Mom wants to fix relationship with son and his girlfriend
Q: My college-age son carelessly left pornographic pictures in plain view in our home. Disturbed, I explained generally my objections to porn but did not specifically mention what I had seen.
Sometime later, he brought his girlfriend home to meet me. I was shocked to realize the pictures I had seen were of her. I was shocked this young woman, a star student and community leader who runs circles around my son in terms of achievement, would provide him with such pictures.
I did my best to cover my surprise and be welcoming, but apparently I am not much of an actress because both my son and his girlfriend concluded I was cold to them.
My son's relationship with the young woman has continued over the years, and my relationship with my son has deteriorated, largely because he thinks I have been unfriendly to his girlfriend. She is rarely in our area, so I have had few opportunities to get to know her, and my efforts to reach out to her have been rebuffed.
How can I repair my relationship with my son and his girlfriend? At this late date, should I explain why I acted as I did when I first met her? I love my son and want to have a solid relationship with him, regardless of his sexual antics.
— Silly me
A: People are better at getting over things when they know what they need to get over.
So while it won't be a Top 10 Transcendent Mother-Son Bonding Moment for either of you, explaining to your son that you weren't being cold all those years ago, just embarrassed, might provide him with one of those moments when years' worth of odd misfires between you suddenly make total sense.
That's the argument for telling him.
The argument against: It doesn't sound as if your son has rallied to stay close to you, or lobbied his girlfriend to give you a chance, or made an effort to draw you out on and understand your frostiness. These are responses I run across daily to situations where a family fails to embrace a new partner.
So does your estrangement trace solely to that "aha" moment for the ages — and his being 20-something — or were the two of you already strained?
Since your son was in college when this all got started, it seems possible, at least, that you had the usual differences parents and kids have when the kids are outgrowing the nest.
And though that might feel like the deep past, that's who your son was when he chose this girlfriend; if nothing else, it's the version of you that was first described to her.
So if there's any chance your son is maintaining an old grievance, disposing him against forgiveness on the girlfriend issue, then you'll need to address that before you start playing naked-picture bingo. It's just too easy to envision your confessing about the photos, finally, only to have your son perceive it as another attack and offer it to his girlfriend as fresh grounds for offense.
Oh — and if you're still judging her? Banish that. All. Somehow.
Such context notwithstanding, it's in everyone's interests for you to think broadly, approach gently and apologize generously. Trust your gut, too, to gauge his receptiveness to the truth.