‘I want to be with my now vulnerable mum, but my wife won’t understand and there will be push back’

Tell Me About It: ‘It is a time to think big, to appreciate the heritage of your family of origin and to challenge the divisive nature of comparison’


My mother is beginning to fade and I am finding it very difficult. She is a person who has been a constant in my life and her vitality and strength have always been a huge support to me.

We are a small family and I have only one brother, but he has never been the greatest at noticing what is needed and I don’t think he sees that our mother needs a lot more help now. I live outside of the country and so cannot get home as much as I would like, and my own family are not that understanding of my worry and upset. I know that my wife has always felt that I’ve been too close to my Mum, she has never understood that we like to spend weekends away together and we share books, podcasts, political opinions, and we both have a love of theatre. This means that our conversations, whether on the phone or zoom have often gone on for hours and we laugh and argue intensely. This has often created a strain in my relationship, and I fear that if I spend even more time and money on travelling home, my wife will be furious.

My dad died when I was in my teens and my mother has been an incredible manager of my and my brother’s lives – we never felt any lack and she was always a huge source of fun and energy, even being thrilled when I moved abroad and settled so far away from home. Part of me knows that my Mum had doubts about my choice of partner, but she never said one word of criticism and she has always supported my family, including financially.

I feel such an impending sense of loss and want to be with her at her time of vulnerability, but my wife will not understand this and there will be push back.



Your relationship with your Mum sounds exceptional and she comes across as someone to emulate and admire. She has gone to huge lengths to make sure that her children are set up in life and are not weighed down with any overtly pressured sense of responsibility for her. This needs to be taken into account when you are considering how best you can support her in her decline and perhaps it will allow you a more considered stance.

It is clear that you love and miss her and there is no doubt that we suffer from anticipated grief when the person we love is deteriorating in front of our eyes. As always, we seek to problem-solve our distress, but this is a case where acceptance and bearing witness are the key characteristics worth developing.

Your Mum comes across as a woman who has thought about this time of her life, and she may have plans and actions that she would like implemented so perhaps you and your brother could organise to have a conversation with her about this. This may also have the benefit of involving your brother more directly in her care and decision-making. It may be that you and your Mum have been so close that your brother felt somewhat excluded and this is an opportunity for him to become more involved as he is the nearest on-the-ground person to her.

You may have to take a step back in your position for this to happen and this can be hard to do when you feel so intensely about what is right and needed, but it is an opportunity that is presenting itself and it could have positive benefits for everyone. Your wife may also share this feeling of exclusion and so involving her too could lead to a better relationship and this has the added advantage of honouring your mother’s efforts at supporting your marriage.

All this requires you to genuinely ask for advice and support, exposing your real sense of grief to your wife and finding the tolerance to really hear what is offered. Inevitably you may (or others may) compare your relationship with the two major women in your life and find one wanting and this can lead to bitterness and resentment. If your wife feels that she is not the most important person in your life she will react, as if there is a rival, and it is your responsibility to bring this difficulty to the conversation. You have the benefit of a very secure upbringing. This means that you have the confidence of the truly loved and this puts you in a safe position when it comes to relationship uncertainty.

Take all that your mother has given you and put it to good use now and engage with your wife with patience and optimism. The risk we take with love is loss and most of us feel that it is worth the investment. Because you have loved and admired your mother so much, you will have an aching hole of loss when she departs. However, she is leaving a huge legacy to you and now is the time to lean into it and stretch yourself to include others in her care and to take your own family’s needs into account when you look at your responses to her needs.

It is a time to think big, to appreciate the heritage of your family of origin and to challenge the divisive nature of comparison.