Good son gets angry

Joey Garcia

My 14-year-old son refuses to forgive his 21-year-old brother for
how my older son’s bad choices have impacted the family. We had a
couple of years that were a whirlwind of turmoil, but my older son is
now clean and sober, working, in college and has stopped seeing girls
that I was embarrassed to have at my house. My younger son yells about
how his loser brother gets off the hook, but I don’t notice
anything he does well. It’s an exaggeration, but I have been
trying to make certain that I acknowledge his good behavior and good
grades more consistently. His anger about his older brother’s
mistakes is out of control. Any ideas?

I’ll answer your question with some advice from my dad. When I
was about 10 years old, he told me if I wanted to understand human
nature, I should read the Bible or the Greek myths or the collected
works of William Shakespeare. Billy’s early modern English put me
off, but I devoured Bible stories and the Greek myths. If you had, too,
you would be smiling and shaking your head right now. That’s
because you’re living the story of the “Prodigal
Son.” In that tale, a boy leaves home and parties away his
inheritance until he’s so destitute that he’s living in a
barnyard and fighting pigs for scraps. He has an “aha!”
(“Why am I living like this?”) moment and returns home. His
father welcomes him warmly and without reproach. The son who stayed
home, worked hard and treated his papa with respect is furious.

Sound familiar? Your younger son needs help understanding what it
means to be good. As Zen Buddhist teacher Cheri Huber points out in her
terrific book, There is Nothing Wrong With You: For Teens:
“It may be true that you make sacrifices, but that doesn’t
make you good, it just means you make sacrifices. It may be true that
you are responsible, but that doesn’t make you good, it just
means that you are responsible. Perhaps doing in order to be good is
what keeps you from realizing that you are already good.”

Your teen believes that he must earn his goodness and once he does,
he will be rewarded. So when his brother returned and received your
love and support simply because he is your son, your teen had to choose
between his family and his belief system. His belief system won,
because being self-righteous is better than facing the self-hate
beneath his anger.

As your sons’ primary life guide, you must reveal, by word and
example, how to handle mistakes. Reflection is essential to the
process. Answers to questions like: “What was my
motivation?” or “What could I have done differently?”
can teach your teen the freedom to accept his brother’s mistakes,
and his own.

My extended family gathers at a cabin the first weekend of every
new year. My aunt Jenny has a new boyfriend who is obnoxious, racist
and cheap. My mother (Jenny’s sister) and I have hinted that this
man is not welcome to stay with us. Our request fell on deaf ears. How
do we get through this?

Practice deep listening and hear what this man really fears. Racists
are afraid of discovering that they are not special but are just like
everyone else. Once you hear his fear, compassion—not
anger—will infuse your words. At that point, you can give him
guidelines for behavior (no racist jokes or comments are acceptable)
and the consequences for violations (he will be asked to leave and
cannot return for the remainder of the vacation). Don’t hint and
hope that he or your aunt can decipher your intentions. Be direct and
keep the backbone necessary to follow through on the consequences.

Meditation of the week
“Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I
know I am breathing out.” This is an essential Buddhist
meditation practice. Being present is the real gift. Are you giving?

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