Question: Dear Luise: I have an adult son who is engaged to a girl that we like and have made many extra efforts to show her how much we like her. My son made plans w/us (mom, dad, sister and brother) to get together and he promised his sister he would take her senior pictures. The first weekend he cancelled because his fiancé had a birthday dinner or something with her family; we rescheduled to the following weekend. Again, they canceled because, again, fiancé’s family had some birthday dinner; well, 3rd weekend and they again canceled due to fiancé’s mom’s birthday dinner! They wanted to reschedule AGAIN after promising not to cancel. I don’t exactly have a problem w/rescheduling; what I have a problem with is that her family keeps coming first – at the last minute; my son told me that they were his family now and made me feel like complete second-class garbage. We have always been very close until now. The worst part is that our family is getting together to celebrate birthdays for son’s dad, aunt, cousin, cousin, parent’s anniversary – all happened in October and we choose this weekend. Last minute, he cancels to have birthday dinner w/fiancé’s mom; 34d weekend in a row; Amy I wrong to feel pushed aside, hurt and upset? I told him we would not bother him anymore and he could just enjoy his new family. It was not nice, but I was so hurt. D.
Answer: Dear D.: There is a delicate balance of power in a new relationship and the repositioning of loyalties, priorities and preferences often seem to challenge it. The worst part about it is that it is usually accomplished in an unconscious manner. The couple seldom sits down and works through any of it.
Your son is smitten. He wants to please. Her family may be making a big fuss over him. His FW (future wife) may be feeling like a queen…perhaps for the first time, who knows? And she may be treating him like a king. This is heady stuff and they are probably not equipped to deal with it very rationally.
If they are pulled this way and that, they may not be able to see the dynamics. She always used to be at all of the birthday parities in her family and now he’s included. He used to be at all his family events, too…but he’s busy going to hers’ now …even though they’re both invited to his. Often there is an unspoken ethic that the home and the issues around it are the wife’s territory and the major career stuff is for the guy to address. They may not be married yet but they seem to be functioning as a couple. It may be confusing and they have very little maturity to call upon.
Everything’s new. Who is going to be in the driver’s seat…and who is going to bend and adapt. How often is it a true and equal partnership? Who is old enough and wise enough when they marry to address such issues? Your son could have said on any of the three occasions, “You go ahead and go, Honey, and tell everybody I said ‘Hi.’ I’ve got a date with my family and I don’t want to let them down. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.” You don’t have to look too closely to see who is heading for supremacy…do you?
It’s not easy to sit back and watch all of this playing out. You have feelings, too, and that probably never occurred to either one of them. They are just kids. If you act like one, too, it will get even more complicated. You need to let them know that you realize they have a lot to sort out. Tell them that you’re sorry that you expressed your disappointment so openly. Let them know that you need to be able to count on them just like her family needs to be able to count on them…and you know they have their work cut out for them. Also let them know that cancellations don’t work beyond emergencies. You have had to drop your plans three times and that is unrealistic and unkind.
Ask them how you can help them sort this out so you don’t become the invisible in laws. If they had grown kids that were marrying, how would they handle it? What would work? Blessings, Luise
I’d also like t suggest you bring your issue to my Web-forum: www.motherinlawsunite.com There’s a lot of combined wisdom and understanding there to support you. Blessings, Luise