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Trying to Understand My Son's Angry Outbursts

by Noreen
(New Mexico)

My older son is almost 54. He has been married for 23 years, has two sons ages 21 and 16, and a daughter 19. My older grandson has a learning disability with mini-seizures, is judgment impaired and has not been taught to drive for this reason.

They live in another state, and for the past ten years we've seen each other 1-3 times a year.


I divorced his father 29 years ago, made a new life for myself as a self-supporting, well-adjusted single for 16 years. In 2001 I married the love of my life, but unfortunately he died of cancer 7 years ago and I am now a self-supporting, well-adjusted widow.

The main communication I have with my son is by telephone. He calls me while commuting home after work. He has an executive position so the time of our calls is irregular as he works long hours. He seldom calls me from home to avoid taking away time from his family.

I have attempted to be in better communication with my daughter-in-law, as female-to-female conversations don't compare to the other kind--to no avail. I would like to know more about my grand children's lives from their mom's perspective but have been stonewalled.

During my evening conversations with my son, the stories of his family are not forthcoming, and I gently ask questions about their lives. After a full day of work and heavy responsibility I don't think I would be too lively and conversational during the drive home. So he is tired.

About ten days ago, my son became very irritated with me. His voice escalated until he was shouting at the top of his lungs. I visualized the veins popping in his head--he was so angry. Then he hung up on me.

I realize there is a lot of anger there, but I don't know the cause. Is there trouble in his marriage? Is he worried about finances? (Doubtful, as he has a very good income and benefits).

He chooses me to be his target when he lashes out. Because of our limited communication I have no idea if he does this to his family as well (verbal abuse), although I was shocked when I once witnessed him "get on his disabled son's case" disciplining him verbally (which I thought harsh) given my grandson's capabilities. There is no physical abuse.

I have been in therapy off and on during my divorce and during my late husband's cancer and death. I think my son would benefit from therapy but "can't go there" with either him or his wife.




Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Noreen, and thanks for telling your story here. I can tell you're a very bright and healthy person, and I appreciate the thoughtful manner in which you have presented your situation. I think your thought processes make sense, regarding your son's situation and your ability to influence it.

This is very difficult for you, because of how much you love your son and your grandchildren. It is unfortunately something that quite a few grandparents go through. There are no easy answers, but I will try to offer some insight that will hopefully be helpful to you.

I don't know if you have ever heard the phrase, "Love is letting go," but I believe it is very true. I strongly encourage you to read this article on letting go of a relationship, and apply what you find there to your situation.

Your son's anger and your daughter's stonewalling might be related to your efforts to be more involved in theirs and their children's lives. There's no way I can know that for sure, but it's not at all uncommon in these situations.

Letting go in love and acceptance is the best thing you can do for everyone concerned. Try to fill the space previously occupied with thoughts and worry about your son and his family with joyful appreciation of the good things in your own personal life. Sometimes, this is all it takes for the other person (or family) to begin softening their resistance...no guarantees here, of course.

Either way, you win by creating as much personal joy and fulfillment in your own life as you possibly can. There may be some grieving in your process, if you choose to do this. You'll be grieving the loss of the relationships you wanted, so you may want to journal about exactly what it was that you wanted, and let that go.

Then love and accept your son and daughter-in-law exactly as they are, and create a joyful life for yourself.

Regarding your son's anger, he's not going to deal with that unless he chooses to. And, it might get better as a result of you letting go.

You can do this, and I think you'll like the results.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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