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Dear Patricia: Our son's future wife is cutting him off from us

MY son has been dating a girl for approximately three years. She is very possessive, to the point of insisting that he go to her mother's brunch on Mother's Day, which caused a good deal of stress between him and me earlier this year. She argued that he had said he would go, and threatened to break it off with him if he didn't follow through. He wanted to please her, and I understand that. But I discussed very openly with him that I didn't think this reflected much sensitivity on the part of his girlfriend, and also reflected badly on his choices.

There have been many other incidents over holiday weekends, when she insisted that my son attend her family functions, while his father and I were left feeling cut out.

My husband and I have spoken openly to my son about our concern at her lack of interest in getting to know us, and her extreme possessiveness. I can honestly say that I started out with an open heart, maybe too open, and have been rebuffed so many times that I have lost interest in trying very hard. Even though our contact is quite limited now, I still try to get along whenever I see her.

She is correct in her behaviour, but never warm or friendly. My feeling is that if she is this cool before the wedding, how much worse will it become after the ring is on her finger? I am the mother of three sons and I realise how important it is to get along with daughters-in-law. I truly want to have a good relationship. On the other hand, I also think it's better to speak up before the wedding, after which I must forever hold my peace.

At this point, I just wish she would go away and my son would find someone else. My husband, who is easy-going and who generally takes the long view of things, thinks this woman is suffering from some kind of emotional disorder to do with extreme possessiveness. And he says he will not attend a wedding, should it occur. Much as I don't think this is the girl for my son, I can't bring myself to say she's "sick". And I would have to go to the wedding for my son's sake. But how could I attend without my husband?

I do believe that if my son marries this woman, I will never see my grandchildren. We will also, always, be forced to take a back seat in terms of her mother and extended family, all of whom live reasonably near-by.

The part that hurts the most is that our son pretty much knows about our concerns and is still involved with her. I don't know what's the best thing to do. I want him to be happy and in a healthy, balanced relationship. I don't think she's going to provide that for him. We are starting to get pressure from her to meet her family. We don't want to, because we are not interested. I know we will probably have to, but it has all become terribly uncomfortable. Help.

Patricia replies:

YOU'VE backed yourself into a corner on this one, haven't you? And you do know, of course, that it's a battle you can't win? Our children inevitably choose love over parental duty. Just as we did, if and when we had to. It is in the nature of things. And right.

Oh I do understand, completely. And no, I'm not trying to rub salt into the wounds. I'm just saying, as clearly as I can, that you're going to have to do some serious back-tracking, and soon.

You may well have begun with an open heart. I doubt, however, if you began with the right attitude. Your son met this girl and you began a power struggle.

You see, it's one thing to wish your son would turn up on your doorstep for brunch on Mother's Day. It's another thing entirely to demand it. Worse, it's ridiculous to turn a particular time-frame into a tug-of-war. There are at least 12 waking hours in a Mothering Sunday. Why were the battle lines drawn over brunch? This isn't about love at all. It's about two egos staking out their claim. And you now have the additional problem that you've got your husband all steamed up about it. As so often happens, in an attempt to be on your side, he's done the typical male thing and gone into overdrive with his threats to boycott a wedding. Small wonder you're scared.

You say your son's girlfriend is correct, but never warm. Wouldn't it be a good idea to ask why? Look at what you're saying to me. She wants you to meet her family and you are not in the least bit interested. Don't you think that coldness is obvious? Can't you see your own hostility? From where I'm sitting, it's amazing she's bothering at all.

You are clued-in enough to know that mothers need to get on with their daughters-in-law. But you are not putting that insight into action. On the contrary, you've been behaving quite recklessly. If, as you fear, you end up not having much contact, including with any future grandchildren, that will truthfully be a situation entirely of your own making.

This girl isn't sick. She isn't insanely possessive. She's challenging your notions of how your son should behave now that he's in a serious relationship. In fact, she's fighting for him to have a life of his own -- or rather a life of normal togetherness with her.

Let me ask you another question. Why do your husband and yourself feel "cut out" when your son and his girlfriend spend weekends with her family? Don't you understand that it's absolutely none of your business what he does with his time? He's a grown man. Why aren't you off enjoying your own life? Why on earth would you want him dancing attendance on you? Where does that notion come from?

I am not being nasty to you. I am trying to help you save yourself from the sadness of losing any meaningful contact with your son. So let me say it straight. You are refusing to cut the umbilical cord. You are inappropriately hanging onto your son. Your notions of filial duty are misplaced. You are wrong.

Most sadly of all, you are in grave danger of losing him entirely. Look at yourself seriously in the mirror and start changing your tune, which means changing your thinking. Get enthusiastic about this upcoming meeting with the girlfriend's family. Tell your husband you've been an idiot. Go off on a holiday with him and send cheerful postcards to your son and his girl.

Do you understand? You are the creator of your own unhappiness. The good news is, you can change tack, if you so desire. There is still time.

Sunday Indo Living