I feel like I’m losing my son

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My first born child is 22 years old and living with (engaged to) his girlfriend and they have a 1 year old little boy (my first grandchild). I have been a single mom for 14 yrs and we have always been very close. He works full time and was going to college till this past semester, when it just became too much for him with his new family responsibilities. I support him 100 % in his decisions and I have tried to butt out of their lives and give them space. However, it has backfired. Everything has always been her way, with her family and anything I have ever suggested or questioned is always shot down. I don’t get to see my grandson very often, maybe once a week and we live in the same town. My son calls about once a week and it is usually just quick hi and bye type conversation. I truly try to respect their lives and not interfere, however I have always willingly handed over money when needed or paid for something they might need if they couldn’t afford it (she does not work). She stays home with the baby and usually my son comes home to a meal he has to prepare himself and laundry, etc that he has to help with. She does nothing. This has truly become a thorn in my side and not being able to see my son and grandson often is tearing me apart. His dad and I are divorced and he is pulling away from him too. So I know it’s not just me. I don’t know how much more of this I can handle what do I do? I have tried stepping out of the picture and I’ve tried the other way, nothing seems to be the right thing. Please help me!

A: I’m sorry you are feeling so distressed. As a single mom with an only child, you have always been especially close to your son. This must be very hard indeed.

What you are experiencing, though, is a very normal transition. Your son and his wife are struggling to figure out how to be a family. Most young people pull away from their parents during this process. They intuitively know that if they keep their relationships with their parents the same, the new family won’t jell. The fact that they are also taking distance from your son’s father tells you it isn’t personal. It’s part of a stage. It’s also natural for a young woman to be more comfortable with her own mother than her mother-in-law (much to the distress of mothers of sons everywhere).

Your son and daughter-in-law are also working out how to handle chores and childcare and money and a thousand other things, big and small, in these early years of their marriage. If you judge their choices, they will need to separate from your even more. They need to own whatever arrangement they come up with. It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to help them out financially. But a gift doesn’t entitle you to anything except gratitude. Only give what you can give open-heartedly, with no expectations. That will keep your relationship free of resentment.

As painful as the current situation is is for you, it is better for you to accept some distance for awhile. That doesn’t mean stepping out of the picture. It means embracing the part of the picture that you have. You are seeing your grandbaby once a week and getting at least a weekly phone call from your son. As little as that seems to you, it is more contact than most moms of sons get at this stage. That tells me that you’ve done a good job as a mom and that you can probably count on more contact as the young people settle into their relationship.

Meanwhile, please take this time as an opportunity for you to do some of the things you couldn’t do while your son was growing up. Follow an interest or take some classes or spend more time with friends. Perhaps your career can get a new boost with the extra time and energy you have for it.

Please find a way to focus on the positive.What the young couple needs most from you is your support and love, not pressure.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Feb 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). I feel like I’m losing my son. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/02/15/i-feel-like-im-losing-my-son/