Oh Brother, Look What Happens When You Smother by Connie Dawson


Greg was the youngest of three boys and just thirteen when his dad died suddenly.  His mother, of course, was devastated.  How could this situation, which was enormously sad for all concerned, lead to overindulgence and harm?

The answer may lie in how Mom, deep in her grief, tended to direct more care, caution and concern toward her youngest son.  Much more than he needed.  His brothers resisted Mom’s urge to smother them, but Greg had no option but to give in.

It never occurred to Mom that she was keeping Greg from growing up in order to meet her needs, not Greg’s.   But others noticed.  Greg’s oldest brother, George recounts his view of what happened.

A brother’s perspective

“Right after Dad died, Mother grabbed on to Greg and didn’t let go.  Today, he’s 47.  He’s never kept a job for any length of time, he drinks too much, is divorced, (and to his credit, he’s always paid child support), and he continues to be the biggest manipulator on the planet.

Mom has always bailed him out from every “bad” situation.  She practically did his homework for him.  She paid his fines.  Money for this.  Money for that.  Much, much, much more understanding and leniency than was good for him.

Just recently, he was behind in some payment or other and she ponied up the money.  He went out and bought himself a new set of golf clubs.  I couldn’t believe it!    She didn’t even seem to be disgusted with him.

I’ve been very critical of Greg over the years, but now that I’ve taken the shades off, I can see it wasn’t his fault.   Mom took (and still takes) care of him for her own reasons.  Maybe using Greg to meet her needs has helped her, or it helped her at one time, but it sure hasn’t helped Greg.  She’s a really nice person, so I don’t think she sees how what appeared to be so nice when he was young, isn’t really so nice.  I have to believe that hurting Greg was the farthest thing from her mind.

At this point, if I were Mom, I don’t know if I’d be eager to change my rescuing ways.  If she says “no” now, I’m sure she wonders how he’ll get along.  I repeat, my mother is not a bad person.  I can understand why she got into rescuing Greg.  I’m sure she’d say she wanted to make up for his not having a dad but I don’t think that’s all there is to it.  Anyway, her efforts have really backfired.”

Charles took a deep breath.  “My brother and I tend to avoid him.  I don’t respect him.  I feel sorry for him.  He’s one sad pup.”

Using the Test of Four

Apply the Test of Four to this situation,

            1.  Did Mom’s actions hinder Greg’s development?

            2.  Did Greg receive a disproportionate share of Mom’s money and attention?

            3.  Were Mom’s actions apt to be more for her benefit than for Greg’s?

            4.  Were others harmed by the attention Greg received?

What do you think?  Is this a case of overindulgence?  A “yes” answer to any one of the four questions is a red flag and a yellow light.  Go slow.  Be cautious. Reconsider.

Tips for parents

We adults whose needs are met are far less likely to get our needs met at the expense of children.  Some things we can do are:

·      Get clear about what we need. 

·      Remember that we all have needs that deserve to be met. 

·      Adults can make conscious and informed choices about how we meet our needs.

·      If we aren’t clear about what we need, visiting a therapist should help.

·      The art of rescuing is learned in one’s family of origin.   How was rescuing others

        rewarded in your family? 

       Was that your role in the family?

·      Review development:  the job of kids, the job of adults, helpful and unhelpful parenting at

       each developmental stage (in How Much Is Too Much?)

·      Be a loving observer of your own thoughts, impulses and behaviors.

·      Consult Growing Up Again (Clarke and Dawson, 1998) for more ideas on meeting needs. 

The end of the story

Back to George:  “Can you believe that Greg got one over on me last month?  I offered to let him share my motel room when we went to the out-of-town funeral of our aunt.  Free room.  I took him to breakfast the next morning.  Free board.  He asked me for a small loan.  I gave him $50.  He went right over to the counter and bought $40 worth of lottery tickets.  Go figure.”

A brave heart

To “scrub” our motives for overindulging takes courage.  It may be one of the best gifts we can give our children….. and ourselves.

There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).


All photos from MorgueFile free photo.

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2022;  bredehoft@csp.edu