Ask Amy: Long-distance contact amplifies in-law issues
Dear Amy: My husband and I live in a different country than our families. Our only source of communication with our mothers is through FaceTime/FB Messenger.
While I have a great relationship with my mom and call her almost daily, my husband’s relationship with his mom has always been rocky.
She likes lecturing him on how he should live his life, what to do, what job to get, etc. She’s also a very religious woman, while we definitely are not.
My husband had a big argument with her about the fact that he doesn’t attend church, and she was questioning whether it was my influence!
I’m an atheist, but if my husband wanted to go to church, that would be absolutely fine with me.
My mother-in-law keeps pushing him about it. She was incredibly angry when he told her that he doesn’t share her strong faith. These arguments get him really depressed and discouraged.
He said that if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s the only child (and his mom is divorced), he would distance himself, or stop contacting her altogether.
While I wouldn’t want her to lose her son (my mom is also divorced, so I feel for her), it pains me to see him going through all that uncalled-for pressure.
How can we keep the relationship with my mother-in-law, but also firmly tell her to stop dictating to us how to live our lives and what to believe in? — Enough of Dictatorship
Dear Enough: If being religious is a core value for your mother-in-law, she will quite naturally visit and revisit this topic with her son.
Because you two live overseas and are communicating via videoconferencing and telephone, some of her clutching and attempts to control will be amplified. This might be because she is anxious and lonely, but I have also noticed that one aspect of long-distance communicating is that it can be challenging to come up with things to talk about.
You two should come up with topics to discuss with her; keep a list on a notepad near your laptop. Think of stories and recipes to share, and let her help you make little decisions — “We’re looking at these two kinds of tile for the bathroom — which do you like best?”
Your husband should ponder and practice some responses that might reassure his mother, without encouraging her toward discussions he does not want to have. “OK, Mom, I realize this is important to you. I’ll let you know if anything changes for me. Let’s talk about something else, OK?”
He should also be brave enough to disappoint his anxious mother: “Mom, you did a great job raising me, but from here on out, I’m in charge of my own life.”
I also think it’s OK to create a little distance, and to be honest about the reason.
Dear Amy: I’ve been working from home for the past two months, but once things start opening up again, my job will require frequent business travel. In the past, I was usually on the road for about two weeks each month.
I am not looking forward to having all that contact with large numbers of people — in airports, on planes, restaurants, etc. I’m also not too keen on rental cars and hotel rooms.
I really like my job and my co-workers. The work suits my skills and interests. The pay and benefits are good. I feel torn between keeping a good job that will increase my exposure to the coronavirus, and trying to find a new job in a sluggish economy with millions of other people looking for work at the same time. — Concerned Business Traveler
Dear Concerned: This anxiety creates a legitimate and necessary series of conversations to have with your employers. You should be confident that they will develop a strategy for work-related travel that will reduce your risk as much as possible, as well as reducing your need to travel so frequently.
Travel will be vastly transformed, much as it was after 9/11. We will all tiptoe out into the world, using the knowledge we have gained to protect ourselves, and others.
Dear Amy: I thought your response to “Mom” was way too harsh. Mom was trying to establish a good relationship with her gay son, and you needlessly shamed her. — Upset Reader
Dear Upset: I responded that both “Mom” and her son seemed to be playing a game of sorts, endangering their already fragile relationship. I hope my “harsh” response inspired her to react to him differently.