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Relationships - May 2016

Sad Mum


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


Sad Mum

Maybe you can help me make sense of this. My son is in the armed forces and stationed hundreds of miles away. He is planning to get married in a few months and I feel I have lost him. Everyone tells me I haven't and he says he won't change, but I am seeing a pattern that makes me fear me and my family will become non existent and her family will be all that matters.  

In October he managed to share his 10 day leave between her and us. Recently he spent all his leave with her. Is this fair? It's been months since we've seen him. I know she means a lot to him but he sees her family too.

What about us?  
You see, we have always been so close. I raised him, mainly alone with the help of my parents, who are more like second parents instead of grandparents, and my sister, who is more like his second sister instead of an aunt. It is killing me that our family won't exist and her family will. I have sacrificed such a lot and done so much, I can't understand why he doesn't save any leave to visit us.  It feels like a bereavement. Bad enough that he joined the forces, that was hard, but now I feel like I don't matter. I 'm so hurt and only want to be treated as an equal to her family. Have I lost him in your opinion? I didn't raise him that way. Why doesn't he care about seeing us?

I'm sure you haven't lost your son.
This is a tricky time for you, dealing with all these feelings of loss after having been so close throughout his growing up. What you have succeeded in is raising a son who has given his patriotic allegiance to the armed forces and his heart to a girl who he will marry soon.

All of that sounds very healthy, and you can be pleased at doing such a good job. No parent can raise a child with the intention of having him or her stay home for the rest of their life, and parenting isn't about our adult children treating us 'fairly'. We aim to bring them up to feel strong and secure enough to feel they can go out into the world and make their way independently, and hope that when they find a mate, that person can love your child generously, honestly and well.

Naturally, any loving parent would wish their child could stay nearby and be involved in the original family but in the modern world that is not always possible. Thank goodness computer technology allows us to feel close even when our loved ones are far away.

Perhaps you feel your son hasn't given you enough information, and this might be part of why you feel a little left out of his life. Perhaps he is unaware of, or not understanding, how it feels to be in your situation.

He is posted away from home and has a wedding to plan and home to set up with his fiancée. It will take quite a few leave periods to discuss arrangements with her and her family if she is marrying him from her home town. That process is time-consuming. Let them push on with it and try not to see it as your son not caring about you. It is unavoidable that he sees his future in-laws if he is visiting their home. I'm sure the reason for his visits is not to see them, but their daughter! I hope you will be invited to his wedding and it will be a joyous affair.

There is no reason to feel you will be losing him to another family. As you say, you were very close as he grew up. He will never forget that, it is what has made him strong enough to find his own way as an adult. Love for a parent is never a love that is easily transferrable - it would take some terrible breakdown of the relationship to wipe out all those feelings.

For most people who get to know their in-laws, affection grows slowly, and develops to a true parental level only for the fortunate few. Often a friendship can develop, rarely love.

You are not losing out to another family, you are watching the eternal human process of the fruits of your love for your child developing into your son's ability to tap into that reservoir and offer love to his wife-to-be - and eventually to his children. Feel proud that he can do that - you, and those who helped you raise him, made it possible.
Have you watched the movie Brooklyn? Apart from being a film able to reduce grown men to tears, it explores perfectly the pain of letting go of your children or your parents, and of setting out on a life far from home, as well as the problems caused when people are unable to talk about their feelings and worries.

Probably he and his wife will eventually settle down not far from either of their families - so not so far away. That won't be so bad. Even when living far across the world families don't stop loving each other.

So talk to your son and tell him of your anxieties - ensuring you make it clear they are your own anxieties, not his to worry over, but keep loving him, and reassuring him of your pride in him - and welcome his wife when she comes into your family. Her family might even have fears similar to yours. When you meet them perhaps you will be the one who can reassure them!

I hope this time of natural adjustment and understandable feeling of loss gives way eventually to pride in having a good and loving son and pleasure in a daughter-in-law who loves him deeply, in her own way - which, incidentally, is not at all like the love of a mother for her child - so there is no 'contest' with winners and losers. And remember, none of us does things the way our mothers-in-law did them - but that doesn't make us, or them, wrong.

Good luck, and enjoy the wedding.


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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