Unconventional Wisdom: A Mother's Dilemma

Advice to a mother concerned about her son's future love life

By Hara Estroff Marano, published November 2, 2017 - last reviewed on April 17, 2018

My son is dating a semi-pro beach volleyball player. We had dinner together and I noted a suspicious growth on her neck. This was our first meeting, and I did not say anything about it. I myself have had melanoma, which motivated me to seek information and learn about all kinds of skin lesions. I asked my son to please mention that she needs to have this evaluated. He has not done so, and when I brought the topic up again he was annoyed. They have been dating less than six months. I understand his awkwardness, but this is serious.

Your concern is well placed and is motivated by hard experience. Anyone who spends considerable time in the sun should be on the lookout for and pay attention to unusual skin growths. While the risks of sun exposure to the general population are often exaggerated, sun damage of a variety of kinds is a real possibility with lengthy exposure, and it is prudent—and smart career-wise—to guard against it. Discussion of the risks should even be part of the training of those whose profession regularly puts them in the sun for long periods of time.

You speak not only from experience but as someone who wants only good outcomes for a son. Your son, however, does not have the urgency of your experience, and, a few months into a relationship, he likely does not have an easy way to call attention to a potential problem that the woman herself may not even notice—or may have had checked out already. Moreover, he does not have the expertise that says, "Hey, you should have that looked at." Does your son know whether his girlfriend has had the growth examined by a professional?

The early stages of relationships are difficult enough without cancer panic. A few months in, it could be super awkward, at best, for him to bring up the topic.

Still, your leverage is with your son, despite his attitude. Yes, he is already annoyed, for all the reasons above and because he is getting serious about someone who has many more qualities than the mark on her neck that you focus on. Who has the finesse to gracefully bring up the topic of a potentially deadly skin condition on a date? You only expose the anomalousness of your son's situation—caring about someone enough to introduce her to Mom and perhaps thinking about a future with her, but not quite ready to talk personal life-and-death threats. In short, this highlights his inadequacy—although it is one that a majority of people would share, I believe.

The next time you speak to your son, it might be wise to tell him that you know his relationship is progressing and that you are happy to see it develop because you want nothing but good things for him. It wouldn't hurt to confide that you've come to see how awkward it might be for him to discuss the matter of the neck growth with his girlfriend. You could ask if he would mind your bringing it up, delicately, the next time you see her.

You might remind him that you speak from experience, that you want to see his love life go well, and that ignoring something that seems so trivial can have major consequences. And that time is a factor in this.

If he says yes, presumably you will engineer an appropriate time and place—perhaps a joint visit to the ladies room if you are at a restaurant together—and speak as casually as possible. If your son turns you down, say no more—ever.

Either way, you can assume that what you say is registering on him and that his concern may, at some point, come to outweigh his misgivings. If so, he will find a way to bring it up when he feels the relationship can take it.

One of the great tortures in life is to want something more for your children than they want for themselves. If he is an adult, you can advise—and hope that he will come to you for advice. But—absent an immediate life-and-death crisis—it is not wise to take away his autonomy in his own relationships, no matter how noble the goal.