Some peo­ple feel forced to par­ent their par­ents

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - GARY DIRENFELD Have a ques­tion about fam­ily life? Send it in a brief email to ques­tion@your­so­cial­ Due to the vol­ume of mail, not all ques­tions will re­ceive a re­ply

Q: Why is it that when­ever I have an is­sue with my mother-in-law, my wife al­ways de­fends her? My mother-in-law is and al­ways will be an al­co­holic. She med­dles in our af­fairs and never has any­thing good to say.

A: It is likely that grow­ing up wasn’t easy for your wife if her mother was also al­co­holic dur­ing your wife’s child­hood. In such sit­u­a­tions, it is not un­com­mon for the child to in a sense, have to par­ent the par­ent. This is an out­come of the real par­ent un­able to take care of fam­ily life. This teaches the child to al­ways be re­spon­si­ble for that par­ent. As the child ages, that sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity doesn’t just go away. It fol­lows the child into their adult­hood.

To add, if the child never re­ally felt val­ued by that par­ent, there is the faint hope that in con­tin­u­ing to care and pro­tect the par­ent, the par­ent may one day come to ap­pre­ci­ate the now adult child. It is as if we never grow out of need­ing to feel val­ued by our par­ents. So when you take is­sue with your mother-in-law, your wife is only do­ing what comes nat­u­rally to her. It may not be healthy, but it is her nor­mal and she may still be seek­ing ma­ter­nal val­i­da­tion.

It may also be that in your up­set with your mother-in-law, you may be too ex­pres­sive of your anger and up­set. If your anger and up­set comes across ag­gres­sively or dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the trig­ger­ing event, you may be over­whelm­ing and even fright­en­ing to your wife. She may view you as abu­sive in your re­sponse. If so, then she may be rea­son­ably pro­tec­tive of the tar­get of abu­sive be­hav­ior, her mother.

Is­sues such as you de­scribe don’t nec­es­sar­ily re­solve nat­u­rally on their own. These kinds of is­sues can un­der­mine and ruin a mar­riage.

Cou­ple coun­selling for you and your wife may be nec­es­sary then to ad­dress the im­pact of ma­ter­nal al­co­holism on your wife and her bound­aries with her mother as well as your be­hav­iour in the sit­u­a­tion.

To take some steam out of the sit­u­a­tion con­sider talk­ing to your wife about your be­hav­iour, not hers. Seek to man­age your anger and up­set and in­vite your wife to coun­selling to im­prove your re­la­tion­ship with her.

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