Dear Annie: My son married a young widow with two small boys. They have been married 15 years and are currently expecting their first child together. Throughout this marriage, my daughter-in-law would never let my son have any kind of fatherly relationship with her older boy, although he was the sole father of the younger child. Now the older boy is 20 and won’t leave his mother’s side.
He has had only one girlfriend, and she was the daughter of a close friend of Mom’s. He has to sleep in the bedroom next to hers. He paces the floor until she gets home from work and then follows her around the house. He sits outside the bathroom door while she bathes. He calls and texts her constantly, and she does the same. When he graduated high school, he attended a local community college because he didn’t want to leave the city. But it became too difficult to drive back and forth between school and the house, so he quit and got a minimum-wage job.
This young man doesn’t have a good relationship with his younger brother or my son. It’s as though he resents their presence in the home and wants his mother all to himself. She takes him everywhere she goes. I find it very strange and can’t help wondering whether they are involved in an incestuous relationship. What do you think?
— Just Wondering
Dear Wondering: We don’t believe it is necessarily incestuous, but it is decidedly unhealthy. The mother has created a dependency. She treated her son as a “husband substitute” when she was widowed, and he has clung to that job (with her encouragement) ever since. This is unfair to the boy, as well as to his brother. And there is the possibility that the mother will transfer her affections to the new baby, creating a more serious problem.
Please talk to your son and urge him to help this young man become independent of his mother — a developmental step that he has missed. It sounds as if the entire family could use some counseling.
Dear Annie: I love my mother, but our relationship has never been easy. Most of my childhood memories are unpleasant due to my parents’ nasty divorce. When my younger brother chose to live with Dad, it just about killed Mom. The bitterness and depression swallowed her up. My brother and I could never fill the hole in her heart or put a smile on her face.
I am now 25 and can’t stand her self-pity and rude comments about my father and brother. She complains about being single, having no friends and coming home to an empty house. I try to spend time with her, but we always end up arguing. I think she thrives on the conflict.
My husband and I plan to start a family soon. I want my mother in my life, but I don’t want my kids to be around so much negativity. There is no loving way to describe her negative attitude. How would I explain it to them?
— Worried Daughter
Dear Daughter: Kids are amazingly adaptable and accepting. If your mother loves them, they will respond and understand that this is just the way Grandma is. You may need to set boundaries on how much rudeness she spouts in front of them and limit her time when she is particularly negative. But otherwise, handle each challenge as it appears.
Dear Annie: As a public health official, I disagree with your response to “Concerned Sister,” whose sister has dogs, cats, turtles and a lizard. The home environment as described suggests some significant health issues, from salmonella that is carried by reptiles to canine feces left on the floors for periods of time. These health hazards are sources of pathogens that cause infectious diseases. If there isn’t a mental health diagnosis, the symptoms are definitely in place for one.
— D.S., Health Director
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