I am hosting my three married kids and their families for the first days of Pesach. My youngest son’s wife is a very difficult person. She is very clingy to my son. When we are gathered around the table, she monopolizes the conversation and if someone asks my son a question she answers for him!
My son is a good husband. He’s extremely loyal to her and meets her every need. (Even the ones that are outrageous). He never complains and seems genuinely happy with her.
My problem? It really pains me to be around them. I feel like I lost him to her and feel like he’s trapped. I want to know if there is anything I can do to help him.
Dear Muzzled Mother,
As parents, we look forward to our children getting married. We have such high hopes and dreams for them… and why shouldn’t we?
When we get a front row seat to our children’s marriages that are not what we had wished for them, we’re left disappointed to say the least.
The thing about your situation is that your son seems happy. That doesn’t leave you any openings to help him if it appears he doesn’t need help.
You may think, or even know, that he needs help. However, the thing about helping other people is that if the person is not seeking your help, your help may be unwelcome, perhaps even counter-productive.
It’s possible your son is very happy and feels content and fulfilled in his marriage. If that is the case, there’s little you can do to “help” him, aside from biting your tongue and flashing a toothy grin at your daughter-in-law.
That’s the hardest part. And it won’t be as simple as faking a smile or being cordial. If you feel animosity towards your daughter-in-law, it is very likely that she will pick up on it. Either your disingenuous smile or your overt displeasure will send vibes out that may cause her to grip on to your son more. And what will that make you do? Probably cringe that much more.
More than a superficial shift, we’ll need a complete overhaul from the inside.
First step is to notice how you feel when your daughter-in-law does something like answering a question that you asked you son. I would imagine it feels pretty frustrating, with maybe a tinge of outrage. Does it show you that you don’t have access to your own son? Does it feel like it’s not right or not fair?
Next step is allowing you permission to possess those feelings. Of course you feel this way! Who wouldn’t? You didn’t expect it to be this way and you don’t like it.
Those two steps alone are a counter-intuitive way to calm down. For some reason, when we simply label our emotions, we are able to soften them. Giving a voice to the negative, powerful emotions somehow take the edge off of them— that is half the battle.
The next step is deciding if you can accept that this may never change. Your daughter-in-law may always act this way. It may not seem fair or right, but you need to prepare for the possibility.
Now what? Well, if you are too saddened or angered by this, then don’t push yourself to be extra cordial. It goes without saying that you should do your best not to be mean or snide. But pushing yourself to be super-nice when you are feeling resentful will not end well. It will take a ton of emotional energy to fake it, and seeing that you will be together for at least 48 hours straight means you will probably explode in some fashion or another while they are still under your roof. Not too pretty.
It is far better to take your time with this and work on noticing how you become activated around them than to try and just pretend that you’re happy.
Once you feel you have reached a place of acceptance, you will notice that you are capable of generating positive feelings toward your daughter-in-law. At that point, you may be able to compliment her shoes or listen with interest as she is telling a story.
Regarding your son: Once you develop a genuine ability to see some good in his wife, you two may have more to talk about. A parent’s approval goes a long way. So, if you see something good in your daughter-in-law, make sure to share it with him.
Keep in mind that this is all very hard work and typically cannot be accomplished quickly. If you aren’t able to go as far as you’d like—no worries—Succos is but six months away!
Aviva Rizel, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Aviva maintains a busy private practice in Cedarhurst, NY where she sees couples, families and individuals. She previously served as the Clinical Director of The Five Towns Marriage Initiative. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), the most effective, research-based model for strengthening couples’ connections. Aviva is also active in educating therapists and laypeople about EFT. Mrs. Rizel and her husband, Meir Rizel, MS, a Mental Health Counselor, enjoy co-lecturing across the tri-state area together almost as much as they enjoy raising their three children together in Far Rockaway, NY. To reach Aviva, email AvivaRizel.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 347-292-8482 To find out more about Emotionally Focused Therapy, go to iceeft.com.