Family Hurdles

3 Jun

Letterbalm Angry WomanDear LetterBalm: I need to fix the relationship with my daughter-in-law. My husband and I live across the country so we see our son and his family only once a year or so when we visit them. The last visit was stressful because my husband is being treated for cancer and wasn’t feeling well. My son and daughter-in-law both have high-powered jobs and, with two children, their lives are very busy. Whenever we visit, she’s impatient and obviously resents the time she has to devote to us. Our grandkids are fun, and we adore one another. But their mother doesn’t like us very much, and she makes no effort to stay in touch. She doesn’t speak to her own mom because her mother took a sibling’s side in a family dispute. How can I improve things between us? My husband is especially distressed.

–No Mother-in-Law

Ms. L.B. sends along good wishes for your husband’s full recovery. It looks like you’ll never have the kind of closeness with your son’s family you and your husband crave. But you can apply some techniques to smooth the relationship and indicate you’re on their side. You’ll have to create intimacy out of long distance. If the kids are old enough, enlist your son to set up a convenient Skype session every week or two. Send the children cards, letters and small gifts throughout the year, paying special attention to birthdays and holidays. If the kids use smartphones, learn to text and keep in touch electronically. Send greetings to your son and daughter-in-law during the year on their special days, as well. If you haven’t done so already and you can afford it, stay at a hotel when you visit and work out in advance when you’ll see everyone. Sit with your husband and tell him about all this, reassuringly:

Gerald darling, you’ve been so stressed between your chemotherapy and our last visit to Brom and Melanie and the grandkids. We’ve talked about how sad it makes us that Melanie is standoffish to us. I have some ideas that should smooth things over. First, we should stay at a hotel when we visit – it will give everyone privacy and reduce stress. We can work out in advance when we’ll get together. Second, we need to bone up on technology. We need to set up Skype sessions – you know, those video talks on the computer – with the grandchildren. We need to get more active about using our cellphones to keep in touch. And, we can beef up the cards, letters and little gifts. Our relationship will never be ideal with Melanie, but we can let her know by words and actions that we love her and we’re on her side. I’d like to talk with our nephew about working with a techie. Can we get started on this?

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