Venus Nicolino holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships
Dear Dr. V,
My son is only twenty-three years old and is wanting to marry a woman who is fifteen years his senior. While this doesn’t seem like a problem on the face of it, my feeling is that my son is not ready to get married — moreover he is definitely not ready to have children.
I know this may sound extremely cynical but I feel as though this woman is using my son to get married and have children because her biological clock is ticking. This feeling is not without evidence, as she has mentioned in passing the type of language that only another woman would pick up on. My point is that their possible union doesn’t seem predicated on love but rather ulterior motive on her side. As my son’s mother, I feel as though I need to approach the subject. To ignore it would be disingenuous. I want to make it about him and his life not about her … how do I do this?
Dear John’s Mom,
I certainly understand and can empathize with your troubled feelings on this matter. Though your son is twenty-three, this is still very young in the grand scheme of things. As his mother, it makes sense that you would feel concerned, perhaps even frustrated, with what might appear to be the naivete with which your son perceives his situation. And I do think you should share your thoughts and concerns with him.
But before we discuss strategies for effective communication with your son, I’d like to take a moment to discuss what you might be feeling at the prospect of your son getting married. I think it’s important for you to bear in mind that in some ways, no mother is ever ready for her son to get married. This is not to say we moms don’t want our sons to grow into happy, thriving men with families of their own, but there is an implicit loss for a mother when her son marries.
Specifically, the woman he will be striving to make happy in his life will no longer be you, it will be his wife (be it this woman or someone else he may meet in the future). In a healthy marriage, the spouses place each other before anyone else in the world. As women we may think, “Well, of course this is as it should be.” But dealing with this same reality as a parent, especially if you have a close relationship with your son, may be upsetting. This can be a difficult transition for mothers and sons to make, but it is a normal, natural part of maturing, and when you really think about it, it’s part of the greater cycle of Life.
If you can recognize these feelings when they arise, it might be easier for to you to navigate your way through this period of change. This is not to say you might not feel blue, upset, frustrated or what have you, but remember it is a transitive process. No matter whom your son marries, the new family dynamic will eventually establish itself, and equilibrium will return to your relationship with your son and your new daughter-in-law. And though your relationship will change with your son, the love you two feel for each other will not be lessened. In fact, you might find that you two grow closer together when you begin to relate as fellow adults.
As for the present circumstances you wrote in about, the best suggestion I can make is that when you approach your son to discuss this, do so from a place of respect, empathy and love. It may be challenging, as you must walk a fine line between speaking as his mother and as an adult woman with a bit more experience in the world, yet still remaining respectful and relating to your son as a peer. Though he is young, he is also a fellow adult, and should be treated as such.
Try not to lecture, but instead ask questions. How does he perceive their relationship? What is his understanding of marriage, what does it mean to him? Does he expect they’ll try and start a family immediately? As you said yourself, she has dropped hints “in a language only another woman would pick up on,” so by definition your son may be unaware of her expectations. If this is the case, then the age difference could be contributing to such a misunderstanding, as a young man in his 20s would most likely not even be aware of, yet alone understand, the pressure a woman in her 30s or 40s might feel regarding the window for being a mother getting ever smaller. Depending on your son’s responses, you could suggest he discuss this topic with his partner. I would add though, as a caveat, that when you address this point you avoid making it sound as if you are telling your son in essence “you’re too young to understand.” Keep the focus on the issues that truly concern you, rather than what you think might be shaping his perceptions.
Just to play Devil’s Advocate, there is, of course, the possibility that your son is ready to get married. It is after all a two-person relationship, so he must be getting something out of it (aside from the obvious). Perhaps your son was attracted to this woman in the first place because he himself is emotionally advanced for his age, and appreciates the maturity this woman brings to the relationship. Perhaps these two feel blessed to have found each other in a world crowded with immature men and women of all ages.
However, outside of speaking your mind in an effective, respectful way that clearly communicates your concerns to your son, there isn’t much more you can do. He is “only” twenty-three as you said, but he is also an adult, and therefore free to do as he wishes, and also responsible for the consequences of his actions. Though you are not obligated to agree with whatever action your son takes, you aren’t obligated to fake your consent either. Once again, you will have to find balance between speaking the truth of what is in your heart, but still giving your son the unconditional love and emotional support you obviously show him now.
Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.
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