Mom should know her place in son’s marital challenges

| Father Michael Schmitz | July 11, 2017 | 21 Comments

Q. My son and his wife have been married nine years and have four children. His wife homeschools their children and wants three more kids, but my son is exhausted when he gets home, and his wife expects him to “take over” while she “takes a break.” She says that the Church demands that they have more children. I would support my son if this was all too much and he asked for a divorce.

A. Thank you for reaching out and asking this question. There are many factors at play here, and clearly there is a lot here that I am unaware of. Since I do not know your son or his wife, I am only able to make a couple of assumptions. What I will offer you is based off of these assumptions, so please keep that in mind when you read these words.

First — and this is very important — you need to stay out of this. I understand that you are still his mom and that you care about your son. If there was a helpful step you could take, it would be to direct your son and daughter-in-law to their local priest or to a trusted counselor who could help them resolve this issue. If they were both asking you for help, that could be an occasion where you might be able to help, but in your full letter (not printed here), it is clear that you are on your son’s side.

In this case, the only “side” you get to be on is the side of their marriage.

Second, you mention that your son’s wife is claiming that the Church demands that they have more children. This is incorrect. The Church does note that a couple must be open to life within their marriage. Further, the Church wisely teaches that every sexual act must be open to life. But the Church continues to teach that the husband and wife are called to be responsible parents. If they discern that they are not able to raise more children at this point, then they must come to that conclusion together.

I reiterate: They have demonstrated an openness to life in their marriage already. They are still absolutely forbidden from using contraception. But natural family planning is incredibly effective at observing the Church’s teaching while being responsible parents. Note that couples who practice NFP have a dramatically lower divorce rate — reportedly less than 4 percent, compared with the national average, which hovers around 50 percent.

Third, your son is tired. Your daughter-in-law desires more children. They both have good points. Understand that no one is wrong here. If they decide they want more children together, then that is a good decision. If they decide that for both of their sakes, they need to avoid pregnancy at the moment, then that can be their decision as well.

But this is between them. If they are at a stalemate, then they should speak with their parish priest, a counselor or someone who could help them come to a mutual decision and agreement.

Hopefully your son is a man who does not need his mom to step in and solve things when he and his wife have an issue. That would mean that his parents failed to raise a man who knows how to be a good husband. For you to jump to the conclusion that you would support him if he decides to abandon his wife and children seems quite extreme.

As you know, marriage and family is difficult. Raising children is difficult. When he comes home from work, he should be expected to get to work and care for the children. That is just normal. I believe it is called “being a dad.” At the same time, if he does not believe that he can handle any more children, then he and his wife should be able to talk about this and come to a mutual decision. If his wife has found that, after a day of homeschooling (which is quite difficult) she has no energy, then they could consider a different option for their children’s schooling. If their children went to a Catholic school, it might help with her own tiredness so that she and her husband can work together to take care of the kids when he comes home.

This is where their appealing to a counselor or a local priest could be helpful. This issue is simply one more big question in life and marriage. If they are going to move forward, then they should really seek counseling before he just picks up and abandons his family.

As I noted, I had to make some assumptions in this response. The takeaway that I would like to emphasize has more to do with you than with your son’s marriage. It is good that you continue to love your son. But your role in his life is to help him remain faithful to his marriage vows and to his responsibility to his family — and nothing more. I know I have said some hard words, but it is important for you to remember that he belongs to her more than he belongs to you. Cut the strings.

Father Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.

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  • Thank you thank you thank you!!!! I’ll refrain from rambling on about how needed your response is in so many of our communities. Just…thank you for your wise, direct, excellent response.

  • Boom! #micdrop

  • guest

    Wow, sounds like they have a big MIL problem. I will pray for them. That poor wife. I’m sure she is never left alone.

    • MotherGinger

      In addition to all Father’s wise words, I hope the mother of the children realizes she, too, must continue to work when Daddy comes home. Both parents need to continue to be parents at night. Neither “gets a break.”

      • Nicole Marie

        Possibly the MIL is only seeing his side. The wife maybe only asks for that every so often or is getting dinner or other things done. I doubt she is taking a nap or drinking wine and relaxing during that time.

        • Just Bill

          Yes, that is likely the case.

  • CatholicGinny1

    I’m not as advanced in the spiritual life as Father, here’s my reply:

    Dear Moron-Mom!

    Is baby boy stressed because he has to put down his remote and spend time with his own kids? So stressed that you support him abandoning his children; reducing his financial contribution to a fraction of what it is now; reducing his time committment to one night a week and every other weekend; condemning his wife and children to a life of poverty, forcing the kids into institutional schools, and their mom into the workplace??

    Your’re kidding, right? I bet you were the same mom who complained to this 5th grade teacher when she gave him a C in math.

    How about in place of this “support”, you actually step up to the plate with some real help. Take the little kids off your daughter-in-law’s hands a morning or two a week. Help with the home schooling. Treat the couple to a weekly night out and you babysit. You work during the week? No problem! Take the kids on weekends. Live too far away or not in the best of health? Still no problem! Treat them to some cleaning help or pay for a mother’s helper.

    Moms in other countries get lots of help from extended family. Here in the U.S., we abandon them and wonder why they struggle. DIVORCE IS A TERRIBLE THING!! Barring abuse, it should never be considered, certainly never encouraged.

    If you follow my suggestions, not only will your grandchildren remain with their mom and dad in relative prosperity, they will grow to love you for your involvement in their lives. Everyone wins!

    Now that you have received Father’s very excellent advice, I suggest you ask for some absolution.

    Cordially,

    M-I-L to Many

    • Nicole Marie

      ???

  • mwittlans

    Thank your Fr. Mike for a beautiful response. As a grandmother of six, I can’t help but think of all the love the questioner is missing out on. Today I spent the day at the zoo with two of my beautiful little grandchildren and it was a wonderfully blessed day. CatholicGinny makes some good points … Wouldn’t it be better if this grandmother helped her son’s family by taking a more active, positive part in her grandchildren’s lives? Perhaps she could offer to babysit once a week so her son and DIL could have a couple’s night out. If she’s unable to babysit, perhaps she could help financially so they could hire someone or get carryout once in a while. Wouldn’t it be better to help support their marriage rather than tear it down? Divorce is a horrible, horrible thing, which far too many of us know far too well. Praying for this family and also for you and your ministry.

    • MotherGinger

      Wise, loving words!

    • Elaine Sinnott

      Beautiful! Thank you!

  • Guinevere

    Beautiful, Thank you, Father Mike!!

  • salesgirl

    God bless you Father and THANK YOU for saying this! Time was we could look to our elders for wisdom and support to do what is right. Nowadays all too often, it is our elders seeking to lead us astray from Church teaching. I have actually heard retirees say “I’m retired from child-rearing, this is OUR time” when you ask if they miss their grandkids they moved away from! God help us, there are attacks on the family from all sides, not least of which is grandparents – and children – physically separating themselves from family by distance and refusing to help one another in times of need.

    • Alisa Madden

      So so true! Both sets of grandparents have little to do with our family. My in laws moved states away because it was their time now, they were done raising kids. They’ve seen our youngest child once for a couple of hours and he’s a year old. The other side is busy with a party lifestyle and a midlife crisis. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

      • MotherGinger

        Oh my!!!

  • Shaun

    So first off there are plenty of other schools they could go to, it doesnt have to be a catholic school. Probubly better they do not attend a catholic school.

    Secondly a parent taking their child’s side in an unreasonable situation is perfectly fine, in this situation I think she should support both her son and his wife.

    Finally his wife can manage breaks through out the day, she in no way has to be on her kids through classes like its a full fledged job. She needs to manage her time better during the week. On the weekends when her husband is off of work he should give her time to do some things.

    • Julia Petit

      Teensy little thing I’d like to address here, the Catholic school objection you had. Keeping in mind the fact that Fr. Mike was going off of assumptions, he probably assumed they choose homeschooling out of some sort of objection to more typical forms of schooling such as attending public school, charter school, virtual public school, etc. Many parents out there think, “I don’t want my children being exposed to or taught the things being taught at public school, so I will homeschool them instead.” Fairly often it is for religious reasons that parents choose to homeschool, and given the DIL’s assertion that the Church demands they have more children, one might also assume this couple takes their faith seriously, and this may have informed their decision to homeschool their four children. If they take their Catholic faith seriously and they homeschool because of this decision, then it was not unreasonable for Fr. Mike to assume that sending their children to a Catholic school would be a rational second choice to continuing their homeschooling. This couple would probably disagree that it would be better for their children to not attend a Catholic school, and the MIL who asked the question and the marriage being discussed are who/what should be advocated for, not personal bias towards or against Catholic school. Just thought I might share my two cents as you have, God bless!

  • That was very well answered! God bless you!

  • Elizabeth Dohogne

    Thank you, Father Schmitz, thank you!
    Additionally, because the tiredness of both the husband and wife is one of the issues at the center of this situation, may I suggest that each of them have a complete physical. My own “tired” son has been diagnosed with a thyroid condition. As a result, the medication he takes and the change of diet he has put into place has, in a phrase, given him a new lease on life. As a result, the harmony and joy in his household has been restored.

  • Mike M

    Having been a child in a family with a grandmother who intervened on her child’s behalf in unfortunate ways, I’d caution the letter writer that being a figure with a side on these household matters can play out to no one’s benefit.

    As a kid, I wasn’t unduly stressed by the tensions, nor did I hold them against anyone (I was blessed with attentive parents and doting grandparents and intuitively understood my luck), and, looking back as an adult, I understand how they all meant well and only got things wrong in an understandably human way. But, it wound up making the sort of leisurely gatherings of the whole family that my grandmother would have loved impossible, and when I got a little bit older she told me that she regretted it.

    You probably hear your son’s frustrations on his bad days, which doesn’t necessarily provide the most complete picture of things (not that he’s being dishonest… We all vent that way). And, anyway, you don’t know how it will play out. You may still love your son no matter what happens, but he won’t appreciate it if you’re part of the reason he winds up with a broken family, and, if things work out with his marriage (which might be a lot more likely than you think), it will be awkward for everyone if you were seen as having tried to make trouble.

  • M

    Fantastic article! Thank you! As someone with a very contentious relationship with their in-laws I am so relieved and grateful to read this refreshing response… especially living in the south where people are expected to please and adhere to their elders at the expense of their own decisions and sanity. As a mother of 2 boys, I pray that I have the wisdom to loosen the apron strings gradually and always be in full support of my children’s vocations regardless of my personal opinions.