Messy Marriage

Posted on July 31, 2012. Filed under: Couples, Family, Home, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Dear Lora,

My son has been married to a sweet gal for 7 years, although she’s nice, her mother is a different story.  Within a year of the wedding, her mom moved in.  A couple of years later, the mother-in-law took custody of one of her other grand-kids, that little girl currently lives with them as well (her parents are nowhere to be found).  They have two kids of their own and now, reluctantly, he has also taken on parenting the niece.  He doesn’t feel he ever has alone time with his children and feels obligated to include the niece.  I need to point out my son is the only one working in the house and they are financially strapped.  His wife says she can’t find a job, although she is a credentialed nurses assistant.  The mother-in-law has a bad back, but is not on disability, so I wonder about that.  I told him to kick the mom out, but that would mean the girl would have to go too.   I hate to see him struggle, what should I do?

Mom in the middle

Dear Middle Mom,

Good gravy Miss Mavey, there sure plenty of lumps in this batch!  The good news, with a little whisking, I think we can get this smoothed out.

I totally get that this situation seems incredibly overwhelming — for those in it, it must feel like there’s no way out.  Luckily, I’m sitting some distance away on another pew, which gives me the chance to see this a little differently.

I hate to sound like a preacher, but I’m a firm believer in that old saying “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”.  (For those out there who aren’t big fans of God, you can insert “universe”.)

With that said, your son is going to have to man on up!  Especially since this is a girl we’re talking about.  Girls need father figures, whether it’s their own biological one or otherwise.

Remember:  just because some dude showed up and donated a few of his genes at the right time of one month, doesn’t always guarantee he will show up with his big boy jeans on and do the right thing for the rest of that child’s life.

It’s been proven, girls with positive male figures have a greater chance of doing better in life.  They have more self-worth, score higher in certain school subjects, are most likely to excel at a sport, and list goes on.  If that doesn’t get his attention, then mention what can happen without one: teenage pregnancy, ending up in an abusive relationship, even becoming a stripper.  Not that stripping is illegal or anything, but you know what I’m saying.   I have yet to meet anyone who would proudly announce their daughter works at Cheetah’s!  Or niece for that matter!

It’s simple — it’s NOT that little girls fault, but it could be your sons, if he doesn’t handle this properly.  Right or wrong, he’s been placed in her life as much as she’s been placed in his.  Honestly, it sounds like she’s got an angel looking out for her, without your son and daughter-in-law, she could end up in a foster home, if anything were ever happened to grandma.

As for his much-needed one on one time with his own children, he needs to plan dates.  Mark off time on the calendar to spend with each separately – that could be going to the park or just getting ice cream.  It doesn’t have to be an entire day and doesn’t need to cost anything.  Side note to all of us: you can’t put a price on time well spent.  However, there’s a catch — he must also makes dates with the niece.  Whether he likes it or not, his kids are watching and taking it all in…he’s not only showing the niece she’s important, but also showing his kids what a real man is.  A real man steps up and takes responsibility.

For example, my dad died when I was in the 6th grade.  Although my mom, Norma Jean, never remarried, I was blessed with a fantastic brother-in-law who always made sure he was around when it was time to learn how to drive, who made sure I still went snow skiing, taught me how to check the air in my tires, etc., you get my point.  Although I have 2 brothers, it was my sister’s husband who stepped up to the plate.  Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize what he was doing at the time, but looking back, it’s super clear.  He never announced his actions, never said “since your dad can’t be around”, he just did them, those little things that a dad would have done, had he been there.  An important point to your son, I remember all of those nice things.

On to the mother-in-law.  I hear your frustration, but I’m not sure the best answer is to kick the mother-in-law out and it certainly isn’t what the niece needs.  He’s going have to sit his wife and her mother down with all the bills and explain he needs some financial help.   Basically, one of them needs to get a job.  It doesn’t matter which one, it just needs to happen to keep the family afloat.  This is pretty darn simple: you can’t keep rowing down the river with 6 people and only 1 oar.  Bottom line – one gets a job, the other can stay home and take care of the kids.  OR, they could both get part time jobs and split the child rearing, either way, he needs a life-preserver and fast!  If some of the financial burden is lifted off  your son, I think it will offer much smoother sailing.

I commend your son for taking on of this extended family.  Despite what we envision for our children, today, families take on many different forms.  There’s no set of rules as to what a home needs to look like.  It’s what ever you make it.  I truly believe if more families watched out for each other, our country wouldn’t be running the huge moral deficit it is right now.

Take pride in the way you raised your son, he’s clearly been putting up with more than most husbands would be willing to.  I really believe there is a special place in heaven for him, at the least there will be special place in his niece’s heart if he handles this opportunity correctly.

Ps.  While I am skeptical of most government handouts, I believe there are those who truly need financial help, and it sounds like this little girl does.  I am not well versed on this subject, but I think it’s worth a call to the local Social Security office.  Since neither the girl’s father nor mother are able to contribute, there may be some assistant available to her.

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iHop’n To Meet Mom

Posted on January 9, 2012. Filed under: Couples, Family, Parenting, Relationships | Tags: , , , |

Dear Lora,

Over Christmas break my husband, kids and I made our yearly trip to Texas to visit his family, where I get to watch him play the role of the “good son”.  It’s usually pretty hilarious, but this time something really bugged me.  Here at home, I can’t ever get him to go to breakfast on the weekend, but there he was Mr. Morning!  He would jump right out of bed to meet mommy at iHop!  Whenever I suggest iHop around here, I get “I don’t eat that stuff!”  In Texas, he goes from sleeping, to in the car racing toward iHop in about 6 minutes!  I’m so frustrated!  Why will he do this for his mom and not me?

iHop’n Mad

Dear Hopping Mad,

As our mothers have always said, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I’ll take it a step further and say when it’s a son meeting his mom for a stack of shortcakes, this saying takes on a whole new meaning.

If he were bouncing out of bed to meet up with an old flame, I’d say you have every right to bombard him with a list of burning questions.  But since it’s your mother-in-law, you may want to put the matches down.

I don’t mean to make light of this link, but you can’t look at it the same way you would another women who would be considered a threat to you.  Although, there are plenty of times when mothers consider themselves “competition”, I don’t think your case seems to be one of them.  Trust me, I know all about men who are enmeshed with their mothers – but that’s a column for another day.

Your iHop’n hubby is most likely doing what his business card says: Perfect Son.   That’s the title on the card your mother-in-law carries around with her, right?  Mother’s and son’s have one of the most complicated, and, in my opinion, least understood relationships going on the planet.

How many times have you turned on the news and seen parents standing by their blatantly guilty children?  It’s because they can’t see past the complex bond.  Admitting their kids have an issue could mean there’s something wrong with them, so the cycle keeps going ‘round and ‘round.  Who can forget watching convicted killer, Scott Peterson’s mom defend him?  Now, imagine what the mother of a man who was to chicken to toilet paper another frat house in college thinks of her son – he’s a rock star in her head!

Your husband no doubt feels the obligation to keep his “Good Son” image going, as his mother is one of the few in the world who think he’s perfect, or pretty close to it.  You should hear my mom, Norma Jean, talk about my brother, you’d think he was at The Last Supper, he has total disciple status in her book.

Back to breakfast, most men feel some sort of pressure to maintain their position in their families of origin – I’m going to use the iHop menu to help to explain:

Let’s start with the basic combo:  If your husband is like mine, who happens to be the baby of the family, he’s super secure in his place in the bloodline and he doesn’t feel much pressure from his mom.  To me, this is just about the best spot a man can have, I describe his maternal relationship as the “Simple & Fit”, it’s around 400 calories and doesn’t need any frills.  Although his feeling of obligation to her is a little less than most men, he still responds to her needs and definitely plays the role of the youngest to a tee!

On the flip side, you have hubbies who swing to the other extreme, maybe they are the oldest boy, or worse, the only boy in the family – Egads!  I would most definitely put those men in the “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity” category, which means they not only requires a lot of real butter, but the syrup has to be poured on thick when he meets his mom for brunch!

Most men are somewhere in the middle, most likely ordering the Two x Two x Two.  Basically a step above the low frills, but with much less butter and syrup.

Despite the varying degrees of complexity for this mother/son alliance, there is a common thread — his mother is most likely his first love and oldest flame, which comes with an unspoken obligation to keep the fire burning.  For the son, this means moving the logs around the fireplace to make sure embers keep glowing or, in his case, meeting her for a meal at her favorite spot to let her know she’s still loved.

Men have been told what to do, when to do it, how to act and most definitely what to eat by their mothers their entire lives, so it’s no wonder she gets to call the shots on where and when they will have pancakes and eggs.

As wives, we are (hopefully) seen as their partner, and not a parent.  Which means your sidekick feels like he can express himself with you and say “I hate eating there” knowing you most likely wouldn’t debate him on it.  Where as he knows his mother might take offense to someone bad rapping her favorite restaurant, or anything else.  See what I’m saying?

As the husband, he has more freedom to express himself, as the son, he’s trying to make sure he’s not hurting her feelings.

I know what you’re probably thinking…why don’t our husbands give us this consideration?  It would be FABULOUS if they gave us half the forethought they do their mothers, but in the majority of cases, they just don’t.  For one, it’s a lot of work, and for the most part, men are basic creatures, they don’t like muss or fuss and will take the easiest way out when possible.  Thus, you and I are usually left with their raw and honest answer, while mom gets the sugar-coated one.

So see, it’s not about his love for you, it’s about how he manages showing love for his mother.   I suggest letting this go, it’s not worth the energy, and honestly, if you tried to explain to him the abovementioned examples, he most likely wouldn’t undesrtand what you’re trying to get at.  It’s not because they’re dumb, it’s because “it’s complicated” and men, no matter how many advanced degrees they have, they don’t do “complicated” well.  I’ll bet most don’t even realize the emotional dance they’re doing with their mom.

If all your husband has to do is meet her for an inexpensive breakfast once in while, I’d say that’s a Grand Slam — wait, wrong restaurant — at any rate, count your blessings!

Be grateful she wants to meet at an iHop – honestly, she could be iHopping over to your doorstep every Sunday morning expecting you to cook!  Can you even imagine how difficult it would be to try to whip up one of those stuffed French toast combos?

I say wish your man and mother-in-law a hardy bon appetite and go grab yourself a Starbucks and a new pair of shoes…you can afford them if he keeps meeting her there!

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