'One woman showed up to her son's first session': Marriage mediator expresses concern about interfering in-laws

The mediator said that Irish people, in particular, sometimes experience difficulties when taking responsibility for their own marriages. He described one of the challenges facing married couples as “intergenerational interference.”
'One woman showed up to her son's first session': Marriage mediator expresses concern about interfering in-laws

A CORK organisation shed light on the bizarre actions of interfering in-laws which included reports of them gate-crashing mediation sessions focusing on their children’s relationships. Stock posed image. Picture iStock

A CORK organisation shed light on the bizarre actions of interfering in-laws which included reports of them gate-crashing mediation sessions focusing on their children’s relationships.

Miceál O’Hurley from Cork-city-based Munster Mediation has been an active mediator for more than 20 years and previously featured in The New York Times. During this period, he has conducted mediation sessions dealing with everything from feuding families to charities.

Much of his work centres around helping couples experiencing marital difficulties. While the role is rewarding, Mr O’Hurley said that interfering in-laws can often serve as a barrier to progress.

The mediator said that Irish people, in particular, sometimes experience difficulties when taking responsibility for their own marriages. He described one of the challenges facing married couples as “intergenerational interference.”

Mr O’Hurley described one case study highlighting the devastating impact of controlling parents.

The woman had insisted on joining a mediation session to undermine her daughter-in-law’s character.

“One of the problems I deal with is intergenerational interference,” Mr O’Hurley explained. 

“This occurs when parents interfere in their children’s marriages. I had one woman show up for her son’s first mediation session. She spoke about how her son was out earning money but was still getting asked by his wife to ‘run the hoover’.

“When she finished her spiel I thanked her and asked her to wait outside so I could speak to the young couple alone. She needed to feel like I was on her side. While I didn’t treat her like I was on her side, I still treated her with respect.”

The mediator was astonished to see the woman return just two years later.

“The son didn’t get what she felt he was entitled to. However, the process was still fair enough that she returned two years later. This time it was with her daughter. She opened with the same story about how her daughter was being asked to run the hoover all the time. It seemed to be more about her belief that her children were too important to use a hoover than the couple’s ability to share household tasks.”

One of Mr O’Hurley’s approaches involves encouraging couples to take responsibility.

“You have to ask them whether the third party really has a role in the relationship. If a parent is interfering in a relationship it’s because their child isn’t standing up to them or taking accountability for their own relationship. Trying to get people to take responsibility is difficult.”

“It’s not just mother-in-laws who interfere in marriages. This is not a gender bias issue. It’s a personality type that interferes as opposed to a gender. Fathers-in-law also dictate to their sons. From my own experience, fathers don’t normally come into the room but some call me separately to tell me ‘the real story’ or try to find out what went on in the room. I have to remind them that it’s not my policy to communicate with third parties. Interfering fathers can be every bit as interfering as mothers.”

He spoke of the pressure this can result in for families.

“I’ve had sons telling me exactly what their father expects of them. A lot of the time their concerns will be about property. It might be about a farm in their family that they don’t want to lose to a daughter-in-law.”

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