My Son is Getting Divorced -- How Can I Help Him?

Dear Dr. Betty,

I'm very upset because my son has only been married for about six months and is ready to call it quits. He and his wife both have very bad tempers. There is much jealousy on her part because of things that happened before she came on the scene. What advice should I give him, or should I just let it go and stay out of it? They have a beautiful 19-month-old son and I don't want to see him suffer. --K.

Dear K.,

We all want the best for our children, and we all have expectations for how we think they should live. The truth is, we don't own them and it's their right to determine what to do with their lives. We all need to let go, but that connection gets reinforced when problems like divorce involve grandchildren.

If you're disappointed in your son's behavior, you may feel humiliated and embarrassed and you may be concerned about losing the connection with your grandchild. All these feelings can push your anxiety level through the ceiling! After all, you're a parent and you want to make everything good and safe for your children.

Should You Give Advice? On the downside:

  • If you approach the situation by saying, "I know what's best for you," you can suffer a backlash. If he follows your advice and his situation doesn't improve, you could feel guilty and responsible.
  • Unsolicited advice can take away the ability of your grown child to help himself and thus demean his self-esteem and competence. Are you creating, increasing or perpetuating his dependency on you?
  • If your son doesn't ask for help, he might interpret your advice as criticism.
  • Your advice can seem self-serving and act as a bid for control.

If you've examined your intentions and feel that your mother-son relationship can handle "wise" communication, then follow these guidelines:

Tell him your concerns without blaming him for his marriage troubles. Listen to what he has to say and have a dialogue, not a monologue. Recognize your son's pains or problems and express your sympathy, understanding, love, and support. Clarify the problem in his marriage for yourself and evaluate it together. Discreetly react and try not to use demeaning adjectives. Discuss the issue as unemotionally and objectively as possible. Ask him to think about this divorce and what it will mean for him and his child. Remember to act as the mature parent and friend, always trying to keep lines of communication open. If asked, offer a few ideas--but don't be too attached to any of them! Avoid scapegoating. You've expressed yourself to your son, now you need to back off. Stand by with love and moral support and give advice only when asked. It is vital for you to realize that your grown son is solely responsible for initiating and living with the consequences of a divorce. Can we ever let go of our emotional attachment, love, and concern for our children? No! But we can give them the space to grow be available when they need us, and cheer them on from the sidelines. That's what it takes to be a terrific parent during this tough time.
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Source: Relationships & Love

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