Ted says: Carol and I have been married happily for five years. At least, we were happy until Carol’s son, Jim, moved in with us six months ago after he lost his job. Jim doesn’t help around the house or try to find work – he does nothing but watch TV and collect unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, Carol seems to have regressed to when Jim was 10 – she does his laundry, lets him sleep in, buys his favorite foods. I can’t take having this overgrown little boy underfoot – he needs to grow up and move out!
Carol says: I love Ted, but he is being unreasonable about Jim. Jim is traumatized from losing his job; he needs some time to find himself. Really, I don’t mind doing his laundry, and I love cooking “comfort food” for him. It’s been a long time since I’ve really been able to be a mother, and I’m enjoying every minute of it – except Ted’s attitude. He needs to try to be a more loving stepfather.
What do they say?: One of the first things that popped into our minds is that Carol and Ted failed to really communicate and discuss with each other the impact this move would have on their relationship prior to allowing Jim to move in. A second red flag that appeared to us is that Carol, Ted, “and Jim” failed to discuss the arrangement prior to Jim moving in. As both Carol and Ted have discovered, it can be devastating to a marriage relationship when communication between husband and wife is lacking.
Although not specifically stated, it appears that Jim was not previously (in Carol and Ted’s marriage of five years) a member of the household. In other words, he had already left home when Carol and Ted were first married. If that is accurate, Ted is correctly interpreting Jim’s continued presence now as an intrusion into the home he and Carol were in the process of establishing. There is not an easy solution to this scenario because the dynamics involved are difficult to articulate without sounding childish, immature and selfish. After all, we are talking about blood-relatives!
Jo and I are more concerned about the relationship between Carol and Ted, as husband and wife, than we are between Carol and Jim, as mother and son. Tom will admit however, there is a strong biological bond between Carol and Jim that is tough to overcome. But, as husband and wife, we are called to become one in unity and flesh; that is our primary focus as a married couple and that must be our priority. Jo says that Carol’s offer to her son was very commendable, but since no boundaries were agreed upon or stipulations made in the beginning, it has now become an emotionally charged issue.
It is admirable that Carol desires to exercise her active mothering once again because that is a high calling from God. Jo believes that Carol wants her son to feel welcome because in the “Mothers Handbook 101,” it says to nurture your children, even adult children, through hard times and come to their rescue whenever they need it!
We both believe that as husband and wife, Ted and Carol should look deeper into their hearts and discern the possibility and viability that the fruits of their love be manifested in a child of their own. As for Jim, Carol should begin by setting some realistic boundaries that reflect his age, competence and requirements associated with life – and ignore his desires to just hang around the house and let “mother” take care of him. We know it is tough, but parents need to let their children grow up and experience both the good and bad associated with being independent. This is a great teaching moment for Carol and a great learning moment for Jim. Carol is the biological parent and is the one who should initially have the conversation with Jim. If Carol finds it too difficult to have the conversation, then Ted and Carol can talk to Jim together. The ultimate goal here is to maintain Ted and Carol’s relationship. Attempting to live out the beatitudes and the corporal works of mercy should not come at the expense of the vocation of marriage.
- Tom and JoAnne Fogle