Q. My mother has two sisters. She has had multiple falling outs with them over the past decade or so.
It has gotten to the point where I don’t even know what they’re fighting about or why there is still so much tension between them. I don’t know why these two siblings feel the need to ignore and ridicule my mother.
The thing is, while I don’t condone their behavior, I do miss them. I would like my mother’s side of the family to be a unit. I miss having family members to spend time with. I miss seeing my younger cousins grow up. It makes me sad that my siblings and I are getting married and having kids and my aunts are missing out on these events.
I’m not quite sure if they’ll ever change their ways because they have been quite nasty in the past, but sometimes I just want to reach out and ask them why. Why do they want to be so mean and distant? Do they even miss us? Do they have any desire to work things out?
In a situation like this, is it wise to reach out when things have been so toxic in the past? And if so, what would be the best way to do this?
A. I gather that you are an adult. One of the pleasures and benefits of adulthood is that you have the freedom to try to create and maintain the relationships you envision.
Understand that you will bear the consequences for your choice. For instance, your mother might feel betrayed if you contact your aunts. You might also learn that your own mother is behind at least some of this unpleasantness.
Most importantly, know that “when you mess with the bull, you get the horns.” People who are combative in one relationship tend to be combative in other relationships. These family members might reject you outright. Or they might welcome you into the fold and then kick you right back out.
One way to initiate this rapprochement would be to connect with some of your younger cousins on social media in a casual way and then work upward through the generations.
Q. My son just got married. We have an open mother-son communication.
He was visiting one day and I mentioned something negative about his wife. He turned around and told her what I had said. Then he did it again!
I asked why he would be repeating what I said to him. His reply was, “She is my wife.”
Now I cannot say anything to my son due to the fact that whatever I say leaves the circle, and I have to apologize?
A. You have a smart son. You, however, are a little slow on the uptake. Your son demonstrated to you — with absolute clarity and certainty — where his circle is now drawn, and it is drawn around him and his wife.
While you were the first woman in your son’s life, when he decided to marry he put another woman at the center of his world. He should honor and respect you, but he should not let you gossip about or bad-mouth his wife behind her back.
This may be a challenging period for you as you realize that your son is a human sieve. The open communication you have enjoyed with him can continue, but you obviously cannot count on secrecy where his wife is concerned.
He did a good job of training you to behave differently. Now you need to both behave differently, and you should apologize to his wife.