My husband has a very intense job that he is passionate about and he is able to really support our family. It gave us the freedom to let myself step back while we raise our child, which is a very great privilege, even though being a stay-at-home mom was never my plan. I think my mum was really irritated that this shift to me being at home means that some of who I once was is now gone, in addition to my husband taking a step back from a parenthood more active.
My marriage was brought to the brink during the pandemic. I never discussed these details with my mother. I saw a therapist, and my husband and I sorted things out (but not everything), but we both feel a huge weight on our shoulders and a recommitment to marriage. During this phase, my mother made it clear that she was unhappy with how the bulk of the responsibility fell to me. His issues are my husband not engaging with our son, using his phone too much with our son, and blaming me for little things (eg misplaced or expired item). Interestingly, these are all things that we are slowly working on as a couple. I never said this to my mother or complained about these problems. She just feels like he’s no match for the really committed dad I have. All of this means that my mother has now become passive-aggressive and rude towards my husband.
After a (too long) stay during the holidays with my parents, things got out of hand. My husband has now said he won’t see my mom until there is an apology and a plan of action in place so she doesn’t bully him in the future. My mom is really even more upset about her screen addiction and her disappearing act. I think it’s a self-feeding cycle, where my husband spends more time checking in and she gets angrier. They are two people I cannot live without. The answer is not divorce, and the answer is not to cut up the family. Both of these people have flaws in their own way and I grew to love them anyway. My husband will never measure up to my father as a parent, because I didn’t marry my father. My mom will never give up on making sure my life is filled with happiness, but my husband has made it clear that he just wants me to be happy and stress-free. To help. I was a wreck for days.
A. “My husband made it clear that he just wanted me to be happy and stress-free.”
Well, if that’s true, he should stop asking you to come up with an “apology plan” for your mom. Tell her that the request will cause more conflict and more emotional work for you.
Really it’s time to say both of those loving, flawed, important people that you spend far more time worrying about their perception of each other than you do about yourself. Assure Mom that you have heard her concerns and are considering them. It doesn’t help to hear him repeat them over and over again. Remind her that in-laws/vacation time is not a normal Tuesday. Some of what she sees on the phone may not match what happens on a normal day.
Explain how this affects you – that in those times, when she’s trying to protect you, you find yourself more interested in dealing with the people you love than taking care of yourself. She may ask you questions about your life and your happiness, but the “Why is he like that?” speeches say more about her.
When the next holiday comes, shorten the tour. Work with your husband (share the work) to plan an activity that requires commitment (and distraction) for at least a few hours. This is why board games were invented. That’s why we skate on Frog Pond. It’s quality time, without the phone, but also without passive-aggressive conversation.
Clearly define your limits. “I can’t solve this problem without being under more stress. I don’t need more stress. Let’s all work on being better to each other on the next visit. For now, we let it go and assume the best of each other. Do this for me. The end.” Ask them both to help you make it easier for the person they love the most.
It looks like you and your husband are working on your marriage – congratulations – your mom needs to step back, learn her place AND learn how to be a good guest in your home for her to be invited back.
Your mother does not recognize that with an adult child, the role of the mother changes. She no longer controls. She has NO RIGHT to interfere with your marriage or parenting. She should only give notice when asked or if you are in danger. I don’t know how you can tolerate being in the middle of this crossfire. It’s up to you to end it.
The helicopter mother is wrong here. Very bad. An important rule in parenting is to let go as your children grow. It’s your marriage and your family. Not his. It’s your career. Not his. It’s your life. Not his. It’s time for mom to bring the helicopter back to the hangar.
REALLY FORMER MARRIED
I really suggest that you assess your own feelings about your husband’s behavior. Something tells me that your mother’s comments affect you and that you are also disappointed in your husband.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast on loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.