Dear Thelma: My only child has cut off ties with me, and I’m sad and baffled

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Dear Thelma,

I have many regrets, but it is too late to turn back the clock.

When I got married 40 years ago, I had dreams of my happy-ever-after. But it didn’t turn out that way.

My husband wanted me to quit my job and be a stay-at-home mum to our baby, but I liked my job and didn’t want to lose my financial independence. So I stayed on in my job. My mother-in-law and a maid were at home to take care of the baby and household chores.

One day, during lunch break, I went home to see my baby. That’s when I caught my maid and husband in bed together. I was stumped! My mum-in-law knew about it but chose to turn a blind eye and side with her son. Long story short, I left the house and got a place of my own.

My son is now in his 30s. Over the years, we kept in touch although his dad and I had divorced.

Every Sunday, my son used to take me out for breakfast or lunch, and sometimes he would take me shopping. He remembered and celebrated Mother’s Day and my birthday. That brought me joy and comfort.

However, lately, he has changed. He asked me why I scold him whenever I see him. But I don’t scold him, I just offer him some advice. As a result, he has stopped calling me or replying my text messages. His visits have stopped too.

I’m feeling very misunderstood and brokenhearted all over again. Why won’t he listen to me or give me a chance to make amends? I hope he won’t hate me or stay mad at me forever.

What can I do to mend ties?

Miserable


Dear Miserable,

There are many parents in this position, so your letter is very timely. It is a situation that can be fixed but it will take some reflection and change on your part. Also, some courage. So brace yourself.

Your son reached out to you and now he’s withdrawn. You say you’re misunderstood but that’s not the problem.

Your son told you what was going wrong in your relationship. It’s very simple: He does not want your advice.

Why didn’t you listen?

If you had a friend from the office who said she doesn’t like talking about politics, would you ignore her? If your neighbour said he doesn’t like sports, would you regale him with football stories anyway?

I think you would not. Good manners dictate that when we socialise, we are pleasant. We don’t push others into situations they find uncomfortable.

From your letter, you did not treat your son with this common courtesy. You audited his life and nagged him when he made decisions you didn’t agree with.

I’m guessing but perhaps your elders nagged you and that’s where you learned this behaviour?

The thing is, young people today tend to be patient and kind but they’re also tougher and more empowered than previous generations. They value their mental health, put in boundaries, and will not tolerate endless bullying, nagging and scolding.

It’s a good thing; a social change that will impact positively on relationships and mental health in future generations. But it does mean a reality check for some of us.

If you want a relationship with your son, reframe your ideas and attitudes. The foundation is that you are his mum but he’s a grown man entitled to respect. Talk warmly, openly and honestly but be kind.

Understand that he makes his own choices. This is his life and he chooses how he runs it. If he makes decisions you feel aren’t useful, share your opinion once, politely. Then leave him to make up his own mind.

Of course it will stress you when he makes a mistake. So when you want to vent your worries, talk to a friend who will let you blow off steam in private. That way you get relief and you don’t burden the relationship.

Finally, your husband was a coward to have an affair rather than be honest with you and ask for a separation or divorce. I expect it hurt a lot. I am indignant on your behalf.

But that has nothing to do with your present-day relationship with your son. He is not responsible for things other people have done. Also, it is not healthy for children to be involved in their parents’ marriage.

Your son is a man looking for a connection with his mum. So concentrate on connecting and work out any lingering feelings about his dad with your ex-husband, your own friends, or a therapist.

So there you have it. It will take some courage for you to make these changes, but I think you will be much happier.

As for reaching out, that should be easy. He sought you out and made sure you had a relationship. This shows he’s open and warm. He wants to be friends.

If I were you, I’d text him with an apology. It need not be long, “I realise you’re a grown man who makes his own choices. Sorry for nagging. I won’t do it again. Lunch on me?”

I’m certain he’ll be delighted to see you again. So, take a deep breath and reach out. Good luck, and I’ll be thinking of you.