Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Moral Fiber

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 30, 2010

     Amy, seventy, divorced for thirty-five years, single,  was hurt by her forty-year old son, Jeff.  Jeff casually mentioned his upcoming vacation with his father, Evan, Amy’s ex-husband. Jeff knew after years of growing up with divorced parents that when he spent time with his dad, his mother was in agony. At the same time, Jeff loves his dad, and loves to take vacations with him. Jeff was in a bind. He had to tell his mother he was going away, but he knew that she would have strong negative feelings when she found out. Jeff handled this dilemma by telling Amy as he was walking out the door,  after a nice dinner at Amy’s house. Tearfully, Amy says “how could I have raised a kid like that? How come he could not just tell me during dinner? That kid has no moral fiber. He is a chicken shit.”

     Giving people bad news, especially people one cares about, is challenging. I say to Amy “but if  he told you during dinner, he might have been concerned that it would spoil the evening.” “Yes,” Amy says angrily, ” but he spoiled the evening by telling me as he was leaving.” Amy needs to accept that Jeff wants to spend time with Evan. She also needs to appreciate the bind that Jeff is in. Jeff, however, needs to find a way to talk to his mom in a way that is less hurtful. I wonder about Jeff and Amy going to therapy together to work this communication problem out. I do not know that Jeff lacks moral fiber, or if he is exhausted from navigating the sensitivities of his divorced parents. Amy calls him a “chicken shit,” since he did not stick around to see Amy’s reaction. Yet, it is not Jeff’s duty to patch his mom back together after hearing that her son wants to spend time with his dad.

     Some pain lasts a long time. Amy still cares about  Evan, as shown by Amy’s strong reaction to Jeff and Evan vacationing together. Jeff, although forty years old, still suffers from the agony of his parents’ tension. The meaning of this pain runs deep. Amy attacked Jeff in her mind by saying to me that he had no moral fiber. In so doing, Amy made it clear that her relationship with Evan is alive for her. Jeff is caught in the middle of the crossfire. More fiber is needed, but I am not sure if it is moral.

4 Responses to “Moral Fiber”

  1. Shelly said

    Perhaps Jeff simply didn’t want his mom to be hurt that Jeff is “siding” with his dad? Why does it necessarily mean that Amy still has feelings for Evan? Jeff knows that Amy has been hurt by Evan (in the divorce). By vacationing with his dad, he “betrays” his mom. I don’t think it’s about “moral fiber” but rather, Jeff’s desire to continue a relationship that Amy doesn’t want him to have.

    • Yes, but the issue is how Jeff tells his mom that he is spending time with his dad. He said it as he was walking out the door. Should he have told her earlier? Jeff’s choice of how he navigated these treacherous waters says a lot about Jeff, Amy and Evan. Exactly what it says is hard to say except that feelings were hurt all around.

  2. Suzi said

    If Amy reacts ‘hard’ at Jeff hanging out with his dad then I think Amy is lucky indeed that Jeff tells her at all. Jeff went through – actually – is still navigating his way through the thirty five year old divorce too.

    Difficult and hurtful/painful territory.

    I hope you go ahead with the idea of therapy for them both… Amy and Jeff.

    All the best with it…

    • Jeff is cornered. He can’t lie to his mom, but he also does not want to tell her he is going to see his dad, so his compromise is to tell her as he is out the door. Both Jeff and Amy are in a tough spot, but Amy as the mom, needs to take the high road.

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