Dear Emuna,

My parents are having marital problems. I don’t want to get involved and I don’t want to hear the details, but my mother insists on telling me (over Skype). She dredges up negative things that my father said or did many years ago to try to win me over to her side. She tries to manipulate me by telling me that my late sister always took her side. How do I deal with this? She won’t participate in a discussion on Judaism's prohibition of gossip; she is way too angry for that. She did however listen to my suggestion that she ask her doctor for antidepressants which he agreed to after diagnosing her as severely depressed. What should I do?

Loving Both Parents

Dear Loving Daughter,

Your dilemma has a number of components. One of the sources of the outrage seems to be the issue of lashon hara, gossip. While I certainly share your abhorrence for gossip, this is definitely NOT the time to give your mother lectures about Jewish law. She is in a lot of pain and, as you discovered with psychiatric intervention, very depressed. She will not be receptive to the idea (as she has shown you) and it will push the two of you farther apart. It is also important to recognize that severe depression is a serious illness, like any physical illness. Your mother needs your help and compassion, not your rebuke. She needs to feel cared for and loved. If she is indeed so severely depressed, then her ability to make positive choices is compromised and she need a lot of support.

Since you mentioned Skype, I assume that you do not live close by. I think it would be helpful if you could find her a companion, paid or otherwise, who lives local and can attend to her physical and emotional needs. She sounds very alone which I’m sure contributes to her depression.

On the other hand, I understand that you don’t want to hear the ins and outs of your parents’ relationship. You love your father as well, you are only hearing one side, and it is not really the appropriate role for a child to play. Encourage your mother to find a therapist (the psychiatrist she saw or someone else) who is available to listen to her story and to help give her perspective. I think you can tell her that you love her very much but that it is very awkward for you to be placed between your parents and therefore you can’t listen to her complain about your father and will have to hang up when she does so.

Don’t play the religion card; just the caring daughter in the middle one. But, above all, be loving and compassionate when you talk to her, not judgmental. Encourage her to continue the conversation, just with other topics. “How about them Yankees?”

Sick and Emotionally Abandoned

Dear Emuna,

I’ve been married 20 years to a lovely man. We have 4 beautiful children and a solid marriage. He is a good provider and a responsible mate, if not as emotionally available as I would like. This usually doesn’t matter but I have had some serious medical challenges recently, along with some unexpected hospitalizations, and while he has been by my side physically, I feel emotionally abandoned. I know he’s doing his best but I still feel hurt. What should I do?

Hurting Physically and Emotionally

Dear Hurting,

This is not the moment for a referendum on your marriage. This is the time to work on your physical recovery. When we are in pain and have physical challenges, we just need to put one foot in front of the other as we try to heal. It is not the time to evaluate the strength or weakness of our marriage, our relationship with our children or to ask deep faith-related questions. Go easy on yourself – and your husband.

It sounds like he is a “typical” man and that when things are good, you are pretty satisfied. Okay, he’s not perfect but no one is. I’m sure you are overwhelmed right now and more emotionally needy than usual so therefore you notice the lack more. Cut him some slack. He may also be terrified seeing you sick and not know how to respond or feel that he has to be the strong one for you or be afraid of giving in to his emotions lest he break down completely.

Leave it alone for now, get your strength back and then if you still feel dissatisfied, gently open the discussion, express your gratitude for all his support and explain what you need. If he doesn’t know how to respond but wants to (which I assume from your description) then counseling may be an option. But again, wait a little. Feel better. Let the dust settle and then see where you’re holding.

Suddenly, An Empty Nest

Dear Emuna,

I never worried about empty-nest syndrome. I lead a very busy life and I just never thought it would happen to me. But I put my (18 year-old) baby on a plane to college recently and I feel bereft. It’s a good school and he has settled in well so I’m not worrying about him but there is a big hole in my life. I’m so shocked by it I’m not sure what to do. What do you suggest?

Lonely Mom

Dear Lonely Mom,

As you well know this is a very normal phase of life. I wouldn’t be at all concerned if you hadn’t signed your letter “Lonely”. If you are indeed feeling lonely, then this is the first place that requires work. Our children, while certainly time-consuming and emotionally absorbing, are not our friends and should not be the cure for our loneliness. That is the role of our spouse and our friends. If our children are playing that role, then the relationship is a little distorted and the sooner we fix it, the better for both of us. Ideally this adjustment would be made long before our children leave for college but (hopefully) better late than never.

Begin by nurturing your relationship with your husband. Spend more time with him. Find out about his day, his interests and his goals. Transfer that emotional energy to this relationship where it belongs. You both will reap lifelong fruits from this – and your children will benefit as well. They need to be freed from any expectation of meeting their parents’ emotional needs.

Additionally, you need to cultivate friendships, preferably among your peers who are going through similar experiences and can be of comfort. They will be able to share the insights they have gleaned as well as being available to share social and educational experiences.

Thirdly, if you haven’t already done this, this is the time to focus on your own growth and development. Being a mother is a most rewarding (and difficult and demanding – but this isn’t about me, right?!) role, but it is not the sole definition of who we are. We are actually better mothers if we develop ourselves more fully as human beings, if we take time to expand our worlds, to learn and to grow. If you have been too busy for this until now, this is your moment. You will always be there for your children but they need freedom to fly – and so do you.

Don’t be bemoan the empty nest; embrace the new opportunity.