Q: I love my son and his wife very much and try not to interfere with their privacy, but sometimes he confides in me.
I just listen when he tells me about the normal difficulties they face, and try not to shove solutions down his throat, but his recent news has upset me.
He says that his wife is very unhappy about their living circumstances. Their apartment is cramped; she is bored to tears with her job; she has few friends here; and she is very anxious to finish college and get a better professional life.
My son is tormented by her unhappiness and wants to help her -- so much so that he has agreed to her plan although he doubts its wisdom.
She wants to go to school full time in her home city -- 200 miles away -- and would be gone for at least two to three years. She and their 2-year-old son would live with her mother while my son, who is a firefighter, would live alone or with a male roommate and visit them on weekends unless he has to work.
He has even applied to be a firefighter in that city, but says he would hate to be a rookie again after all his hard work here.
I love my daughter-in-law a great deal and know how trapped she must feel, but I do hate the idea of this move. Since they live just a few blocks away, I've been able to see my grandson as often as I want, and sometimes keep him overnight so his parents can get a break. I even have a special children's room in my apartment, with a crib, toys, books and durable furniture.
I would miss them very much if they move, but that's a minor issue. I worry about the separation of husband and wife; father and son. What will it do to their family? I'm afraid that my grandson will lose something very important and that my son will be terribly lonely, for he is a very loving, involved father.
How can I help them without interfering?
A: There are times when you must interfere, in order to be true to yourself, and this is one of those times.
Your daughter-in-law's need for more education, and more money, is understandable, but there are a number of colleges within a short commute from her home. If she insists on going to one that's 200 miles away, she may be running away from her marriage more than she's running toward a college degree. A few sessions with a marriage counselor would be a good idea before they make any decision. People are much more likely to make the right choices if they know why they're really making them.
This is a delicate conversation but if you handle it with honesty and kindness -- and if you give your daughter-in-law plenty of time to talk -- she will hear what you say and may even change her plans.
Tell your daughter-in-law that your son told you she was feeling low about her job and her life and that you understand. A dreary job, a tight budget and a small apartment can trash any woman's ego, unless she develops an interesting life of her own, and makes good friends to share the good times (and the bad ones).
Once she's had a chance to unload, she will be ready to hear some gentle, straightforward talk from you, but hold her hand all the while, so you'll know if you're going too far. Unwelcome words can make the skin crawl, which will remind you to soften your words even more.
She needs to know that separation is very hard on both a marriage and a child and that it could deprive her son -- and yours -- of the riches they deserve. These riches don't come from money or possessions, but from the time we spend with the people we love, and the way we spend that time.
After you talk about the negatives, you can bring up other options, and other colleges. They may not be ideal from her point of view, but life is a long series of compromises. The more mature we are, the more bravely we follow our own inclinations, ** and the more we take others into consideration.
Although some of the schools in your area may be pricey, even they may not be impossible. The better endowed the school, the greater the chance for a scholarship.
She also could go to a considerably cheaper suburban community college, or go to school at a slower, more affordable rate, taking courses at night and on Saturday. This may not fit in with her college dreams, but innumerable people have gotten their degrees this way, and with much less financial stress.
Once she gets her first job in her new field, only her ability will matter, not the college she attended.
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