A man calls his elderly mother. "Mom, how are you?" "Not too good," says the mother, "I've been very weak." "Why are you so weak, Mom?" "Because I haven't eaten in 38 days." "That's terrible! Why haven't you eaten in 38 days?" The mother answers, "Because I didn't want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call."

I am often approached by parents and grandparents who are upset by the fact that their children or grandchildren are not treating them in the way they feel is appropriate. Common complaints include, "After everything I have done for them, they don’t visit me", or "Since they got married they don’t call or spend time with me", or "They don’t invite me to their parties” and so on. They do not understand how it is possible for their children or grandchildren to be so self-centred and engrossed in their own lives.

One grandfather told me, "I wrote my grandson a letter telling him that the way he is behaving towards me is unacceptable. My son got upset saying, 'How dare you speak to him like this?' Instead of solving the problem with my grandson, I have created a new one with my son."

I once heard it put this way: Adam and Eve's children learned from them, by example, how a parent cares for a child. But they couldn't be an example to their children of how to look after one's parents — they didn't have any! They just spoke about it. But, as we know, what we say is not as effective as what we do. It is not as natural for children to look after their parents as it is for parents to care for their children. Perhaps that is why the commandment "Honor your father and your mother" needed to be written in the Ten Commandments, and to be rewarded with long life.

Another thing to keep in mind: It is a natural reaction for us to feel defensive the minute someone criticizes us. We may also try to avoid the people who make us feel uncomfortable. We will subconsciously shy away from places where we are made to feel guilty. It’s like my "to do” list: things that bring me pain end up on the bottom of the list and get transferred in my diary from day to day and week to week.

If we want to help our children and grandchildren fulfill the mitzvah of honoring their parents, we should always try to give them the benefit of the doubt and judge them favorably. Hopefully, this will keep the lines of communication open and will allow us to create a better relationship with our loved ones. If we make the time they spend with us a pleasant experience, we will very soon see them relating to us not just out of a sense of duty, but as something they truly desire and look forward to do.

Try it — it works!