My son is getting married this year, and his older brother won’t be a groomsman. Their relationship is rocky because our older son has made many unintentionally hurtful comments. Our younger son always felt we unfairly defended his brother. Our older son may be relieved not to have responsibilities, but I worry he’ll feel hurt when he sees who has been included. It brings up sad memories for me of him being excluded in school. My frustrated husband suggests withdrawing financial support and possibly not attending at all. This breaks my heart because we really love our son and future daughter-in-law.
Anonymous / Boston
If that’s so, then you had better change your attitude and behavior fast. Because your son has a family of his own now, someone who will put him first, and once he gets a taste of that? He will be a different man. Perhaps he already is.
Practical matters first: If you and your husband have promised money that is in fact contingent on inclusion of Older Son (O.S.) in a particular role, Younger Son (Y.S.) needs to know about this requirement now so that he and his fiancee can make whatever adjustments are necessary. It’s your money, and it’s a gift, not an obligation, to help pay for a child’s wedding these days. Letting a project proceed on budget with hidden funding contingencies, however, is a lowdown, rat-fink act in a cutthroat industry, let alone against one’s own child. Don’t do that.
Now to the heart of it: You and your husband are considering boycotting your son’s wedding because an adult who has repeatedly hurt him is not being given a prominent role. Sit with that a minute, will you? Y.S. has done nothing wrong, and the fact that the adult in question is his brother and didn’t “intend” the comments to be hurtful doesn’t change the equation. Dismissing your younger son’s pain is cruel, and shielding the older one from the natural consequences of his behavior is not the kindness you think it is. He needs to learn that if you hurt people repeatedly, they’ll exclude you. You can’t hold money and affection over everyone’s heads to make them behave as you’d like toward O.S.
You can choose to donate to or attend the wedding no matter what your husband does. You can tell yourself that I’m a stranger, and not a mother, and that there are things I don’t understand, if you want. But I’m married, and can easily put myself in the position of the fiancee here, and — I’d judge you for not doing that. I wouldn’t care about your broken heart or consider you caught in the middle. You say you love your future daughter-in-law, but you are hurting her betrothed, and for the sake of nothing but your own sad memories. Do you think there will be no consequences for that?
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.