(You can email your questions to sally at firstname.lastname@example.org)
My husband will be getting home from deployment soon and his mother has been very adamant about wanting to be there to greet him when he gets off the plane. My husband doesn’t want anyone but me and the kids to welcome him home, and doesn’t want any visitors or big celebrations for a couple of weeks. I have tried to tell my mother-in-law that we need family time to adjust and that she should plan a trip for later to visit, but she won’t hear of it. She says she needs to see him, and is already making travel plans! My husband has asked me to deal with this because it has been a stressful deployment for him and he admits it is hard for him to tell her no. I wish I had never asked the FRG to put her on the family email list… because she can now get his homecoming information on her own. It would have been much easier just to give him a few days to get settled, and then have HIM call his mother and tell her when she can visit. I don’t want to fight with her, but I know that my husband really wants time to adjust before anyone else comes to see him. What do I do?
Frustrated with Family
The relationship between a wife and her mother-in-law has made for quite a few dramatic Lifetime movies. Add the stress and emotional turmoil that can be caused when mommy’s little boy goes off to war… and you have the recipe for a monster-in-law marathon.
This is not an easy situation to tackle.
Ideally, this situation should have been dealt with BEFORE he ever left for deployment. Ideally, HE would have been able to tell his mother what his wishes were. Ideally, she would have agreed and NOT given him a major guilt trip.
Ideally… we all wish we were thin, beautiful, millionaires with gorgeous teeth and perfect hair.
I think we can safely throw “ideal” out the window at this point.
The fact is that his mom wants to be there. He does not want her to be there. He has asked you to make sure that she understands this. She does not. You are in the middle. What in the world are you supposed to do?
The first instinct is just to lay down the law. You are his wife!! If he says he doesn’t want her there then you just call her up and tell her, “You are not welcome in our home when he gets back. We need our family time and your butting in on that is unacceptable! Cut the purse strings… he is not your little boy anymore!”
And that would probably work.
And from that point on every single holiday, visit, phone call or get-together would be miserable… until the day one of you dies. There is no guarantee that she will go first.
I am going to suggest that you take a different approach. The “catch more flies with honey than vinegar”, approach. The first step is having a conversation with her about how things are going to be when he gets home. It might go a little something like this:
“I was just talking with our FRG leader the other day and wow… his homecoming is going to be very different than I thought! Apparently he will have to go right back to work as soon as he gets home… depending on the time of day or night, that could be as little as 8 hours after he gets off the plane. I must admit that I am a little upset to hear this… it sounds like during the first few days the kids and I won’t see much of him at all because he will either be asleep, or at work.”
The next step would be to identify with her by acknowledging how hard it must be to see your child go off to war and then to have him come “home” and still be so far away from him.
“I know how hard this deployment has been for me and the kids… but I cannot imagine how it must feel to worry about your own child being deployed. We are lucky, we have the support of the other spouses that are going through it and they have been my lifeline. I know you must be anxious to actually see him with your own eyes because I know that the kids and I won’t feel like he is completely safe until we get that first hug.”
And then, you need to ask for her help.
“I need to ask you to do something for your son. He has really missed you a lot during this deployment, and he worries about you. And he would never want to do anything to hurt your feelings. But this deployment has been more stressful than he expected, and after realizing that the first few days at home are going to be really difficult for him, he has asked that no one visit until he has gotten some rest and had a few days to adjust. I can’t imagine how hard it will be for you to wait… but I know that you want what is best for him. These are his wishes, and because he asked me to talk to you, I want to make sure that I am clear. He really wants to be able to enjoy his visit with you, and that just won’t be possible during the first few days that he is home. “
Hopefully this approach will work, future holiday dinners will be spared, and you can start planning her visit for a couple weeks later. And when the next deployment rolls around you can make sure that your husband communicates this with any family members prior to his departure.
Even after this level-headed conversation (or email if you don’t think talking will do the trick), she may still insist that she knows what her son really wants. She may still insist that she won’t be a bother and that she needs to see him.
It is totally appropriate at that point to be a little more firm.
“I can only imagine how frustrating this must be for you, but my first priority is making sure that my husband feels comfortable and has what he needs for a successful homecoming. I am going to need to ask you to respect his wishes and plan NOT to be there when he gets home, or we will have no choice but to ask the FRG leader to cease communication with you regarding his return. Then he can call you when he has been home for a few days and you can start to make travel plans. We don’t want to go that route… but this is very important to him, and we hope you understand.”
No matter what, remain calm and collected during your conversations. Screaming and getting angry will not change the outcome and will only make things harder down the line. Besides, she is still his mother… and even if she is driving you crazy, you need to respect that. But, if these conversations fail, she still insists on coming, and decides to find out the homecoming details from a different source, your husband may have to make a tough call to her before he starts his journey home. At that point, if he caves and is unable to firmly tell her that he does not want her there… then he will have to accept that consequence on his own.
I am wishing you all the best as you tackle this situation. And here’s wishing your entire family a happy, healthy homecoming!