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.