Dear Thelma: I'm so worried as my son's job and marriage are going south


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Dear Thelma,

I am writing to you today with a heavy heart and deep concerns about my son's current situation. My son, who is now 40 years old, seems to be struggling immensely with stability in both his professional life and marriage.

It pains me to say that he has not been able to hold down a proper job for quite some time. Despite his intelligence and capabilities, he appears to encounter difficulties in maintaining employment. This situation has not only affected his financial stability but also seems to have impacted his self-esteem and overall well-being.

Additionally, my son's marriage, which is relatively young at just two years, seems to be facing significant challenges. He and his wife have been going through a rough patch, and I fear that their relationship might be deteriorating. They seem to be struggling to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts.

As a mother, I feel helpless and worried about my son's future. I want nothing more than for him to find stability, happiness and fulfillment in both his professional endeavours and personal life. However, I am unsure of how to best support him or what steps to take to assist him in overcoming these obstacles.

How can I help my son navigate these difficulties? And what can I do to support him emotionally during this challenging time?

Any insights or recommendations you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I just want to see my son find his footing and lead a fulfilling life. Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and for any assistance you can offer.

Worried and anxious mum

It is hard to watch someone we love struggle, but it can be tricky to help. So I’m happy you wrote in because it’s a topic many of us struggle with.

First, the career. What we do is part of our identity, so discussions with family, friends and mentors are very useful.

Why exactly is your son having problems? You’ve not given details, so it may be that he is simply unlucky. Today’s economic climate is punishing.

I would ask if he wants your help. If he does, brainstorm family connections, scour job websites, speak to friends, and see if you can identify a company he’d like to work for, and a job that will last.

Should he have troubles because of poor fit, that typically comes down to lack of interest or a skills gap.

If he doesn’t like his work, discuss a career change. At 40, such changes are now common. He can slide into an associated job or opt for short retraining.

If it’s a lack of skills, identify exactly what needs to be worked on. For example, you say he and his wife are not communicating effectively. If your son is also not communicating at work, he can learn how through taking a course or reading a book online and offline.

Discussing his personal relationship issues is a different kettle of fish. Marriage is very private and third parties typically keep out of it.

While we sometimes talk about our marriage issues to very close friends, parents are usually not chosen as confidants because the parent-child relationship is unique.

Children spend much of their early life looking up to their parents. Even as adults, parents continue to occupy a unique position. Therefore, it is not possible to talk as equals.

Given this, I think parents and kids should avoid talking about marriage.

However, talking briefly in terms of generalities only can be helpful. Like in this case, I would look at the big picture.

Marriage is a huge life change. It is not uncommon for happy people to have a difficult time in the first two years. Even if we’ve been living together, there is something about tying the knot that changes the relationship.

For many of us, we unconsciously copy our parents. It’s natural, they are our role models when we are growing, but it is also problematic. Not only are we different people but times change so quickly that many approaches that worked well 20 years ago don’t work today.

As a mum, you might quietly point out to your son that the first few years of marriage are about finding our feet as a couple and as individuals in that couple. Assure him that it’s not easy for anyone.

Don’t ask for details or discuss it. Don’t tell him what worked for you, either. Instead, remind him that you love them both, and suggest that he reach out to friends and read books for insight.

This message is loving, empowering and respectful.

I would leave it there. However, you might gift him with a good self-help book.

However, if you believe he is depressed, you might help or encourage him make a doctor’s appointment or schedule therapy sessions.

Sessions can help with low mood and communication skills. Therapists are in the business of communicating, so you might get a two for one.

But that would be the absolute limit of how far I’d go. Your son is a grown man; he must talk to his wife and they must figure out what works for them.

As you are stressed, I would also like to make a suggestion for your wellbeing.

You are a loving mum and you worry because your son is having a tough time. That’s natural. You were the lady who guided his first steps and who solved his problems when he was a tot.

You’ve done your job and he is now an independent adult, making his own choices.

Respect his autonomy – and go out with your girlfriends! A nice long chat with your besties will help you relax.

As for the rest, good luck with the career chat, and I hope your son works through this rough patch and discovers his path to a fulfilling and joyful life.

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