart, Should Mother Intervene?

Dear Tazi:

I have two sons. I will call them “Zip” and “Zap” because I do not want them to identify themselves if they read your column. They are only a year apart in school so they grew up very close until they reached their teenage years. It was at this point that Zap sought to create his own identity separate from his brother’s shadow. Because Zap is the younger of the two, Zip is the one that everyone got to know first, the one that always got to do things first. Zap became known as “Zip’s brother”, in spite of his efforts to establish himself as an independent person. To his great discredit, Zip basked in this limelight and never corrected people when they referred to Zap by this moniker.

Both of my sons are now attending state university, and thankfully they are in different programs which have allowed them to meet new and different people and run in different crowds. While Zip has just finished his second year and has been concentrating solely on his schoolwork, Zap blossomed during his freshman year. He has joined an intramural sports team and has successfully pledged a fraternity, in addition to making the Dean’s List. Zip, accustomed to being the brother that everyone knows, is feeling resentful of the attention Zap is receiving. Although both are in competitive academic programs, Zip has taken to saying that Zap is majoring in “basket weaving” while he is taking a more rigorous course of study. This is but one example of the barbs Zip has been throwing Zap’s way.

Zap has been patient with his brother. When I asked him if everything was okay between them, he told me that he understands how it feels to always come in second, so he is willing to let things go for now, but at the same time his patience is wearing thin. I am afraid that the death knell to their relationship is close at hand. Last week at a party, I witnessed Zip try to embarrass Zap in an attempt to make people laugh. Zap kept quiet, but I could see his jaw twitching; something that happens when Zap is angry beyond control.

I pulled Zip aside and had a word with him about his behavior, but he just responded with a negative tone, saying that somebody needs to but Zap in his place now that his popularity is soaring. Tazi, I love both of my sons so much and it pains me to see them hurting like this. I would like to tell Zip that he has had his day in the sun and that now it is time to let Zap have his, but I am afraid that Zip will think that I am taking sides against him. For what it’s worth, Zap is still the same humble boy he has always been; it is Zip whose ego is out of control. All I want is for my sons to get along like they did when they were children. Do you think that this is possible? Should I intervene? How much?


Dear Z-Mom:

Your sons are not children anymore, so it is time for them to start acting like adults. From what you write, it sounds like Zap has been taking the high road while Zip is wallowing in self-pity and resentment. The fact that he has put down his brother to entertain others, while building up his own ego, is pathetic. It is grossly out of line and shows a complete lack of maturity. It is as if Zip’s emotional development is arrested at the high school level. This is a problem that will start to affect other areas of his life, as well as hold him back in life, if he does not put a stop to it now. Family counseling may be helpful, but all involved must be on-board in order for it to work. Your sons are relatively young, but the issue of one-upmanship has been simmering for years so you cannot expect it to be solved overnight. I realize that, as their mother, you would like to mediate; but the fact of the matter is that they will need to resolve this issue on their own. Ignore any requests to take the side of one over the other, but offer correction as necessary and appropriate.

If you see or hear one of your sons doing or saying something that you know to be inappropriate or untruthful (such as the incident at the recent party or the “basket weaving” comment) you should continue to pull them aside and correct their behavior. Better you do this than one of their friends, who might not offer to respect privacy or feelings. Such embarrassment will only breed further contempt.

Your sons may legally be men, but emotionally they are still growing up. If you find that Zip’s behavior is getting more hostile towards his brother you may wish to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with him. If you find that Zap is getting to be egocentric or starts flaunting his accomplishments to his brother, you should sit him down, as well. Do not try to resolve their issues; just let them know that you find their behavior disappointing. The problem may resolve itself from there. Nobody wants to disappoint their Mama!

In the end, you must trust that you have done your best as a mother and let your sons work out their differences like men. Some brothers are destined never to be close, while others are as peas in a pod. In time, as Zip and Zap discover their own divergent paths, they may find that they miss each other’s company and reach out to each other. However, in order for that to happen, old hurts must not wound too deep. Remind them of this fact should the need present itself; otherwise, let them decide on their own how close they wish to remain.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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