My mother got divorced from her husband of 16 years, a year and a half ago. He claimed he didn't love her anymore, and my mother was left wounded and angry. Together they have a wonderful 12-year-old son, my half-brother, who now takes turns staying with each of them. Things are very bitter, and they mostly communicate through text messaging or through me and my brother — my mother feels too angry to have a more civilized relationship with him. I will admit that my step-dad was cold to her during the divorce, and I understand that she feels hurt, but at this point, I wish she would give in and work at making their relationship better.
I'm away from home in grad school, in a foreign country, extremely busy with my studies, so I mostly communicate with them via email. Yesterday my step-dad told me he has begun dating another woman. It sounds pretty serious. He told me my brother has met her and that they got along. I'm happy for him, but I don't think my mom knows about this. She has been dating herself, but I just know this will make her angry and she might start some kind of power war with her ex through me, or worse, my brother.
If I wait to tell her, my brother might end up blurting it out (what a heavy secret for a twelve year old to have to carry around). So I think it's best if I tell her. How do I go about this in a manner that is gentle? How can I persuade her not to involve me or my brother in the anger she will most likely feel?
— Family Drama Dannika
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Dear Family Drama Dannika,
I'm very sorry to hear that you and your brother are trapped in the middle of your parents' issues. It's really not fair to either of you, and it makes an already difficult situation that much worse. You're right; your brother shouldn't have to carry the burden of this information, and I'm sorry that you do. Your mother is obviously struggling with her own issues, but she's still the parent. If I were you, I would be direct and simple, and certainly don't play into her drama.
If she needs someone to vent to, it should be a therapist or an outside friend, and don't be afraid to tell her so. You can support your mother and recognize her anger without allowing her to place her emotional burden on your shoulders. When it comes down to it, you can't control how your mother reacts to this news or behaves in the future, but you can be a person of strength for your brother. Talk openly with him, and above all else, make sure he knows he can talk to you. I hope things get easier soon.