My education-obsessed mother-in-law has ruined my sons’ lives

Dear Troubleshooter:

I am a female civil servant in my 50s. We are a family of five: my husband, our two sons who are 20 and 18 years old, and my husband’s mother.

My husband’s relatives are all highly educated. My husband’s mother often belittles me for being a junior college graduate, and my sons were always told by my husband and his mother that the best thing to do was to go to a famous university and get a good job.

My sons were accepted into the combined junior and senior high schools of their choice, but my eldest son began to hate studying, became violent, ran away from home, became a truant and then dropped out of high school in his freshman year. But he graduated from another high school and is now a college student.

My second son had stomachaches every day from homework and tests. He was bullied by his classmates and his teachers were cold to students who couldn’t keep up. He transferred to a correspondence course in his first year of high school. He is on track to graduate, but his future plans are still undecided.

I hate my husband’s mother for telling them that education is the best thing for them. Because of the selfishness of adults, she has ruined their lives by depriving them of playing sports and spending time with friends, which they could have experienced in elementary school. Instead, they spent their time studying and cramming for tests. It’s difficult for me to see my second son in pain.

— N, Osaka Prefecture

Dear Ms. N:

I read your letter with great pain, imagining the suffering of your sons. A person is free to be concerned about the name recognition of the school they attend and the company they work at. But to impose it on others is to be a pitiable person who does not know the value of anything else.

It is natural for you to feel resentment toward your husband and mother-in-law, but what worries me is that you yourself do not seem to be free from the obsession with your educational background. In your letter, you seem hung up on your own educational background, and you also are more concerned about your second son, whose career path is undecided, than about your first son, who is already in college.

“It’s OK to be who you are.” I think this is what your sons wanted to hear the most when they were children. You still have time to tell them as much. It’s not too late.

But first, take the words to heart yourself. You don’t have to regret the fact that you had to push yourself to obey your husband and mother-in-law. There are times when we feel things are unreasonable, but we can’t fight back. I believe that you can accept your sons as they are and be there for them because you have endured and suffered through all of this.

— Masami Ohinata, university president