In this counseling answer:
• It is time that you take it in your hands to broach the subject.
• Warn other family members such as your mother/father/brother to tackle this situation in a proactive way, and not to blame his wife in front of him.
• Once you have talked about the problem with your brother in detail, give him time to accept his faults and remedy it.
Assalamu Alaikum Sister,
I am sorry to hear that your family is facing an emotionally difficult time. From your post, I understand that your family is going through a tough phase. Your parents have become old, and your little brother is struggling with his business and needs advice and moral support. However, your elder brother is not available for help, because he is too busy in his own family. You have raised your concern with regard to your sister-in-law, that she has created a rift in your family. You have mentioned that your brother’s wife does not let him be involved in his family. Your parents have always been loving and accepting towards her – but now that they are in their old age; they also need physical and emotional support from their son. However, he is not doing his duty, and your parents are hurt.
Sister, I can absolutely relate to and understand what you are saying. Usually, when a girl marries into a family, she is insecure and afraid about how others would treat her. Therefore, she starts building her own defenses and boundaries. As you mentioned your sister-in-law was a divorcee. Perhaps it was something she learnt in her previous marriage; that it would be safe to keep her in-laws at a distance.
However, I also feel that while your sister-in-law may have a role in stopping your brother becoming too involved with his family, it would still not be fair to put all the blame on her. Your elder brother is an adult, and he should own up to his responsibility towards his family despite what anyone tells him, including his wife.
Maintaining familial relations are very important; the Ahadith (narrations) and the Quran emphasize time and again the importance of taking care of one’s elderly parents.
In the Quran, Allah (SWT) says:
“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them your Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” (Surah al-Isra, v: 23-24)
He also states:
“We have enjoined on man kindness to parents” (al-Ankabut, v: 8)
According to a Hadith, Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said,
“Let him be humbled into dust; let him be humbled into dust. It was said: Allah’s Messenger, who is he? He said: He who sees either of his parents during their old age or he sees both of them, but he does not enter Paradise” (Sahih Muslim).
Approach Your Brother
Sister, being a daughter is different than being a son in so many ways. I can feel the passion and love you have for your family and their well-being, MashaAllah. However, males are wired differently, sometimes they do not realize the importance of familial relationships, and sometimes they are so pre-occupied with their own troubles that they forget about other more important things in life. While your sister-in-law may or may not have a negative role, she certainly does not have a positive role in helping her husband be committed and attentive towards his parents. Therefore, it is time that you take it in your hands to broach the subject.
Communicate How Staying Away Affects His Parents/Family
Communicate with your brother about how you feel that his lack of presence and involvement is affecting your parents and your younger brother. Gently remind him that your parents have invested in him and his well-being all their life, and now that they are at a certain point in life where they also need support, guidance, nurturance, and love.
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Similarly, bring it to his awareness how your little brother is struggling and needs some advice every now and then. Let him know that his experience and sincerity as an elder brother would be invaluable to the growth of your little brother.
Do Not Enter the Blame Game
Sister, when we feel very strongly about a subject, as it is apparent that you feel about this situation – it is very easy for us to slip into an emotional zone. I must emphasize, that this is a very sensitive issue, and if you even mention or hint it to your brother, that it is his wife who has created a rift between his family, he will immediately get defensive and block out any positive advice you may give him. So please be aware and do not enter a blame game with him as it can cause a life-long damage in your relationship with your brother, or his relationship with your parents.
Also, warn other family members such as your mother/father/brother to tackle this situation in a proactive way, and not to blame his wife in front of him.
Help Him Come Up With A Do-Able Plan
Sister, men usually get stuck and don’t know how to work out things, especially when it comes to relationships. So perhaps you can help him come up with a plan. If he lives in a different city, you could help him establish a routine to come and stay with his parents once every two weeks, or so on.
Don’t plan for him but give him subtle suggestions. For instance, “If you could make a way to come and see our parents every two weeks, it would make them so happy!”
Don’t Be Too Demanding Or Pushy
So, the goal right now is to only make him aware of what he should do; gently, subtly. Don’t tell him what he is doing wrong, or what his wife is doing wrong – because that would really push him in the opposite direction.
Once you bring the problem to his attention and give him something to think about, he will come around.
Don’t Leave His Wife Out
It is essential that when you are discussing the topic with him, to talk about his wife in a neutral way, because she is an important part of him. So, when planning about visiting parents or family – it may get difficult for him to plan something that involves his wife and children ALL the time. So, point out that sometimes, it is not necessary to come and meet our parents as a family, but maybe just as a son. You can let him know that it is ok if his wife or children are busy, that he can just come to visit his parents by himself. However, if he wants to bring his wife along every time, do not object.
Don’t Be Afraid To Give Him Positive Reminders Now and Then
Sister, unfortunately in the times we live in, it is natural to get preoccupied in life. Therefore, once you have talked about the problem with your brother in detail, give him time to accept his faults and remedy it. Yet, if you feel that he has distanced himself again, do leave him positive reminders every now and then. Sometimes, all you may need to do is to share an old picture of your parents, or a memory, to bring out emotion from him.
May Allah (SWT) guide each and every one of us to the right path and make lives easy for us.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.