Why Have My Son and Daughter-in-law Declared War

Question: Dear Luise: I have a 22 year-old son who is currently serving in the U.S Marines in Iraq. Two days before Christmas he disowned me via a phone call while I stood in the pouring rain in my driveway absolutely devastated. I can’t bear to relive the awful words he spoke to me. He is married to a girl I barely know, she is also a Marine. She and I met for the first time last April when my son came home on leave and they decided to get married by the Justice of The Peace. They didn’t want anyone there. I didn’t interfere. I have never done anything but support my son. They stayed with us for the 10 days they were home, but we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them. I never spent even 5 minutes alone with my “daughter-in-law”. They left after their 10 days with us, telling me they would let me know their new address when they got settled in North Carolina. Well I never heard from them, so I called and left a message on their voice mail saying, “Hi, it’s Mom, I know you are busy. Just calling to get your address, just call me when you get a chance and leave it on my answering machine, you don’t need to talk.” (Meaning – I knew they were busy, they didn’t need to feel the need to call and talk. I was fine with that. No harm intended.) That started the whole thing. My son turned my phone message into a war, how dare I speak to them like that! They were not going to talk to me if I was going to be that way! He didn’t speak to me for 5 months after that. I had no idea why. What did I do? It was the worst 5 months of my life. I went into a deep depression, I cried every day for those 5 months. My son finally spoke to me 1 week before he went to Iraq. It was a very harsh and unpleasant phone call. Nothing was resolved. He was very bitter and angry with me on the phone. I didn’t recognize the person I was speaking with, he was a completely different person than the son I had raised and known his entire life. Then he left for Iraq. We still were on shaky ground. I was still devastated, very hurt, confused, depressed. Now he was gone and I may not ever see him again. Even though I have tried desperately to keep in touch with his wife, she has never responded to any of my calls or E-mails. The last time I heard from her was the day she called me in September to tell me he arrived in Iraq. We spoke, I asked her to please keep in touch with me as we have my son in common, we both love him and he is a world away. She seemed fine with that. At no time did she let me know or lead me to believe that she had no intention of keeping in contact with me. I heard from my youngest son that she was coming to visit at Christmas. I had been calling her and leaving messages, even offering her a place to stay. I was never pushy, only kind. I sent her a very touching card at Thanksgiving. No response. My son E-mailed me from Iraq on December 18 saying his wife was going to be stopping in with my Christmas gift and he hoped I liked it. That is the only way I knew for a fact that she was coming. Obviously she never let him know she decided months earlier not to speak to me or keep in touch with me. So she came into town to visit at Christmas time, however I guess I was not supposed to know she was here. My youngest son called me on the Sunday before Christmas at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to ask if he could bring her over to visit before she had to leave for Ohio within the hour. She wanted to bring my Christmas gift to me. Now the fact that she decided to come and visit 1 hour before she was scheduled to get back on the road to go home is a clear indication to me that she never had any intention of visiting me at all. I surmised that I was not even supposed to know she was in town. Well, she showed up and it was very uncomfortable. She wouldn’t look me in the eye, she sat on the edge of the couch cushion and fidgeted for the whole 8 minutes she was in my house. When I asked her why she had been avoiding me for the past 3 months, she bolted from the house and ran outside into the pouring rain while calling my son in Iraq from her cell phone, evidently they spoke daily as it was a local call for them the way they had their calls set up through the Military. My youngest son and I could hear her from the driveway screaming at my son over the phone. She stayed outside for about 15 minutes yelling at my son in Iraq the entire time until she opened the door and yelled for my youngest son to “get outside, your brother wants to talk to you!” He went outside and spoke to his brother who did nothing but yell at him to “get her the hell out of there”. When my son came back in to tell me his “instructions”, I decided to confront the situation. My “daughter in law” would not give me the phone, she was telling my son in Iraq “do you hear her, she’s crazy!”. I had to grab the phone from her and all I got was “how dare you treat my wife like that, she drove all the way there just to see you and give you a gift!” He proceeded to tell me to “stay the **** out of his life, leave him and his wife the **** alone, don’t contact them.” I tried to talk to my son, but all he would do was scream at me on the phone, saying horrible things to me. Now the fact that I never got any kind of response to any of my phone calls or E-mails doesn’t mean anything to either of them. I have never been unkind to my “daughter-in-law”. I simply asked why she wouldn’t respond to me. I am devastated by all of this. I have been to the point of wanting to die. I go through such a range of emotions every day. I miss my son so much. I have tried to contact him, but he will not respond to me. I truly feel as though I am grieving the loss of a child. The depression is unbearable. This has consumed my life. I don’t talk to anyone about this, I put on a brave face everyday even though I am truly dying inside. I have made an appointment for grief counseling, I go next week. I am truly beside myself. I don’t know where to go from here. Why do I have to lose my son over this? T.

Answer: Dear T.: The more I ponder over this question, (and I have experienced something similar with my eldest son), the more I am baffled by it. It usually has something to do with a son who doesn’t know how to combine his lifelong love for his mom with his new love for his wife…marrying a woman who wants to be married to him but fears becoming part of a new family and accepting her husband’s oldest friend, his mom. My youngest son and his wife had no problem at all with any of it. Why then the huge difference in attitude between my two kids who were raised in the same home by the same mom? That’s what has me baffled.

It’s clear there’s nothing you can do. Being nice didn’t help, backing off and waiting didn’t work and apparently asking what was going on was a cardinal sin.
For some reason, your daughter-in-law appears to be afraid of you. Your son may have something to do with that or he may not. Certainly he is highly protective. Your attempts to stay in contact have probably been misunderstood and certainly your being direct with her when she brought you a gift, and was obviously terrified of you, didn’t work. When you grabbed the phone in your own defense…you probably “proved” how threatening you were.

Going for grief counseling is a very smart move because, for now at least, he is lost to you. Not wanting to live doesn’t say much for your relationship with your other son or, for that matter, with yourself. The sooner you can get past that the better.

You have no crystal ball. You don’t know how this is all going to shake out. Having been through it, I know how devastating it can be. I learned first hand that it was up to me to pick up the pieces and go on. So, my advice to you is…don’t waste time and energy looking for an answer. Your son and daughter-in-law are not cluttering up their thinking with logic. They are deep into rationalization: rewriting the “Somebody Done Me Wrong Song.”

It’s hard to do but it’s time to focus on and appreciate what you have left. We can count our blessings or count our heartbreaks but we can’t do both at the same time. Blessings bring the experience of peace and joy while heartbreaks bring only devastation and despair. You have to choose and then keep re-choosing. That’s the only way I got through it. I found helplessness and feeling victimized to be almost disabling, so I elected to get on with my life. Little by little, it worked. Not right away and not always…but it did work. Blessings, Luise

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