I received an email from a reader of the blog today. She is devastated because she just learned that her son has been unfaithful in his relationship, and she feels that she has failed as a mother. As a betrayed spouse, she had a horrible experience, and wanted only the best for her children. She shared the infidelity openly with them, in the hopes that they would see the pain their father had caused, and know the impact and devastation that an affair can bring.
She emailed me today to ask if I thought that she was a failure as a mother as a result of her son having strayed.
I picked up the email as I was stepping into the car to pick up my children from school, so I didn’t have the chance to send a detailed reply. Since I was going to reply further, and since I know she reads the blog, I thought that others could also benefit from the post, and also chime in with their thoughts and support for her.
In my opinion, she is no more responsible for her son’s adulterous ways than she was for the affairs her husband had. These are grown men, with free will, who should know better, and who chose to commit infidelity in their relationships…JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER MAN/WOMAN WHO DOES IT. I told her in my reply that she is not responsible, and then I wanted to go into more detail and couldn’t. What I would have added was:
My Mother in Law (MIL) was repeatedly cheated on by my FIL. He took several mistresses, including my son’s nanny, and my MIL’s best friend. Repeated infidelity over a long period of time, and infidelity that she came to know about. Surely, she sought no help, and received no support. I know this not only because this wouldn’t have been as commonplace (the support, not affairs), but also because she is not one who would know how to solve the issue, how to communicate effectively around it, how to seek support, and is someone who would instead internalize it, thinking herself the cause, shifting the blame onto herself. After many years, and a divorce, he abandoned her when she started to show signs of mental illness. She was increasingly afraid to go out on her own, paranoid from time to time, and just not her old self. She was damaged, and he moved on…married the best friend that he had once cheated with (needless to say that relationship didn’t last either). She was, and still is, a broken woman. She lives with her elderly mother, a woman who puts her down, makes her feel incapable and has essentially infantalized her into being completely dependent on her.
My husband had an affair knowing FULL WELL what the consequences of affairs can be. He watched his mother disintegrate into a shell of a woman. Is his mother to blame for not having “raised him right?”. Absolutely not. Should I blame her for not being proactive enough and educating him on how to prevent an affair? No. I can’t blame her anymore than I can blame myself for his affair.
So, dear reader, unless your son consulted with you, and asked you whether he should seek an affair and you helped him to have one, you have no responsibility for his actions.
Last night on the news, I sat transfixed on the story of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who were kidnapped and help captive for ten years, repeatedly raped and beaten by Ariel Castro. I watched as they interviewed his mother, sitting in the front seat of her car, overwhelmed with grief and shame for her son’s actions. She wept, speaking in Spanish, telling the news crew how she is so sorry for what he has done, and how she feels so badly for those girls.
I think we would all agree that this mother can’t be blamed for her son’s wicked actions, and we can all be fairly assured that she did her best in raising him, and cannot be held responsible for his decisions, many years after she has completed “raising him”.
Ted Bundy’s mother, Paul Bernardo’s mother…pick any sociopathic individual who has commited the most heinous of crimes, and we can still say with certainty that their mothers didn’t influence their actions, or play a role.
Dear reader, I know it is hard to learn that someone you love has been so hurtful to someone else, especially when you feel he should have known better, seeing what you had gone through. It is hard to look at him, and not be triggered once more, feeling like the devil is too close. It is hard to see him as your son, and not as a man who is capable of such deceit and causing such anguish. Remember, that if he is remorseful, and truly wants to learn from this and grow, that he will need your support. You are in a great position to be a support to his partner, and to help her through this. You will help bridge the gap between them, and offer them hope and solutions. You are, however, in no way responsible for what he has chosen to do, any more than you would be responsible if he woke up tomorrow and robbed a bank.