United Kingdom

BEL MOONEY: Should I blame my son-in-law for bitter family rift? 

Dear Bel,

My fun-loving, easy-going daughter of 25 got married six years ago to a man two years younger than her. He was quiet, did not communicate with us much, and we rarely saw him put his arm around her.

Thanks to an inheritance after my mother’s death, she and her husband were recently able to purchase their first home.

He encouraged her to be quick with the money transfer and, to cut a long story short, she made a mistake due to an email scam. Her husband was more furious when he discovered we were trying to help.

Thought of the day 

O look, look in the mirror,

O look in your distress;

Life remains a blessing

Although you cannot bless.

From As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden 

At last, when it was sorted, I agreed to gift about £3,000 and redo the bathroom and shower. After three days of hard work (I always make a lot of effort and do projects with our church and don’t expect anything in return) we were told they felt ‘controlled’. A few weeks ago, my wife and daughter had an argument which resulted in accusations of ‘manipulation’. We met and our daughter said we were ‘on probation’ and needed to adhere to the boundaries.

My son and his wife were moving a long way away so held a gathering near where my daughter and husband live, but they wouldn’t attend.

My wife and I were upset, so I sent a forceful text message, only to be told: ‘That’s it’. I subsequently apologised.

Two weeks later, in a short phone call to them (to discuss Christmas), we were told they wouldn’t be in touch for 30 days since we disobeyed boundaries.

None of it sounds like my daughter. I am furious with them both. Is my son-in-law controlling, is my daughter’s therapist giving bad advice or are we parents blind to something?

PETER

This week, Bel advises a father who says his wife has been left distraught after falling out with their daughter and son-in-law 

You put ‘distraught wife’ as the subject but give hardly any detail about your wife’s feelings. But it’s not surprising she’s desperately upset by a rift which seems to be getting worse.

What matters is whether your wife shares your fury or whether (in truth) she prays you will tone it down and try to be the peacemaker in this all-too-common disagreement.

It’s normal for parents to be unsure about the man or woman their offspring marries. Active dislike is hard to fix, but accommodation can — and must — be made, if there’s to be any hope of future relationships.

Sadly, you did not much like your son-in-law from the start and worried that he was unsuited to the daughter you love.

You found it strange and unappealing that he did not show much affection to her — which is understandable, although it’s important to realise that even the man who hugs in public may hit in private.

The fraud attempt will have made everybody tense, but it was sorted out so they could move into their new home. You say your son-in-law was ‘furious’ with her, but I’m curious whether that word came from your daughter’s confidences, or from your own sense of how you’d have responded in his place.

After all, the word ‘furious’ appears twice in this email — so something is telling me your own anger may have escalated this family rift.

Yes, the talk of ‘probation’ and ‘boundaries’ is insufferable. But responding with similar pomposity makes everything worse.

I sense you are a man of firm conviction — active in your church and with a strong sense of how important it is to help others but also of what is right for them.

Your daughter has accused you (and her poor mother) of being as controlling as you believe your son-in-law to be. Is it perhaps the case that we have two ‘furious’ and ‘controlling’ men and two ‘distraught’ women?

A loving father will always be vigilant over his daughter’s welfare. But there is also the danger that the old stag will be sent packing by the younger one. That is, unless wisdom and experience teach him tactics.

You are writing from the U.S., but this situation happens all over the world.

It could be true that your daughter has married a rather immature young man who wishes to assert his authority by gradually taking her away from her family.

It may also be the case that he is ‘controlling’ — and even if not in the criminal sense, in the way he lets her know what he thinks about her interfering parents.

Let’s walk all around this tableau. Maybe your son-in-law is bossy. Maybe he resented having to have help from you because he’s useless at home improvements — and possibly jealous of your whole family.

Maybe your daughter has picked up too much therapy-speak. Maybe she lost her easy-going fun during the stress of the scam-attempt. Maybe your little girl has changed without you realising.

These are all possibilities you need to examine. Above all, you must realise that perhaps you are also at fault and may be blind to that fact. This I will say with certainty: you will not ease your wife’s distress by being ‘furious’ and ‘forceful’.

If you wish to retain the love of your daughter, you will take two steps back and tell her you are sorry about the words spoken out of turn, and that if they don’t feel ready to have a festive drink, particularly in light of any local virus restrictions, then you understand.

Send them blessings and tell them you look forward with all your heart to a new start in a much better 2021.

 I feel so trapped looking after Mum

Dear Bel,

I’m in my mid-50s with three grown-up children, a lovely husband and home, and no money worries. We’re a close family and see a lot of each other.

I look after my grandson two days a week, and next year will also look after the two on the way. I’m lucky to be young and fit enough to help my daughters.

My parents lived abroad so my siblings and I had to fly over several times a year to help with health issues. We persuaded them to move to the UK, got power of attorney and took charge.

As the nearest, I was always the first port of call. Hospital appointments, emergenices in the middle of the night, neighbours phoning . . . it was stressful.

After Dad died last year Mum fell, broke her pelvis, then got Covid. She ended up in a care home for respite until she was deemed well enough to leave. She’d said she wouldn’t go back to the rented flat but wouldn’t say where she wanted to go either. She told us to get rid of everything she owned.

I recently picked her up to live with me and I’m in despair.

I can’t face the rounds of appointments yet again. She’s never been easy and was quite harsh to us as children, but she has mellowed slightly.

At 90 she’s miserable and talks about nothing but her ailments. I feel she has manipulated us by making herself homeless.

My sister has breast cancer and my brother is recovering from stomach cancer. We’re sharing her care, a few weeks each, but I feel they shouldn’t have this burden.

Everyone wants a piece of me, I can’t bear it, I’m peri-menopausal, miserable — and feel guilty. This is my own mother. I feel trapped and want time for me. Is this selfish?

MAUREEN

Right now, I feel like finding out where you live and driving round with a huge bouquet.

I completely understand and hear the cry of a woman who has always done her best, been devoted to her family and expended endless energy on that love and care — only to be forced to realise that both love and energy have their limits.

This is not your fault, nor are you ‘selfish’. You are caught in a sad situation with which thousands of people will identify.

Truths should be told, even if it makes us uncomfortable to acknowledge that older people can become selfish and demanding without realising it.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail...

You say your mother was always difficult, and the fact that your parents moved to live in another country (do people consider their families when they do that?) would indicate a certain emotional and physical distance.

But when, at last, she really needed her three children, your mother had no compunction about making demands. Sell my stuff. Sort out my life. Take care of me.

Put in that situation (as so many are) some of us are willing to do what we see as much, much more than duty, even though it may be distressing. But others are not willing and feel resentful at being at a parent’s beck and call.

This is why I am glad you have uttered a painful truth many people will understand. At this busy (but physically unstable) time in your life, why should you not want a little respite yourself?

A key part of your problem is your anxiety over your brother and sister. But perhaps they each feel quite capable of sharing your mother’s care. Obviously you will talk it through.

If this rota continues but one of you feels unable to carry on, then the option must surely be to find a good care home where your mother will have the kind of constant attention she needs.

This may well be the best option, even when it feels like the worst.

And finally...Time to quit patronising grannies!

A few protests arrived about the illustration on this page two weeks ago. The lead letter was from a 71-year-old grandmother, and talented Neil Webb portrayed an elderly lady with a stick. A stick!

Cue howls from women who objected to this shorthand for ‘granny’. I replied to each saying: ‘Quite right and we won’t do it again.’

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers' questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

But 2020 has become The Year of the Granny. Facebook chum Elaine asks: ‘What is this constant emphasis on “granny?” She seems to be a grey-haired, dribbling idiot as spoken of by that twerp Hancock and his Sage advisers.’

Quite. And what on Earth has happened to poor grandpa? How come nobody’s worried about hugging him? Grandfathers have rights, too!

Then there is the bizarre Sage suggestion that on Christmas Day you should seat ‘granny’ at the end of the table by an open window. Hypothermia awaits!

I reckon my children should park this oldie-but-goodie in our field and lob roast potatoes over the wall.

Seriously, the ‘concern’ for older citizens is patronising, stupid and inhumane. And my readers tell me so. Pamela wrote: ‘WHY don’t they consult the “grannies”? Most of my contemporaries (mid-70s) agree we’re all going to die of something fairly soon, and it is OUR RIGHT to kiss grandchildren, even if there’s a tiny risk. We can decide!’

She wasn’t the only one to write like that, after my Saturday Essay last week, on tiers and illogicality.

Many old people are vulnerable yet still need touch. I was moved by an email from a nurse with 45 years experience.

Heather wrote: ‘An elderly lady attended the surgery in tears. To calm her, I put my arms around her. She pressed herself into me, to gain every ounce of contact, and told me that she had not had human touch for five months. All she needed was a hug.’

There are more anecdotes like that — enough to make you sad and mad.

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