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Help Or Do Nothing?

Question:

My 22 year old son has a 10 month old baby with his same age girlfriend. They were together about 6 months before she became pregnant. They have had so many problems right from the start. We have tried to be considerate and encouraging to them both throughout all of it, but she seems to think all their problems have to do with our family. They live with her family, and we are hardly involved in their life at all. Her own family thinks she’s being unreasonable. She says she wants our family to be part of the baby’s life, but her actions prove otherwise. My son wants nothing more than for all of us to be one big happy family, but it really is her causing all the problems. She seems to be on the defensive all the time. Some of the most innocent conversations we have with her turn into major arguments between her and my son after they leave. We are afraid to say anything to her that might set her off. If she asks my advice about something having to do with the baby, I now ask her what the doctor thinks she should do? I feel like if I give her my advice, even though she’s asking me, she’s going to use that to start an argument with my son later. My son says she gets angry frequently and for almost any reason. Sometimes she goes to bed fine and wakes up in the morning angry about something. He never knows what’s going to set her off. He’s tired of walking on eggshells. My once very happy son seems depressed and very stressed. She tries to control him using their baby. I don’t think she realizes the damage she is causing in their relationship by using their child against him. We are very hurt by her actions but for my son’s sake, we are always pleasant to her and treat her with respect. At first, I thought maybe it was postpartum depression, but my son says she was angry and controlling before the pregnancy and now it’s worse. He had been thinking of breaking up with her before he found out she was pregnant. He wants this relationship to work because of his child. He has been there for them both from the very beginning and does not want to leave his child. He is a loving and supportive boyfriend and father. He (as do we) believes that it is best for two parents to be together to raise their child. I don’t know what kind of advice to give him. He cannot afford counseling at this time and won’t take any money from us for it either. We are a very close family and want to be there for him. What can we do to help our son and grandchild or do we just do nothing?

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Answer:

Indeed, you are in a very difficult and delicate situation. Therefore, I believe that you need to become aware of some of the issues that make the situation very fragile.

This young couple is living with the girl friend’s family and, yet, she turns to your family for advice. My guess is that she turns to you because she is looking for comfort and reassurance rather than advice. It is important that you think about the "politics of advice." While people may seek advice they actually experience the receiving of that advice as humiliating. In fact, I thought about this problem in composing my answer to you. You see, no one likes to be told that they "are doing something wrong or incorrectly." She wants warmth and acceptance from you but is feels diminished by the very advice she is seeking.

Another problem to consider is that it comes through your message that you love your son very much. The danger is that she may sense that you are taking sides against her. That also comes through in your posting when you describe her anger and your son’s previous wishes to leave her. I suspect that she senses your family taking his side and not her side. Please remember that when there are problems in a relationship it involves both individuals and not just one. In other words, it is not just her fault that they argue and he contributes to their stresses and strains just as much as her. How do I know this? Yes, I am guessing but the guess comes from years of experience working with families and couples.

This is a very young and scared couple. Each one of them need the love, nurturing and support of both families. I sense rather strongly that you and your family are fully capable and willing to provide that love and support.

So, what you must do is listen with warmth and sincerety when she "asks for advice" and let her know that it must be very hard to deal with these problems. Instead of asking her what the doctor says, ask her what she thinks is best. If it sounds right, warmly agree with her.

Also, ask her how your son is helping, even ask her if he is helping enough. Let her vent about him a little and then ask her if she wants you to speak to him if she has complaints. Be an advocate for both.

They are young, enexperienced, scared and looking for help in the form of love and understanding rather than advice. Support them as a couple and not just you son as an individual. If he complains about her tell him to speak to her. Do not take sides.

Best of Luck

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