DEAR CAROLYN: I’m a 70-year-old mom of a 35-year-old, newly married son, my only child. What are your thoughts about his telling me that if I visit them, I need to stay in a hotel? I would only visit if invited, of course. I visited him before and stayed in his apartment. Prior to that, he lived in a different city, and said if I visited, I needed to stay in a hotel. I didn’t visit him there.
As explanation or support he writes only that all his friends have their families stay in hotels. Just a by-the-way: I know lots of his friends and this isn’t true. My son and his wife host their out-of-town friends in their second bedroom with a comfy sofa bed. I’ve emailed back that I, like the rest of my family and everyone else I know, aren’t people who stay in hotels on short family visits. I think I also wrote that such a visit would engender not-good memories for me (I have too many to ignore already).
I don’t know his wife well. We haven’t chatted or spent time together just us two. She has a warm personality, many friends and writes me friendly thank-you notes for gifts I send her. (I always email her first to ask if she’d like whatever it is.) It’s been that way since we met and I don’t have a judgment or opinion about what our lack of closeness is about.
I 100% get that other families happily do stay in hotels for excellent reasons. I may change my thoughts, like if my son has children or whatever (though parents I know and parents of his friends stay with their children and grandchildren on visits).
DEAR “JANE”: If you indeed “aren’t people who stay in hotels on short family visits,” then you aren’t people who will ever visit your son.
Done. Your choice.
For the record, I can think of about a dozen more helpful people not to be. You can not be people who:
• Presume to tell your hosts how to host you. Because doing that is so incredibly rude — and, when you do it at a time you’re hoping to endear yourself to a child-in-law, it’s also self-defeating to a degree that leaves me agape.
• Rummage around in a son’s other relationships for proof of how justified you are to feel wronged by him. “[T]hough parents I know and parents of his friends stay with their children and grandchildren on visits”?! Just, stop. You are not a child; take unwelcome news with some grace.
• Expect grown children to follow your blueprint for what “family” does or doesn’t do. They’re old enough now to have their own vision of “family.”
• You owe them and their choices the same respect you’d show any other adult (in those “other families” you “100% get”).
• Shift blame onto the most vulnerable target. You say yourself that your son made the hotel request once before, pre-marriage. So quit the side-eye at the wife. Your son wants this. Period.
• Refuse to be an agreeable or flexible guest, and then marvel when you’re invited only under certain terms and conditions.
Just for example.
I realize none of this is welcome advice for someone who is, at heart, just feeling hurt to be kept at arm’s length. (Right?) I also understand the underlying fear: You’re losing your son to the new family he and his wife have created.
And you’re clearly aware you need to do your part, since you took pains to note your daughter-in-law’s good qualities and that you wait to be invited.
But anyone who really wants to solve the riddle of a strained relationship must reckon with this possibility, full on: “Maybe I have no one to blame but myself.” Even if you ultimately disprove it. Yet none of your finger-pointing is at you.
I urge you to look inward now because everything I’ve listed is an alienating behavior that you’ve employed — each one on its own an effective method at pushing people away. They all fit into a cycle of defensiveness, which no doubt this answer risks perpetuating, but which I also hope you override long enough to say to your son: “I’m sorry. I overstepped when I emailed you. I struggle with change, but I will adapt. I owe you and [wife] that.”
If overstepping has been your mothering brand, a deeper reckoning is in order.
There are some objectively terrible people out there, many of whom become someone’s son- or daughter-in-law, of course — a sad and intractable problem. But you make it plain your son’s wife isn’t one of them. That means it’s on you to work with the people you’ve got, the arrangements they offer and opportunities you see. Open mind, open heart, open arms — and, yes, a room at a stinkin’ hotel.
Though I suggest treating yourself to a nonstinkin’ one, as your means permit.