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Carolyn Hax: Brother’s baby is a heavy secret to keep from their mom

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Hi Carolyn: Recently, I found out that my younger brother is expecting his first child. This exciting news is tempered by the fact that he intends to indefinitely keep this news from our mother.

Our mom can be a difficult person, but I believe her heart was always in the right place and she is a wonderful grandmother to my children. While it isn’t my approach, I respect his decision to have a limited relationship with her. However, I find it absurd that he expects us to keep his child a secret indefinitely in the age of social media, photographs and major family events.

My hope is that he’ll change his mind before the baby arrives. But, he’s young and bullheaded. Would I be completely in the wrong if I spilled the beans when the baby is born? I can’t stand the logistical gymnastics and emotional drain the family and I are going have to go through to keep his secret.

— Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed: Yes, you would be completely in the wrong. Do not “spill the beans,” and do not even entertain the idea that your inconvenience trumps his emotional needs.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Blabbing is wrong just because it's not your information to give. Full stop.

Superimposing your needs onto his business, though, is a bigger wrong that will risk your relationship with your brother eventually, even if you keep his secret about the baby.

There's a hint of this problem elsewhere in your letter: that you “believe [your mother's] heart was always in the right place.” What you believe is true about her motives doesn't apply to your brother.

There's good reason for this. You decided she meant/means well based on your experience with her — which was your determination to make. But his experience with her was different, automatically, and would have been so even if you were at each other's sides for every childhood moment you spent with your mother.

So he will, and has every right to, make his decisions for his own family based on his own experience. It may be awkward for you and strain your relationship with Mom, which you can say to him when you ask him just to tell her — but your judgment still doesn't govern your brother, and you don't get to judge his choices based on your information.

Please get these lines clear in your mind now, before the baby gets here. His news/your news. His family/your family. His experience with your mother/your experience with her. His beliefs/your beliefs. These lines do often blur in families led by “difficult” people, so therapy is also an option.

As for the weirdness of keeping such a huge secret against the forces of social media nature, I'm sympathetic. But the impossibility of it is actually another reason not to tell: Why spill beans that are bound to spill on their own?

You can also make a reasonable agreement with your brother that you will not lie to anyone about what you know. Instead, you will deflect and refer people to him, no gymnastics required. “I’m not at liberty to say,” and, “You’ll have to talk to [Brother] about that” are good phrases to have on hand — and to repeat verbatim to people who won’t take no answer for an answer. And if your mom blames you when she finds out? “It wasn’t my news to deliver. If you ever need me to, I’ll guard your privacy as forcefully as I did his.”

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