The Single MIL Syndrome - Revised2

Has anyone ever asked themeslf, how many women do I know that have a successful Mother-in Law/Daughter-in-Law relationship? To be specific, by successful I mean a relationship where both sincerely love each other and feel not as in laws, but as immediate family. Unfortunately, I think most women would say they don’t know many married women with a successful Mother-in-law/Daughter-in-law relationship. There’s always the inevitable and dreaded MIL story or situation.

Now ask yourself how many of those unsuccessful relationships involve single mother-in-laws? Sadly, I would predict it involves the majority of them. This is not to bash single mothers. However, I think there is a direct correlation between the breakdown of the family and what I call, “The Single MIL Syndrome”: an overly excessive social, emotional, and sometimes physical dependence towards one’s own adult son that hinders the relationship with any female suitor, or male companion of your own.

From a biblical perspective, a man must “leave” his parents in order to have a successful marriage and become one with his wife. However, too often the breakdown of the family, and subsequently single mothers cleaving to their sons, disrupts the biblical foundation and responsibility of the sons to naturally leave their mothers.

The son is then raised to believe it is his responsibility to emotionally, socially and sometimes financially support and protect his single mother as an adult. The continued “husband-like, and/or “child-like” relationship nurtures this sort of thinking. But fundamentally, this is not a son’s role or purpose. And it is crucial for both the mother and the son to understand this very fact in order for the son to be able to make the most important decision and commitment of his life, to be successfully married. If this rite of passage doesn’t take place, how can a son understand his role as a husband, and not feel like he’s in a tug of war between his mother and his wife? How can he “snap out of” the role he’s held for most of his life?

Too often I’ve heard of the pressure single mothers put on their sons where they feel guilty and obligated to take care of their mother, and sometimes the other single women in their life. The mom has “held him down” as a single mother and sacrificed so much for him throughout her early life. Therefore, he must return the favor for her in his adulthood. While the level of sacrifice parents go through on a daily basis to give their children the absolute best possible is something children should be eternally grateful for, do they ask to be brought into this world? Furthermore, how can a man be the head of his own household when he’s torn between already being the rock for all the single women in his life? While I’m not suggesting that a son cease to ever be there for the other women in his life, I would ask if a continued codependent relationship is really healthy for either party? I know most mothers would argue that it’s only natural to be in love with their sons, after all they gave birth to this person and have nurtured them into their adulthood. While it is natural, I think the situation becomes problematic when a mother can’t distinguish herself from being her son’s mom and not his wife, and seeing her son as her son only, no longer a child or her man. When this distinction is not made, that’s when a mother begins to display the characteristics of a mistress, the other woman, because someone has come along and stolen her man. And actions based on feelings of jealousy, competitiveness, and simply not being in control ensue. “She’s not good enough for you”, “I don’t trust your decision”, “I know what’s best for my son”, “Anything you can do I can do better”. This becomes a very dangerous situation because it can most certainly lead to resentment, and eventually causes the husband to have to choose between two women that he loves. He either A: Chooses his mother because all he knows is the protective role he’s had his entire life, and because he hasn’t “left” yet; which doesn’t work as it further perpetuates the imbalance of family dynamic, and improperly establishes his mother as first in his life. Or B: He remains in the middle and leaves it to his leading ladies to hash out. Which also doesn’t work because now he has two women constantly at each others throats, and looking to him to intervene. This scenario doesn’t make for comfortable interaction, nor does it establish the proper hierarchy in a marriage. And the wife is left feeling hopeless and helpless as her husband doesn’t get what he must do, or his necessary role in the situation. Or C: He realizes that his wife should always be first in his life and stands by her side, creating that distinction. In this instance, the MIL will indeed realize the fear of loss that she has been so afraid of. For now, she will have forced a separation between herself, her son, and her grandchildren due to not embracing the wife. Sadly, because she just doesn’t get that her son is not her man, and that she no longer can be in control. In either scenario, does anyone really win? This unfortunate, but oh so common dynamic makes me want to ask where do moms feel their place is once their sons enter adulthood? Is it necessary to still “protect” them from their decisions? And are they ever supposed to move on and have their own families? Or deep down is there a part of you that honestly wants them to yourself? Is the thought that they’ll never be alone as long as they have their mom? I think the realization of losing the stability of a man, and having to discover a life without the person that’s been the foundation for life is scary. And there’s a fear of no longer being needed. But I think you always need your parents, just in a different way. There are very few people that are more happy, excited, supportive, and proud of you than your parents. But is it necessary at any point to let go, and what does letting go look like?