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‘Our son is getting married soon, but we think he’s making a very big mistake’

Tell Me About It: ‘His wife-to-be comes from a broken home where all her siblings have gone their separate ways’

Question

Our son’s wedding is coming up soon. We are filled with anxiety and dread.

This is for no other reason than we both think he’s making a very big mistake. His wife-to-be couldn’t be any more different than the type of woman we had hoped he would marry. She comes from a broken home where the children, now all adults, have gone their separate ways from each other. They seem to have little or no sense of family together. She is all about appearances and spending money, which they don’t really have.

Yet, he seems besotted with her and seems to be going totally her way, away from our family norms which is to support each other and be there together for all the important things. I see an ocean of problems coming up down the road and we’re both finding it hard to face this upcoming wedding, which should have been the biggest celebration for everyone.

Any advice if what we can do at this stage?

Answer

Many people reading this will recognise the difficulty you are in. Of course, we want our children to get together with partners we approve of, but in truth they are the ones to chose who they want to spend their lives with, and we have to find ways to accommodate that.

The attraction for your son’s partner may well be the solid, close-knit family tradition that you provide, but it would not be unusual if that was also a threat to her. She may be feeling on the outside of your family’s closeness and feel that she has to carve out her share of your son’s attention, so you need to be careful that your resistance to her, and to the marriage, does not deepen the divide.

When we are insecure, we sometimes hide it by showing the world how successful we are with material things. The fact that you disapprove of your son’s partner’s focus on appearance and spending may actually widen the rift between you. If the wedding is next month, the decision to commit is obviously firm by your son and his bride so what you can do is manage your own (possibly silent) criticism and be solid in your support for the newlyweds. What can happen is that your son ends up in a situation where he feels he has to choose between his family of origin and his wife and then both sides suffer.

His new wife needs to be gently and gradually involved in family occasions and an awareness of her possible unease catered for by all your family. As your family are well supported and connected, you have the position of most power, so it is incumbent on you to shoulder the most change. A good starting point for this is to speak to your son and ask for advice. For example, your son might know how best to include his new wife in your family’s social events, he may know how she receives approaches of friendship or what her vulnerable points are so that you are equipped with knowledge before engaging.

If you reassure your son that you want his expertise in challenging your own behaviour so that family relationships improve, he may feel resourced and confident in his future with all his relationships intact. You can start by looking at criticism and its effects. Criticism divides, even when it is silent – so change your attitude and your speech about your son’s partner. This does not mean moving into the realm of fantasy, but you can develop an attitude of openness and compassion that should at least impact on your own wellness and with time draw out a less wary response from your future daughter-in-law. It is important that you try to also speak encouragingly to your own family as they will take the lead from you and the general level of disapproval of the new family member might dissipate.

There is also something about grief in this story: you feel you are somewhat losing your son and this is a natural process to go through. Your future daughter-in-law may also feel sad when she witnesses a type of family she did not have, so you have more in common than is obvious on the surface. Grief comes with complex emotions including sadness, anger and despair but we also know that we can move through grief by practising acceptance and trusting that time has a healing effect. You may never come to love your new daughter-in-law, but, if you are willing to put in the time, you may end up with mutual respect and tolerance.

This is enough to form the basis of a continuing relationship that may include grandchildren and a supportive system for the next generation.

The first move is yours as you have all the capabilities that a strong supportive family instils in its members, so be generous and optimistic and everyone will benefit.

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