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Emotionally Distant Son

Emotionally Distant Son


Dear Rachel,

My married son is very distant emotionally from me. He very rarely calls, never e-mails me and very rarely invites me over. His wife's attitude is that since I am his mother, he should be the one to communicate. I used to call occasionally ("It's not a good time, I'm dealing with the kids") and suggest that I come over on a Sunday morning. It's the only way I get to see my grandchildren. I am getting very depressed about having to "invite myself over." I have suggested we get together for lunch and talk about our relationship but there never seems to be a "good time" for this, according to him. Any suggestions?

New Jersey

Dear J.M.,

In order for a relationship to thrive one basic element is needed: connection. From the situation you describe, it sounds, sadly, that this element is weak. I have some thoughts about strengthening your connection.

I am not the biggest fan of the “full-disclosure – lay it all on the table” talks. Many times these well-intentioned discussions turn into confrontational debates with defensive participants (especially amongst those participants who have shown no interest in participating). So in terms of your going out to lunch to discuss your relationship, I would advise against such a direct route. He has shown no interest in that type of discussion, perhaps in time it will come, but for now, it sounds that he is not ready for such a big step.

I remember meeting a Chassidic Rabbi who was teaching about the up-coming holiday of Purim. He taught that it is a mitzvah (a commandment) to be joyous throughout the month of Adar (the month which Purim falls). He said that we were literally supposed to fill every day of this month with joy and happiness. “So, what to you do when you wake up in the morning feeling lousy?” he asked. “You smile, and the rest of your body will eventually catch on.”

I have a similar line of thought for you. This is a precious and valuable relationship you are investing in. Your son is apparently not able to see that now. But you see it. Sometimes we just have to keep putting ourselves out there, playing the part, as it were, of the supportive and helpful mother, mother-in-law and grandmother, and trust that eventually, he will see it for himself. Sometimes when we act as if there is a relationship, and take some practical steps towards achieving it, it evolves. Once a connection between the two of you is made, you won’t have to convince him, he’ll know it.

This will require persistence and patience. I don’t imagine you two fell out of touch in one day, nor do I think it’s a mere day’s work to fix it. There is a lot of work to be done here, and chances are, that it won’t be easy. But, keep hanging in there, keep behaving like his mother and his children’s grandmother and they will begin to treat you as such.

On a more practical note, I suggest that you try to make yourself more available to him and his children. Instead of inviting yourself to their house, try inviting them to your house. Consider inviting the grandchildren over while your son and daughter in law have some alone time. Or, offer to sponsor a shopping trip, or a trip to the zoo, or an ice cream…something the kids would like. Just keep moving forward.

As in all relationships, there are two sides. Show a willingness to be involved on your side. Additionally, when you do spend time together, pay close attention to the dynamics. Notice what works and do more of that. If there is tension when you are together, search yourself and see if you can’t pinpoint something you have done to create friction. Once you find it, try to work on it for next time.

In the meantime, I suggest that you find ways to be together. Whether it’s a Shabbat meal, or a Sunday morning brunch, or a school party, find an opportunity to make a connection. I wish you much success on your work ahead and blessings of joy for you and your family.


“Dear Rachel” is a biweekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sarah Zadok.

Sarah Zadok is a childbirth educator, doula and freelance writer. She lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, with her husband and four children.

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Yonathan Thornhill July 4, 2017

I have a friend that her son won't speak to her and she is going through depression. Her son won't speak to Her, daughter in law is not Jewish but her and doesn't u understand he mothers values as a result she won't let her see her grand children and it's painful to her I try giving some advice but I am not in her shoes perhaps you can give me something that I can try to explain to her and make her understand.. it's very touching situation. And I'd love to help her in any way I can.. Reply

Anonymous uk March 24, 2017

Thanks for the insight. Similar situation exists for me but I reckon I can put some of your suggestions into practice. Reply

Kim Pa November 11, 2016

I can relate to JM above. I have tried putting myself out there for 7 years now. My daughter in law has total control over my son and grandchildren. I have not been able. To do any activities or sleepovers with my 7 year old granddaughter. My son does not take up for me at all.. I almost feel I am in mourning trying to go on with my life wife without him. I am so tired of being rejected that I have quit asking to have my granddaughter. The holiday season is coming and it is going to be very uncomfortable this year. We had a family meeting and it was not helpful. It seems things have have gotten worse😞. Just don't know what yo do next? Help Reply

Anonymous manchester February 27, 2016

Hi there. I struggle everyday as my son lived with his dad who is very irresponsable. My son wanted his freedom, ended up street fighting, he has been stabbed. I was the only one there for him during that night. My worst nightmare. Still my son went back to his dad , both of them.moved away and i rarely see my son. He is very close to his dads family.. put pictures of them with him on social media.. and comment " family". He passes my house nearly everyday, he still coming to my town see his friends, but won't come in. The only time i hear from him, it is when he needs a lift somewhere or money. I feel rejected, unloved and used. I struggle to understand his behaviour. Can a son not love his mother? he is 17 years old. Reply

Anonymous March 26, 2014

Daughters in law take note If you are a daughter in law, how do you treat your husband's mother? How do you let him treat her? Do you encourage him to work out issues and love and honor her so he can be a good son? Yes, she might have issues and consider you a threat, but regardless, her son should work at finding a way to show her respect.
Because 1) it says that after 120, the feelings a son had for his mother are shifted to his wife -- if they were good feelings, she benefits. If they were tangled negative feelings, she inherits that. So it is worth her while to help make his relationship healthy - with the proviso that his wife is his priority.
2) your son(s) are watching how their father treats his mother -- with your support! They will learn that this is how they should treat YOU later in life.
It is not easy. But being a true ezer k'negdo means we help and encourage our spouse to work through unhealthy aspects of his relationships with parents and other loved ones. To the best of our ability. Reply

Anonymous Texas September 20, 2013

Mother in laws and distant sons A mother and son relationship is a complex relationship. My husband doesn't even talk to his mother due to her constant manipulation and negative attitude toward him. It's a passive thing that I don't thing she even knows she does, but she never talks to him, she tells him everything. She never really takes an interest to know who he is, he is a grown up who doesn't need his mom, but would like to know her on a new level. She seems to go out of her way not to ask him how he feels, just dictates when she's around. She's incredibly condescending. She acts like I'm competition, and I'm not, I owe the best thing in my life to her, and I know that, it just kills me to see her run him down and not even make the effort to know her son. I commend you for not giving up. There is obviously some kind of issue between you and your son, but keep working on it and not alienating him, your daughter in law (especially, because she has his ear) and your grand kids. Respect them as adults. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI May 20, 2013

Emotionally Distant Son Daughters can be the same way, and it sounds like your son doesn't want to see you, and your daughter-in-law believes it's not her business to say anything.

Aside from being busy, do you and your son get along? Did you ask your son WHY he rejects you? He needs to know that how hurtful rejection is, and you need to ask him if you hurt him. If you did, can you work it out? I hope so, for the sake of your grandchildren. Reply

Anonymous Seattle, wa September 14, 2012

Another point of view I married a man, who was emotionally distant from his mother and later became emotionally distant from me when I become a mother to our daughter. Our marriage ended in divorce yet we're good friends. I continue to notice how his mother attempts to work out these issues with her son in covert ways which just pushes him away further. I feel for my ex-husband, and even his mother though I was never a big fan of her. I knew him from a different vantage point and knew the power she had over him. She didn't want to take responsibility for how she made him feel. I get she loved him, no question, but she needed to let him go. Mother's of sons - praise your sons, and the life he is building with his wife and kids. Let him and his family know you're there if he needs you, but accept if he doesn't - he's just transitioning into a man. Let him become one, and he'll be forever grateful. Hold him back, and he'll resent you for keeping him your little boy. Reply

Anonymous Ridge, NY July 4, 2012

My emotionally distant son As I read the short story and your response, it was exactly like my situation. I have done everything you suggested and when I invited them over, they made excuses and it has never happened. I could go on here about what he did or didn't do, what he said and should not have, etc. but I won't. I gave up trying when he told me he threw out my letters without reading them and "Maybe we will repair our relationship in the afterlife." I went to a counselor and made peace with this sad and disappointing situation for myself. I tried for so many years, apologized for this and that and he said he didn't want to hear my apologies and I cried for way too long. I love him because he is my son but I do not like his behavior toward me at all and do get upset any longer. I don't know what I did wrong and my counselor said the problem rests with him at this time. Reply

ck Phila., Pa. June 24, 2012

family Update, My son and wife, have a baby girl, now. Went Ca. to visit- It was wonderful and things are better, now ,Thank G-d. Things have gotten better. Slowly and hoping my other son (single)- will come around. We are talking. Which is a good sign. I wish all the mothers and dads are taking their time as advised. Sadness and depression work and active on our low tjmes- please do something to make you feel better. I go to temple on Sat. and do other things- like giving things to charity, or a simple dinner out. I pray that things do get better. My husband goes to counseling, too. Reply

Anonymous Flowery Branch, Georgia June 23, 2012

Hate it-but it's common A daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life-a son is a son until he takes a wife.

I have a son like that and his miserable wife-For some reason he is so nice to her strange acting mom-but because his wife is uncomfortable with me I am not allowed to see my first granddaughter. I have no respect for my son or his choice of wife-I didn't marry her =he did.

I live in another state clear across the country-and I am so ashamed that I have such a messed up son. It is what it is and I take a day at a time-I don't want anything from him nor do I receive mother's day, birthday, or Christmas presents. I send things for the child-but who know if she ever receives them. To me he is pompous and I really am uncomfortable around him and his lovely wife. Im better off alone. Reply

V K Chaturvedi Lucknow, UP, India April 13, 2012

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to
reach for the stars to change the world......This is what I want to make my son understand and plan out his career with full thrust. Somehow I am not in a position to pass on the same to him....Kindly suggest Reply

Anonymous August 23, 2011

2 sons and 1 daughter in- law My husband and I felt we tried to be good parents to our children. I think they talk together so to hurt and reject us. I do not want anything from them but Love and Respect. both live in another state. I tried to tell my son and his wife that we are coming to visit in Nov. and hope to spend Thanksgiving or another day, since they are going away. They send a very nasty, mean e-mail. Because I did not ask first before booking tickets. They are staying with her mom and dad. They treat her parents with affection and love and none to us. We have been very nice. Both of ours hearts are broken. I know in my heart and with G-d's will and prayers maybe the evil and hate will leave. They did not fall from the sky. Honor thy Mother and Father. They have no faith- and reject being Jewish. I am taking down all photos of them. I will sit Shiva for the children I have lost. My husband and I will work on marriage. and If my son(s) will every contact us contact her parents? Reply

Anonymous March 20, 2011

sons I did confront my son over my daughter in law ignoring me,and now they hardly ever see me, it made it worse. Reply

Anonymous February 21, 2009

Good Advice... though I surely hope her son and family will respond to the invitation. We have found it best to simply wait until they let us know they want to see us. That is rare, but it is easier than being rejected.

In a family with no sons, I really think it is hard for them to really understand how parents love sons just as much as daughters. My dil's family seem to not understand this and that influences her, of course.

My advice is to stay as loving and involved as is available and then to find others to be part of your life. We have good friends and often we get quite busy helping them. I am grateful to have the friends!! Though they do not take the place of family; still they are so appreciated!! Reply