Sitting by yourself, you reminisce the golden memories of raising your child. Raising your child/children had once become a part of your identity. You ponder over the long-gone days of when you alone made most of the decisions pertaining to their well-being. And, you wonder how quickly your child has now turned into a full-grown adult. You want to accept this fact, yet you want to still hold on to the last tread of memories of parenting that you still so cherish.
You realise that this Adult-child of yours no longer needs you, like they once did. His/her priorities have changed. And, it is hard for you to catch up with that fact. While you are still grappling to accept this reality, there is one more major and often irrevocable life change that you are required to accept, i.e. His Girlfriend/Wife.
Let’s be fair, who likes ‘change’? So, you obviously resist; to the extent of sometimes being labelled as the “Monster-in law” by the younger woman and the society. But while you are resisting the change, you are building a gap between your daughter in law and you, which you may not realize, but would slowly turn into a fissure that you may never be able to bridge ever. These dents between you and her could be occurring by intentional or unintentional actions or behaviours from your end towards her. You develop a subconscious need to dominate or compete with her; or unintended feelings of envy, or jealousy for her begin to seed into you. This happens because she holds your son’s attention a little more than you do, because she is younger to you, she has abilities or talents that you may not have now or had when you were younger and plenty of other reasons. But do you realise that none of your subconscious or unintentional issues are really her fault. All these feelings are a by-product of your need to not let go, to not anticipate and accept change, to not tide with changing times, and to not accept your empty nest syndrome. While you began to count numbers to your son’s increasing age, you did not do anything to slide from your role as his “full-time mommy” to his “mentor” and “friend”. The hard fact remains, that while he was growing into an adult, You did not do much to develop your identity other than his full-time parent.
Let’s address each of your issues one at a time, from your perspective, the repercussions, and let’s give you a solution if needed.
You may think, “When I walked into a home full of strangers, I made loads of compromises myself. Adjusted to my in-laws and their customs. Of course, the new girl has to follow the rules of the house, and work towards building her relationship with us. So, what is new about that”?
Well, let’s put you in an environment or a country alien to you (E.g. Mongolia). You have no clue who these people are, their language, their way of living, food, culture and even what may tick them off wrongly. What do you hope? You hope that these people will gently and kindly make you feel a part of their surroundings. You would also hope that while you are trying to understand their customs, you are not forced to forego yours, because these customs are a part of your identity. I am certain, many years back this uncertain environment was your in-law’s house. I am only reminding you of how it feels for the younger girl today. If you showed a little empathy to the situation, you would be less forceful about making your opinions thrusted. Another perspective is, why should any individual give up on their opinions, way of living or values? If ‘you’ did it back then, you shouldn’t have done it. If you are expecting it now because you did it too, that’s a wrong way to build any new relationship. Only when you completely accept another person (anyone for that matters, not just your son’s girl friend or your daughter in law) can you be able to create love, respect and harmony between the relationship.
2. Your biggest concern, “She is young and inexperienced. She has no clue about how to take care of my son, the house, cook perfectly, raise children etc. She needs my advice and help”.
Let’s assume you are at work. You have a boss constantly hovering over you. Nagging you, advising you, assuming that you don’t know anything, can’t do anything right. You begin to wonder why are you doing this job anyway! You begin to look for an environment/job/company which would allow you to use your capabilities, talents, skills, knowledge a fair amount of experience as well as inexperience to conduct your job. You look for freedom to be able to do things your way. Freedom to learn, make mistakes, gain wisdom. You begin to detest this boss. You begin to search for a new job. Unfortunately, in the household dynamics the younger girl does not want to look for a new boy-friend/ spouse. She is perpetually stuck with you and your habits of interference.
Let’s put another perspective. If your son has decided to live the rest of his life with this girl (Hired her for the full-time job of being his spouse) He knows what he is doing. Allow them to learn, make mistakes and gain wisdom on their own. Your advices and suggestions would be valued only when your children voluntarily come to you for them. All other times they are either tolerating them or being polite to you.
“This is my space. It took me years to build it the way I like it. It took me great amounts of patience, toil, hard work, and of course the death of my own mother in law to be able to become the matriarchal figure of this household. She too has to prove her worth or wait”.
What if I told you that you can very much keep your space intact, matriarchal figure intact, live exactly the way you want to live without having to adjust to the opinions of your children or anyone else and still be loved, respected and share a harmonious comradery with your son and his wife. It is absolutely possible without any sparks or warfare.
It is simple. You keep your space, and don’t tolerate any interferences with that, and you allow your daughter in law to keep hers, and don’t interfere in her space.
The most loved and cherished people are those who blend in easily with the people they are amongst. Who are not fussy. Who respect other people’s need for their own space. Don’t look at it as adjusting or giving in to your son’s wife or girl-friend. There is a beautiful quote that resonates your situation, “The tighter you hold sand, the faster it slips out of your fist”. Let go of your need to control, genuinely. And, watch how quickly you, your opinions, your presence, and your advices would be revered and valued. And, someday if you feel your children behaved/decided otherwise, don’t be affected. Everyone has a right to choose. Let them make their choices, guilt-free.
It is not the end, it’s a beginning.
Every phase is beautiful, only if one begins to look for the beauty in it. When you were a young mom, Absolutely inexperienced at motherhood. Do you remember holding your new born baby and wondering how long it would take to raise this little baby into an adult? In spite of the inexperience and nervousness you felt back then, you raised your child to the perfectly capable adult that he is today. It does not mean that it’s time for you let go of his hand now. But, it means, that you simply allow your son to hold his arms protectively around your shoulders, while you allow the young couple to hold each other’s hands firmly through the thick and thin of their lives together. You allow him and his wife to gently transit you to a life that is void of the full-time responsibility you once took to raising your son. You allow them to help you to revisit the inner young girl you once left behind because of the burdens and hardships you faced in life while raising him, to help you begin to live your life for yourself only, from henceforth.
Sherene Aftab is a Counselling Therapist and a Visiting Lecturer for colleges. Her expertise in counselling lies in areas of Personality Enhancement, Career Coach and Relationship Counselling. She dabbles between counselling, lecturing and writing for various publications. You can reach her on www.lifeskillsmadeeasy.net or[email protected]