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Good Advice to Appalled and Heartbroken Mother-in-Law
Dear Emuna

Good Advice to Appalled and Heartbroken Mother-in-Law

How to respond to threatening texts from son’s fiancé.

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Dear Emuna,

My son is engaged to a girl who doesn't care for me, but I thought things were going much better. Then out of the blue I recently received texts from her that led up to, "If you don't pay for our rehearsal dinner…” (which I always figured I'd pay for) “and our honeymoon like you are supposed to, then you aren't welcome at the wedding.” She had actually taken my son’s phone and texted the messages as if they were coming from him. I'm both appalled and heartbroken.

Devastated Mom

Dear Devastated,

I find myself unable to be objective here, sharing your heartbreak upon reading your words. In most situations involving adults and their in-law children, I usually admonish the adults to be just that – adults. Someone has to be more mature, someone has to have a long-term perspective. And usually it’s us. In this case, it’s much harder.

Although perhaps still true. I feel very conflicted about the advice in this situation. And a little limited since you have revealed no other details about your relationship with her. (Is there a reason she doesn’t like you or is it just her personality? Do you just have different styles or did you do something, intentionally or unintentionally that was hurtful to her?) What’s the nature of your relationship with your son? Was it strong until now? Did this come out of the blue? Is he bothered by the way his fiancée treats you? The answers to these questions would certainly be helpful.

If your relationship with your son remains strong despite these challenges then I would begin by very gently and VERY carefully opening a dialogue with him. “You know how much I love you and want you to be happy. We really would love a relationship with your fiancée as well. I’m a little confused by these texts. Can you explain to me what’s happening? Did I say/do something hurtful? Was there some expectation that we were unaware of and didn’t meet?”

Let his reaction be your guide. If you can keep calm and ask these mildly probing questions with love instead of anger or accusation, you can perhaps open up a conversation. Maybe he’s also feeling confused and frustrated and doesn’t know how to extricate himself. Or maybe due to her completely different upbringing and family style, she had expectations that you were unaware of. Maybe you inadvertently hurt her or made her feel unwanted.

It doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean to; it matters that you did. But if you now understand it, you can hopefully rectify it.

If this conversation doesn’t evolve as hoped or your relationship with your son isn’t strong enough to even bear a conversation, then you have a different problem which has everything to do with your son and nothing to do with her. If there is distance or hurt between you and your son, perhaps he has shared that with her. Perhaps she is annoyed or hurt on his behalf. Perhaps she is responding to his own feelings of unmet expectations. This is all theoretical since I really have no idea what’s going on. What I mean to suggest is that if it comes from him, the situation is harder to rectify. It’s been years in the making and your daughter-in-law’s behavior is just a symptom.

Either way I guess I am back to my usual perspective. Despite your pain, despite the heartbreak, despite the perceived (and perhaps justified) unfairness of the situation, someone has to be the adult here. And I think that someone is you.

Try to put aside your hurt (I know, easier said than done) and explain that it would be your pleasure to pay. Look for opportunities to spend time with them, to get to know her better, and most of all (and perhaps counter-intuitively given the situation) look for opportunities to give to her.

This will reap two-fold benefits. Since it is a fundamental tenet of Jewish understanding that the more you give, the more you care, your giving to her will deepen your relationship with her, your love for her and that in itself will enhance the relationship. I hate to haul out the old trope but there is something to the familiar advice that the job of in-laws is to keep their mouths shut and their wallets open!

Additionally, if you give to her and make her feel warm and loved, it is more likely (no guarantee) that she will respond in kind. She probably wants to feel that you like her, that you respect her, that you are happy about your son’s choice. So act as if… and you may be surprised to discover that this new behavior will lead to a new type of relationship and that you will both be able to move on from your initial bad start.

Maybe her behavior is annoying now, maybe she’s truly immature and money-grubbing – but she is going to your son’s wife and the mother of your grandchildren. If you don’t want to lose both those relationships, then you need to be willing to step up and pay the price, no matter how abhorrent or unjust it may seem. I don’t just mean the financial costs but also the price of humbling yourself, of not standing on your pride or your principles.

I always counsel married couples that ‘”being right is a lonely place to be”. This doesn’t only apply to marriages. So take a deep breath, ask the Almighty to give you strength and perspective, try a conversation with your son if you are capable of calm and lift up to the responsibilities of adulthood. Even as your heart is breaking…

March 10, 2018

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Sarah, March 27, 2018 4:02 PM

What led up to this?

I wonder what led up to this? It seems unlikely that this would really happen out of the blue with no previous history. So do ask yourself what has created this hostility and extreme bad behaviour on the part of the fiancee.

If this happened to me, I would be taking a good hard look at what I'd done to cause this kind of hostility, and I'd be phoning her to acknowledge anything I'd done to make her feel threatened, and apologising for it.

Definitely don't talk to your son without the fiancee being present. That would be asking for trouble. When they get married, they become a unit, and it is vital to support their marriage rather than coming between them by talking to your son without her.

If I were to talk to my son in her absence, it would be to urge him to cleave unto his wife and do everything he can to make HER happy and secure in their marriage. I would tell him that I will not be splitting them: I will not be hearing any badmouthing of her by him. That he is now married and he must take responsibility for and honour his marriage, and that I will in no way come between them.

You are the adult. You don't need to feel like a victim. Find it in your heart to see that this woman seems to be suffering. If her bad behaviour is nothing to do with you, it wouldn't upset you. It would only surprise you and make you wonder why is up with this woman. Given that you do seem to be feeling very upset by this, do consider the possibility that you may have said or done something that precipitated this bad behaviour.

Even if you have been nothing but perfectly loving and supportive to this woman, try to think of what she might have found unloving or unsupportive and apologise for that. Take responsibility. Be the bigger person.

(10) Anonymous, March 23, 2018 4:52 PM

This is learned behavior. My (ex) daughter- in-law’s parents treated my husband and me the same way. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have a discussion with one, ALWAYS have both people there. No one should be the messenger and it teaches open dialogue. You start with “I” statements. “Apparently I have done something, unknowingly, that has created an issue between us. I would really like to discuss it openly so that I don’t continue doing something that I don’t realize I am doing and make things worse.” I truly liked my son’s girlfriend when I met her. We were friendly, enjoyed each other’s company, shopped together, cooked together, but I knew it was over the day they came to our home to say they were engaged. My initial happiness left me and never returned. It was downhill from there. We were told her wedding plans and she then went nose-to-nose with me and said, “and that’s not negotiable!!” knowing I wouldn’t like the day, the time or the place; early Saturday (still Shabbos) and non kosher. To thine own self be true. Do not let someone else make you into someone you are not, reducing you to their level. You need to see yourself in the mirror each day and so does she.

(9) Anonymous, March 19, 2018 8:22 PM

Why is the son putting up with this?

Why is the son allowing the girl to be disrespectful to his parents? It's a definite dealbreaker. It looks like she is controlling. The parents need to advise their son that unless he is strong enough to influence the girl to respect his parents, he is headed for a lot of problems for himself.

(8) Anonymous, March 19, 2018 4:34 AM

The telltale clue

Far be it from me, a man, to presume to know what is going on when there is friction between a mother and a prospective daughter-in-law -- especially since my wife and I enjoyed such consummate shalom bayis between ours and our parents' households -- but I think there was a dead giveaway in the otherwise sparse narrative. What kind of a person sneaks a hostile message to a prospective in-law by using her fiancé's phone in a way that made the message appear to come from the fiancé? No slicing and dicing, no on-this-hand and on-the-other-hand, can excuse such deliberate deceit. I have to say, in this case at least, Marshall McLuhan was right: The medium is the message.

(7) Dvora, March 18, 2018 3:44 PM

Never tolerate disrepect in your own home or disrespectful media texts!

If they will lie to you, disrespect you, they are already acting as a criminal thug on the street. This is NOT Family! Yes, inquire, converse, but under no circumstance should you undermine the respect you deserve. If you do, they will rob you maybe even KILL you. There hopefully is a better solution that will come of it, but emotional blackmail is completely unacceptable! Be prepared to walk and cut all ties. My very best to this troubled soul of a Mother!

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