I have a father with high expectations who, I believe, genuinely wants my brother and me to succeed in life. He's a traditional man, and a bit conservative (firmly believing in the "Good ol' days . . ."). The safest bet for success, in my country, is an academic life in fields that are in high demand, and we've accepted that for a fact. I also have a younger brother who agrees with this vision, but not how demanding my father's approach to it is.

The problem is two-fold; on one hand, my father's expectations are very unrealistic. He expects us to be productive all the time. Even a 15-minute rest, which basically means doing anything other than studying, is a big no-no. On the other hand, my brother's increasingly resistive reaction to this has been slacking off more, failing even objectively more realistic expectations. His grades have started suffering, as a result. He has also gotten very defensive about his actions. They have gotten into some very bitter arguments over this, and no one in the family seems happy after the argument for as long as days every time.

I was initially a rescuer, but as time passed, my brother's reaction to all this was actually slacking off more, and he gradually ended up putting inadequate effort into his studies. I've been more of a bystander in their arguments in the past few months. I feel the need for this to change, and for me to mediate, because

  • They haven't gotten close to resolving the issue by themselves, and are not making progress
  • My younger brother expects me to support him and play the role of the rescuer again
  • My brother has also developed an interesting notion of the right to slack off as much as he wants (not to be confused with taking a break or having fun), so things can only get worse

Next time they got into an argument, I want to mediate, not simply be a bystander. How can I help them realize the limitations and flaws in their own mindset, and gain some respect for the opposing viewpoint?

  • 2
    Exact same things happening here in India as well. Is there any person older than your father to whom your father listens to? If yes, they can do the rescuer role. At the other side - your brother should understand that slacking off may spoil his own future not his father's.
    – NiceGuy
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


Oh wow, I've been in almost this exact situation. My parents have very high expectations (not as unrealistic or as strict as your father's, though), and my younger sister has high expectations of herself as well, but keeps failing to meet them. They used to have (and sometimes still have) huge explosive fights that leave the whole household in a bad mood for days on end, and I used to be the 'peacekeeper' - I would try to get them to apologize to each other (or whichever one I thought was right).

I was initially a rescuer, but as time passed, my brother's reaction to all this was actually slacking off more, and he gradually ended up putting inadequate effort into his studies.

Same here; the decreased pressure from our parents made her slack off a little more.

We're Indian. My parents are actually very chill and not conservative much, so I can pretty much get away with a lot of things that would be considered rude somewhere else, especially the way I 'tell them how to parent'. I don't know how to deal with strict parents, so I'll tell you how I dealt with this on my sister's end.

Disclaimer : The below methods didn't solve my problem, exactly. They understand each other's points of view now, so the fights are much much rarer, but my sister is still not meeting expectations, and my parents are still disappointed about it. I'm posting this because I feel like it helps you with your question

How can I help them realize the limitations and flaws in their own mindset, and gain some respect for the opposing viewpoint?

Have an honest conversation

I started off trying to guilt my sister into admitting our parents had a point ("they just want you to do well, it's hard to get into college with these grades", etc). It just made her angry and upset because "I wasn't on her side". Eventually, I managed to get her to say what she thought.

She knew. She knew she was doing badly, but she wasn't able to change enough to improve, and when they told her she was doing badly, she felt like they were condescending and patronizing (Direct quote - "Do they think I'm too dumb to know I'm doing badly?").

I told her that they wouldn't know unless she told them.

Encourage your brother and your dad to communicate

This part is tough. Neither party wanted me 'butting in', but I felt I had to. I basically was incredibly rude and pushy and kept interrupting, but it worked out. I said things like "Ma, she already knows she's doing badly, telling her that won't help", and "Sis, she isn't being a bitch, you know she's right". I vacillated between sides based on who was being reasonable at the moment (and tbh I came off as very condescending), but eventually they got to the heart of the problem and were able to understand each other.

They understand each other now. Both sides agree that the other one has a point. It doesn't make much of a difference to how they feel, but the situation has improved. I hope it helps.

Some mistakes I made (may or may not be applicable to you) :

  • Playing both sides - I defended my sister to my parents, defended my parents to my sister. Eventually they stopped listening to me because "You're on your sister's side no matter what"/ "You're not my ****ing mom, don't tell me what to do"

  • Being condescending - I'm not much older than my sister. She didn't like how I always acted like I knew better than her. It caused a rift between us - we still fight about it.

  • Interfering for the sake of it - There were definitely times I stepped in that made things worse. I thought that I could deal with it, underestimating their ability to compromise. In hindsight, I realize I should've stayed out of it. It left both parties pissed at me and the argument unresolved.

  • Upvoted, this is probably a really nice list of what not to do.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 12:31

From the source you have linked about the Karpman drama Triangle.

The rescuer keeps the victim dependent on them by encouraging their victimhood.

So, the best way to help your brother is to empower them with the sense that they have control over their actions and not feel like a victim.

I totally get that your brother's suffering grades come from motivational problems, and are not necessarily due to the lack of studying.

There have been numerous studies on motivation which tell us that motivation come from perceived control and a sense of competence. One theory that comes to mind is the Self-Determination Theory from Deci and Ryan which says that intrinsic motivation comes partly from the sense of autonomy: that is the feeling that your actions are your own choice.

You can say to your brother, and be genuine interested in his view:

I can see that you feel controlled, and are therefore not motivated to study. I feel that studying and being prepared for life is important. What do you want to pursue in life? Nothing ever changes if you do not take care of it yourself. I have your back, but I cannot express your feelings and act on behalf of you. You have to do it yourself.

Further, motivation is comprised of attitude towards an action, choice with commitment to the action, and intentional forethought and planning. You can stimulate your father to think about what he actually wants. And challenge his beliefs. He most likely wants what is best for your brother's health. For your father "good education" equals a "good job" equals a "good life". Question his beliefs. You could ask:

Do you not want what is your son to succeed? I'm sure my brother has dreams of his own. You might not like the idea, but how about you ask your son what interests he has and support him in his interests.

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