Dear Emuna,

My son is engaged to a girl who doesn't care for me, but I thought things were going much better. Then out of the blue I recently received texts from her that led up to, "If you don't pay for our rehearsal dinner…” (which I always figured I'd pay for) “and our honeymoon like you are supposed to, then you aren't welcome at the wedding.” She had actually taken my son’s phone and texted the messages as if they were coming from him. I'm both appalled and heartbroken.

Devastated Mom

Dear Devastated,

I find myself unable to be objective here, sharing your heartbreak upon reading your words. In most situations involving adults and their in-law children, I usually admonish the adults to be just that – adults. Someone has to be more mature, someone has to have a long-term perspective. And usually it’s us. In this case, it’s much harder.

Although perhaps still true. I feel very conflicted about the advice in this situation. And a little limited since you have revealed no other details about your relationship with her. (Is there a reason she doesn’t like you or is it just her personality? Do you just have different styles or did you do something, intentionally or unintentionally that was hurtful to her?) What’s the nature of your relationship with your son? Was it strong until now? Did this come out of the blue? Is he bothered by the way his fiancée treats you? The answers to these questions would certainly be helpful.

If your relationship with your son remains strong despite these challenges then I would begin by very gently and VERY carefully opening a dialogue with him. “You know how much I love you and want you to be happy. We really would love a relationship with your fiancée as well. I’m a little confused by these texts. Can you explain to me what’s happening? Did I say/do something hurtful? Was there some expectation that we were unaware of and didn’t meet?”

Let his reaction be your guide. If you can keep calm and ask these mildly probing questions with love instead of anger or accusation, you can perhaps open up a conversation. Maybe he’s also feeling confused and frustrated and doesn’t know how to extricate himself. Or maybe due to her completely different upbringing and family style, she had expectations that you were unaware of. Maybe you inadvertently hurt her or made her feel unwanted.

It doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean to; it matters that you did. But if you now understand it, you can hopefully rectify it.

If this conversation doesn’t evolve as hoped or your relationship with your son isn’t strong enough to even bear a conversation, then you have a different problem which has everything to do with your son and nothing to do with her. If there is distance or hurt between you and your son, perhaps he has shared that with her. Perhaps she is annoyed or hurt on his behalf. Perhaps she is responding to his own feelings of unmet expectations. This is all theoretical since I really have no idea what’s going on. What I mean to suggest is that if it comes from him, the situation is harder to rectify. It’s been years in the making and your daughter-in-law’s behavior is just a symptom.

Either way I guess I am back to my usual perspective. Despite your pain, despite the heartbreak, despite the perceived (and perhaps justified) unfairness of the situation, someone has to be the adult here. And I think that someone is you.

Try to put aside your hurt (I know, easier said than done) and explain that it would be your pleasure to pay. Look for opportunities to spend time with them, to get to know her better, and most of all (and perhaps counter-intuitively given the situation) look for opportunities to give to her.

This will reap two-fold benefits. Since it is a fundamental tenet of Jewish understanding that the more you give, the more you care, your giving to her will deepen your relationship with her, your love for her and that in itself will enhance the relationship. I hate to haul out the old trope but there is something to the familiar advice that the job of in-laws is to keep their mouths shut and their wallets open!

Additionally, if you give to her and make her feel warm and loved, it is more likely (no guarantee) that she will respond in kind. She probably wants to feel that you like her, that you respect her, that you are happy about your son’s choice. So act as if… and you may be surprised to discover that this new behavior will lead to a new type of relationship and that you will both be able to move on from your initial bad start.

Maybe her behavior is annoying now, maybe she’s truly immature and money-grubbing – but she is going to your son’s wife and the mother of your grandchildren. If you don’t want to lose both those relationships, then you need to be willing to step up and pay the price, no matter how abhorrent or unjust it may seem. I don’t just mean the financial costs but also the price of humbling yourself, of not standing on your pride or your principles.

I always counsel married couples that ‘”being right is a lonely place to be”. This doesn’t only apply to marriages. So take a deep breath, ask the Almighty to give you strength and perspective, try a conversation with your son if you are capable of calm and lift up to the responsibilities of adulthood. Even as your heart is breaking…