My parents recently got divorced because my mom was having an affair. Since then, she's moved in with this other man and plans to marry him within a few weeks. My husband and I live out of state, and it's been very difficult to deal with all of this. My mom is angry with me for not embracing her boyfriend with open arms. She's threatening to boycott family functions unless he is welcomed to take part, but frankly, I don't want to welcome him. I think I'm struggling to work out how I "feel" before I make up my mind how to behave. Does that make sense? What do you think? Should I be more accepting of my mom's decision? Should I readily accept her new husband?
Let's begin with what you've said about "working out how you feel before deciding how to behave." That's a good summation of the dilemma you're facing. It seems to us that you're caught in a conflict between two opposing elements: your feelings of love and loyalty for your mother, and your innate sense of what's appropriate when it comes to responding to her actions. Once you recognize this struggle for what it is, we think you'll find it easier to move forward and do the right thing.
We understand how a daughter in your position can allow emotions to blur the line between her obligations as a loving child and her responsibilities as a wise, autonomous adult. It's only natural that you should desire to honor your mother in every possible way, but you need to bear in mind that there's a big difference between honoring and obeying. Scripture tells us plainly that marriage entails a clean break with past family connections and the formation of brand-new attachments. It's a matter of leaving father and mother and cleaving to one's spouse. As a married woman, your duty is to God first, then to your husband, then your children – and only then to your mother. You will always love your mom, but that doesn't mean you are bound to approve of her choices and actions, especially when they've been so hurtful and damaging to the rest of the family.
Remember, your mother is the one who has created this awkward and difficult situation. She created it by choosing to disregard her marriage vows. It was her decision to go outside the family in search of a new love affair. She needs to understand that her actions and choices have real-life consequences. From our perspective, it's both insensitive and unfair of her to demand that the rest of the family embrace her new boyfriend "with open arms." That may be what's expected in a culture that tolerates marital infidelity, facilitates divorce, and views serial matrimony as "normal," but it's neither consistent with biblical teaching nor true to the deepest feelings of the human heart. Your mom needs to accept responsibility for what she's done and realize that her actions have had a profoundly negative impact on the people who love her most.
What should you do about it? Our first inclination is to suggest that you draw a very definite line in the sand. Strong boundaries are healthy; "normalizing" brokenness is not. Tell your mom that you are more than willing to welcome her at family gatherings as long as she is willing to respect your values and standards, and to honor them when she's with your family and in your home. Let her know that you love her, but that this doesn't necessarily mean you trust her. Remind her that she has deeply hurt everyone in the family by deciding to become involved with another man. Say something like, "I love you and care about you, but I don't approve of this relationship."
We'd also encourage you to talk over this plan of action with your husband. Ask him to help you process your feelings and decide what's best to be done. As your mother's son-in-law rather than her own flesh-and-blood child, he's in an excellent position to assess the situation objectively and to offer you some solid, sensible advice.
Call us. Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists available to provide you with sound advice and practical assistance over the phone. They can also refer you to reputable counselors working in your area.
Relational Wisdom 360