Letting Go of the Hope That My Grown Sons Will Reconnect

How long can a parent intervene in sibling relationships? Once they’re adults, they shouldn’t require a referee. But what if their rift breaks your heart?

Ahhhh, boys! I have two and they fight, bicker, argue, and cajole as all siblings do. That’s to be expected. We know they’ll work things out, and if they can’t, we’re there to show them the way. Commence tumbling, wrestling, wrangling, video games, and pizza eating together.

It’s all fun and games until they grow up. What then?

What if they don’t find their way back to one another?

We can only mentor our children for so long. Once they’ve grown and flown, we hope we did our best instilling the importance of, in this case, brotherly love, and love for family and friends in general. We do our best to send them off with an internal instruction guide on how to properly debate (instead of fight) by teaching how to not only present your case, but to listen to the other side, and to do so respectfully.

My sons have different fathers. The eldest never knew his father; he abandoned us when my son was three months old. When my eldest was two, I remarried, and my husband and I had his brother. They are four years apart.

Unfortunately, my husband favored his biological son blatantly. I spoke to him several times about it – the harm it does to them both, the harm it does to me, and the way it left our family fractured. He wouldn’t listen, convinced overreacting and that he loved them both equally. But actions, particularly with children, speak louder than words, and his actions said otherwise.

The obvious favoritism upset both boys – even the youngest, the favorite. He didn’t like seeing his big brother angry and sad. Too young and afraid to confront his step-dad, my eldest took his frustrations out on his little brother, and our family turned into a chaotic mess.

I made an appointment with a family therapist. He spoke to us individually and as a group over the course of several months, but to no avail. My husband refused to take any responsibility for his actions, so the chaos continued. I became a referee, and my husband and I grew apart. I felt bitter and overwhelmed with sadness seeing my sons’ relationship faltering more each day.

In time, we healed a bit, and they began to tolerate each other and sometimes even share a smile or a laugh. It never lasted long and always ended in a hateful yelling match. My husband distanced himself from all of us and, at that point, it was a relief. Dealing with him was like having another child to take care of. He was stubborn, unwilling to try with the children or with me, and although I made several changes to my own behavior (as suggested by the therapist), nothing anyone could do brought unity to our once happy family.

Time marched on. The four-year difference between the boys may as well have been 40 once they became teenagers. They were very different in so many aspects: one loved sports and pursued baseball and football, while the other was more artistic and self-entertained. The great divide became even greater.

It would irritate them both when I intervened and tried to get them to compromise, to see the other’s side. “Mom, leave me alone! I’m not going to talk to him, I don’t want to. Stop it, just stop, please!” I heard this from both of them. It soon became apparent that my actions did more harm than good. I didn’t want to become a ‘nag’ and have them distance themselves from me, too. So I stopped trying.

They’re 31 and 35 now. They haven’t spoken in years. Both fathers have since died. I see them individually now. They won’t tolerate being in the same room with one another. It breaks my heart. I let them speak about the other when we’re alone, but if their words are hateful or disrespectful, I don’t permit it. Occasionally, we have a need to discuss something that affects us all, so bad-mouthing happens. I do the best I can when it does.

After years of refereeing, I came to the conclusion that they are grown now, and if they are to find their way back to one another, it has to be because they want to – not because I want them to. My mothering instinct tries desperately to take over and tell them not to fight, that it isn’t worth it, that life goes by too quickly for so much anger. But I refrain.

I cherish the special relationship I have with each of them and understand that life doesn’t always work the way we want it to. Love, while it may conquer all, takes time and patience – two things we mothers have an abundance of.