I am torn between my wife of 14 years and my mother. My mother needs lots of attention, especially since she was widowed three years ago. She likes to speak to me every day and see me at least once a week. She always has small d-i-y jobs for me to do and wants to be updated on the family. She also gives me lots of advice. At least I call it advice but my wife calls it ‘gross interference’.
I agree my mother went a bit overboard about the school we chose for our 11-year-old and wrote us a letter on why she felt it wasn’t at all suitable. I was happy to change schools to save any bad feeling but my wife was very upset, insisted it was nothing to do with our mother and refused to budge.
There’s also been rows when she takes our son away for the weekend. These trips sometimes extend to Mondays and he misses school. My wife thinks she is trying to brainwash wash him, but I think it’s rather generous of her. I suppose I tend to give in because when I tried to stand up for myself as a child she would scream and shout, call me all sort of names and not speak to me for days. I didn’t give in to her about my wife, however even though she told me she didn’t like her. I knew she was the right one for me and didn’t listen, so my mother didn’t come to the wedding, which really upset me. I am used to her being difficult but my wife is exasperated by her and thinks I should break off all connection. I can’t because my mother can’t help being who she is and am upset that my wife doesn’t support me. I now fear I’m near the point when I have to choose between them both. I am also asking myself if I have chosen someone very similar to my mother?
You are obviously caught between the two key people in your life, which must be very difficult particularly when you are unlikely to please both of them at the same time. It also seems their positions are becoming increasingly polarised as they try to get you on their side. We advise you to try to avoid it getting any worse.
Your wife should be the most important person in your life and we recommend that you reassure her that she is your number one priority and that you will work out how to manage your mother, however daunting it may initially feel.
You both need to listen and support each other and in particular you should help her understand your difficult position. Take time to discuss what you went through with your mother when you were a child and how she still makes you feel. Your wife did not grow up with a mother like yours and may not understand her motives or how frozen someone can become when a horrid parent makes unreasonable demands.
It might be possible to avoid severing contact with your mother and instead have a relationship with her on both your and your wife’s terms. You can still visit her but work out in advance how far you want to respond to her demands. It might also help if you found a handyman who could take over her small jobs from you.
You and your wife additionally need to decide on boundaries that your mother must recognise in relation to your children. If it is against the school rules for them to miss school you must tell your mother the trips away are inappropriate during the school term. Moreover it really is you and you wife’s joint decision as to how you raise your children and your mother should not be involved.
Remember above all you are not that scared little boy anymore but a responsible husband and father.