Dear Rachel,

I have three children who are all married and we have always been a very close-knit family. My middle child and youngest child each have three kids but unfortunately my oldest does not have any children though they are still trying and praying. Lately though, my oldest daughter and her husband have stopped attending family events. I understand that it is difficult for her to be around other children, but these are her nieces and nephews. It is very awkward not having them for holiday meals and other events and her siblings are starting to resent her for not coming. Is there anything I can do?

Hurt Mother
, PA

Dear Hurt Mother,

Yes, there is something you can do, and that is understand your daughter and give her the space that she needs. It sounds like for years she and her husband have been trying to be part of the big family regardless of how painful it must have been for them. But there comes a time, or times, when people simply need to put their needs and their feelings first.

I don't know how comfortable your daughter is with speaking to you about her fertility struggles but perhaps they were recently dealt some bad news. Perhaps the attempts they were making didn't work out and left them even more depressed than before.

It is not just painful for a couple with fertility problems to be around children in general, but it can specifically be the children they are closest with that are the hardest for them to be around. And it is because they love them. Because they love them so much that seeing them just brings to the forefront of their hearts and minds how badly they want their own children to love.

I think it is important that not only you be understanding and caring of their acute pain, but that you make it clear to your other children how much they need to be sensitive and aware. And the fact that she is the oldest only makes it even harder. I am sure she always envisioned that she would be the first to give you grandchildren. For her to have nieces and nephews that are growing and multiplying while she still hasn't had her first must be a very difficult reality for her.

Simultaneously, I agree with you that family and family time are incredibly important. Yet with the above in mind, why don't you plan an evening out with just the couples? Have a meal or outing with just your children and their spouses, no grandchildren. But more than that, ensure that the time together be spent talking about things other than the children. The whole point will be defeated if the entire time your other children talk about where the kids are going to camp or that the baby just started to walk, etc.

Have a serious talk with your other children and explain that you want to spend time as a family, focusing on things you all have in common, and unfortunately children is not currently one of them. And likewise, the topic of conversation should also not be about their fertility struggles. Do not define them as the couple without children. Focus on their work or the other things they are doing.

I have no doubt that your eldest daughter and her husband will not avoid family gatherings for good and will make the effort as well to attend big events. But remember that every time they show up, it is a sacrifice on their part and one that most likely took a lot of strength to do. The family should be aware of this and grateful to them for all they do manage to attend.

I hope that your understanding of your daughter's situation brings peace to your family. And G‑d Willing, she should soon be able to attend family events with children of her own.