Wednesday 26 October 2016

How good boundaries can prevent a major family fall-out

Published 15/12/2015 | 02:30

Tension between parents and their son’s wife has been ranked as one of the major causes of estrangement in families. Stock photo
Tension between parents and their son’s wife has been ranked as one of the major causes of estrangement in families. Stock photo

A son is a son until he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life. According to a new survey, this old saying is all too true - and your son's choice of wife is the key to family harmony.

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The research carried out by Cambridge University and the charity Stand Alone shows that the tension between parents and their son's wife has been ranked as one of the major causes of long-term estrangement in families.

Becca Bland, CEO of Stand Alone, said she founded the charity after writing about her own experience of family estrangement, explaining how her lack of a family network made her feel very isolated.

Christmas is such a difficult time of year for any family coping with rifts - the pain is all the more acute around the 'happy holiday season'. Not surprisingly, 90pc of those surveyed said they found the Christmas season challenging if they were estranged from family.

Every conversation you have in December revolves around where you are spending Christmas Day - and with whom. Listening to people's plans for big family dinners and get-togethers must be very painful for those with no contact with their relatives.

Seven out of 10 of those surveyed who have lost touch with relatives were afraid to discuss it with others because of what they felt was a stigma about the subject. No matter what age you are, you don't want to admit to being the one with the family who doesn't speak to each other.

The study shows that, when it comes to long-term rifts in families, parents are more likely to lose contact with male children than female children after they get married. The daughter-in-law is named and shamed as the main reason for this upheaval and estrangement.

One in four parents surveyed who were no longer in contact with their sons listed issues relating to the son's marriage as a factor behind the rift. While children are around five times more likely to cut off contact with their parents than vice versa, the problems with daughters seem to be easier to resolve. Arguments between parents and sons last a third longer than those with daughters.

So what is an in-law to do? It is vital you develop a good relationship with your daughter-in-law - as she is key to you maintaining a close relationship with your son. So, what is the best way to keep on good terms?

According to Dr Deanna Brann, a clinical psychotherapist and author of 'Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with your Mother-in-law or Daughter-in-law', you're too close if your daughter-in-law is revealing personal information about her marriage, money and job stress to you.

Dr Brann emphasises the importance of boundaries and of not trying to be best friends with your son's wife. Mothers and their daughters-in-law have fragile relationships, which can easily come apart with the wrong comment or if a parent learns something about their child that they didn't really want to know.

Too much information is a disaster. "If you hear about your son's behaviour it can be hurtful, especially if it's derogatory, and then what do you do with that information?" says Dr Brann.

The danger of over-sharing also came up in a study published in the 'Journal of Social and Personal Relationships', which reported that people feel like part of a family when parents-in-law share personal information about family history. However, disclosing too much, such as discussing their own marital problems, did not lead to feelings of closeness. So, again, boundaries seem to be the key to a good relationship between mothers and daughters-in-law.

I have one friend whose mother-in-law criticises her via her children all the time. She'll say "Mummy must be too tired the clean the house" or "Why does your Mummy feed you that nasty processed food?" More recently, her pièce-de-résistance was to say: "Mummy really needs lose that baby weight before it sticks to her for life."

On THE flip side, another friend married a woman who uses his mother as a full-time child minder/slave and never shows any gratitude. She thinks she is doing her mother-in-law a favour by "allowing her to spend so much time with her grandchildren".

Everyone needs to have respect, show appreciation and not overstep the mark. It's best not to become best buddies with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, but rather give each other space, take the time to get to know each other and then figure out how to live with each other in relative harmony. After all, mothers, especially Irish ones, love their sons and don't, under any circumstance, want to lose them.

Irish Independent

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