Carolyn Hax: Now that she’s the mom-in-law, she won’t abide boundaries

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My wife put up significant boundaries with my mother right after we got married. She had good reasons.

Our son and his wife have been married for several years, and have apparently put up boundaries with my wife — limiting contact, contacting her on their schedule, etc. My wife does not understand WHY. She complains incessantly to me that she does not hear from our son and daughter-in-law as often as she’d like, which would be multiple times a day. We do hear from them every week or so. I’ve said on more than one occasion that perhaps they’ve put up boundaries similar to the ones we set for my mom.

My wife just won’t hear it. Any ideas? She does go to therapy.

Bearing the Brunt: Doesn’t sound like therapy’s hitting the mark.

I’m not sure your counsel is, either; connecting this to the boundaries your wife set for your mom encourages such a negative association. And it doesn’t sound justified: The kids are in touch regularly and often — well within a range of normal, at least, for people who get along just fine. Within the range of envy, even.

Now, it could still be true that your son and daughter-in-law keep you at arm’s length on purpose and have negative reasons for it. You certainly know the situation better than I.

But if you are on the cold side of a boundary, then there’s no better argument for your wife to Back! Off! If what she wants is a better relationship with this couple than you two had with your mom, then respect for the couple’s space is the only answer.

It’s always the answer, which is why I mused that your wife’s therapy hasn’t gotten real traction. If it had, then your wife would be working from the respect-and-acceptance playbook vs. the Mobius-strip-of-need playbook.

Butanyway … you have an opportunity to say to your wife that of course she’s hurt, since she has such a negative association with boundaries. She used them, though, because your mom forced her hand — while this couple is in regular, frequent, voluntary contact. So it’s an almost 100 percent possibility these are apples and oranges: You’re all in good standing, they simply prefer contact on their terms. Again, frequent terms! Yay! Right?

Therefore, dwelling on the negative with them, even nonverbally, has no upside — while risking the serious harm of infusing every family interaction with her dismay at not getting what she wants. Sounds like a firmer caution is due, then your own boundary with your wife on this topic.

Re: Boundaries: Maybe it’s not about boundaries but rather that life changes. They are married. His mom is no longer his main priority. It can hurt — but it is time to adjust and stop hurting herself by continuing to actively want it to be like before.

Anonymous: In fact: The attention the son gives to his marriage now reflects the attention his mom gave her family then, during his childhood. So it’s a not a snub, arguably, it’s proof of a lesson well learned. Thanks.

More readers’ thoughts:

· I told my retired mom that a month for me is like a week for her. Meaning, time moves differently when you are retired vs. working full time, with a teenager, spouse, friends, etc. It seemed to help.

· No adult child in the history of the world calls their parent as often as the parent would like. My mother didn’t; I didn’t; my kids don’t. They’re busy with things other than their parents.

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