I am in a dreadful situation. I've decided that my marriage of five years was a mistake. I want to get a divorce – but my wife says that if we start a family, everything will be all right. My mother, whom I love very much, is vehemently against a divorce. She adores my wife and treats her like the daughter she never had. She also wants grandchildren, and says if I get a divorce she won't speak to me again. What can I do?
Yours sincerely, Matt
Usually, being one myself, I'm rather defensive when it comes to mothers. I feel sad that their place is always in the wrong, and try to remember that most mothers, even mine in her own peculiar way, do – or did – try to do their best.
But Matt – your mother really does sound like a mother from hell! Do you have a halfway decent father who can put a stop to manipulative talk like this? Do you have siblings to take up the cudgels on your behalf? Are you sure she didn't say this when she was drunk, and now regrets it?
The truth is that you cannot be blackmailed in this way, and you know it. First, it would be madness to consider having a child by someone you don't love. It would be very cruel to the child, whose feelings you have to consider above all else. Even if you loved the child, which you would, divorce would almost certainly be inevitable. And then the situation wouldn't be very good for your wife, who would probably, once she had a small child, find it far more difficult to find a proper relationship in which she could have a baby with two loving parents. It would be ghastly for you, visiting every Saturday, paying for a child you never wanted, who would, even though you loved it, forever be a sign of your weakness.
It doesn't sound as if you're trying to prevent your mother from seeing your wife if – or when – you split up. I'm sure you are happy for her to treat her as a surrogate daughter as much as she likes, if she feels like it. They can go and giggle over a bottle of wine and go on girly shopping trips together, or stagger off to Beethoven concerts together, or whatever they like doing. It's often a pity, when people break up, that others who have made particular friends with one of the partners feel they have to give up the relationship out of some misguided loyalty.
But it sounds as if your mother has real problems if she's threatening to disown you if you don't provide her with grandchildren, or if you divorce your wife. You love your mother, and I'm sure she loves you. I'm afraid you just have to call her bluff. Tell her that if she wants to cut you off, that is her choice. You will always be happy to make it up. Not only happy, but counting the days. But tell her, also, that you just can't be emotionally blackmailed in this way.
But when you say this, don't forget to add a dire warning. What, you might ask her, would happen if, having cut you off, you then found another woman just as nice as your wife and then had children? Her grandchildren? How would she feel then if she'd cut off all contact, and then, at that point, you suddenly found that you could live without her. Worse, perhaps, that you actually preferred living without her?
It's a risk, you must tell her, that's not worth taking for any of your sakes. In this case, fight manipulation with manipulation, I say.
Only you can decide
Not much information here, Matt. Why is your marriage a mistake? Has it not turned out as you expected? It seems to be only you that sees a split as desirable.
But your wife is wrong to say that starting a family will fix it. To bring children into a loveless marriage would be unspeakably irresponsible. Your mother should not figure in this; mothers can play on the love of a son to mould a situation. She may well cut you out of her life – mine did. But your relationship with your wife will be unnatural without the link of marriage, particularly if your wife finds another partner. And grandchildren can heal such rifts, whoever their mother is. Mine did.
Do what you must do – only you can truly know what that is. But be sure you do know. It would be tragic to go through all the trauma only to find that things weren't so bad.
Maldon, by email
This is blackmail
Your mother is using emotional blackmail. She cannot demand that you give her grandchildren, and having a family would not mend your marriage. You are right to resist. It sounds as if you've been brought up by a demanding, controlling woman, and you may have stumbled into the same dynamic within your marriage.
Whatever your mother's flaws, I imagine her love for you is unconditional. She will talk to you in time. Believe me; I speak as a mother. My own mother loved and supported my sister-in-law and she's still recognised as a daughter by my parents. My brother and his subsequent partners had to get used to it.
Is this a midlife crisis?
You don't say why your marriage was a mistake, but the impression is that your wife is a good egg. She still loves you and wants to have your children. Are you having a midlife crisis? Has the prospect of children and domestic drudgery triggered this? If being single really is preferable, it is best to make the break now. Having children wouldn't be the answer. And your mother is unlikely to disown you for good. Nobody has a right to children, let alone grandchildren.
Don't give in
You have rolled several problems into one. Take them apart and they may seem easier to solve. First, should you let your mother decide your future? I'd say not – especially if she blackmails you. Second, should you have a child to "save" your marriage? I've never seen a case where this worked. Third, should you leave your wife? This is the most difficult. Is there another woman involved? Will you feel the same way about her in five years' time? Are you hankering for a bachelor life? It can only be your decision, but be very honest with yourself before you jump.
Draw a line, start again
A faulty marriage will not survive a baby, so don't do it. I'm sorry your marriage is problematic, and when you break it up you are in for years of guilt, but this is nothing compared to what you'll endure if there's a young person unwittingly involved. You'll marry again some time and if you do it with your head, with input from your heart, you'll enjoy years of happiness and have better children.
As for your mother; well, whose life are you living? She's being unreasonable: be firm and call her bluff. Draw the line and start again; in the long term you won't regret it.
Rockland St Mary, Norfolk