Q: The letter you published about a boy’s upcoming bar mitzvah touched a chord in me.
One of my daughters is getting married soon, and whom to invite presents a real issue.
My husband and I divorced about 20 years ago (we both remarried), but some of our children remain very bitter towards him to this day. He used to speak to us like a drill sergeant and we all had to obey. Until today, he tries to “buy” relationships by giving them thousands of dollars for different occasions. This daughter refuses to be “bought” and doesn’t want to see him at her wedding. She is angry at some of her sisters, too, and doesn’t particularly want to see them, either. She feels they never took her side in family conflicts, and usually show up at family functions only because “it’s expected.” For example, they came to her l’chaim for 10 minutes (again, only because it was socially appropriate to make an appearance).
My children are professionally successful and the level of family conflict is generally not known outside the family.
My children are not very close to me, either. They barely call or visit. They feel I was too self-absorbed before my divorce and didn’t fulfill my role as their mother by helping them after the divorce. They feel that I often blamed them when things went wrong at home, that I rationalize my behavior too much, that I get defensive, and that I never admit I’m wrong.
I don’t think anyone can understand what it was like to live with such a husband. You begin to continually doubt yourself, second-guess and question the smallest things you do. It’s easy for a child to be judgmental and wish for the “perfect parent.” But, as you said so well, “When Hashem creates perfect people, we will have perfect families.”
My question to you is: Should I get involved and try to promote peace between the sisters? Is there any positive role I can take in helping this situation?
A: Unfortunately, when years of entangled negative emotions come together, there are no easy and fast solutions. The fact that you are presently more cognizant of how you need to improve your relationship with your children is an excellent start. I think it is more essential for you to focus your energy on this area than to try to “help” them with their emotional entanglements.
Did you ever apologize to the children who voiced complaints about you? An apology is not about who is right or wrong, but an expression of sorrow for disappointing another human being. “Looking back, I’m so sorry that I disappointed you. I wish I would have been more present and able to respond to you in a more helpful way.”
These words must be accompanied by a different attitude. The old expression used to describe communication towards married children continues to hold true: Close your lips (hold back your opinions unless asked) and open your wallet. In other words, be helpful in the way the person wants to receive help, not in the way you desire to give it.
In an effort to repair faulty relationships, you need to reach out to children (and grandchildren) without an expectation of appreciation, with a no-strings-attached attitude. If you seem demanding, your children will envision you again as the self-absorbed, never-can-be-wrong mother they remember. If you continue to focus on their lack of kibbud av va’eim, it will not bring adult children closer but further estrange them from you.
Your children’s general consensus about you requires some soul-searching and introspection on your part. They desire a better relationship with their mother; it’s not only about whom to invite to a four-hour family simchah!