Dilemma: I'm not close to my adult son and daughter-in-law

Katharine Whitehorn / 11 January 2016

Agony aunt Katharine Whitehorn advises a reader who wonders how she can be more involved in her son's family life.



Dilemma: not close to son's family

My son, his wife and two children live one mile away, but I never see or hear from them unless I visit or telephone.

My son works full-time and fishes in his time off, my daughter-in-law is a night nurse on two irregular nights a week, so sleeps for two irregular mornings. The 15-year-old plays on his computer most of the time and the 20-year-old is at university.

My daughter-in-law seems always to be ironing or shopping when I call. I believe she visits her own mother 30 miles away every week and phones every evening. I am an active widow with good friends, a social life (and a beach hut), but I do yearn to be included in their lives and to tell them of my doings or even of news of our extended family. 

Do I keep trying? Or just let that part of my family go? I do have a normal relationship with my daughter and family but they live some distance away.

Katharine Whitehorn's advice

Your letter encapsulates about half a dozen inescapable home truths.

Teenagers want to live their own lives, they are utterly uninterested in remote aunts and cousins – that’s standard.

Mothers are often closer to their daughters than to their sons once they’re grown up – she is to hers, you are to yours. When there are two working parents and a family, they are probably tired and trying to fit 30 hours into 24 the entire time; your son's fishing may be the one thing that keeps him sane.

His wife, shopping and ironing and dutifully visiting her mother, probably scarcely has time enough for her own children, let alone for any relaxing hobby of her own.

You have lots of time and I'm relieved and delighted that you have so much in your life apart from family – which is as it should be.

So what am I advising? Try not to feel aggrieved; you can realistically hope you will see more of your son's family when this most crowded moment of their lives eases up a bit.

In the meantime, try not to be a duty, a grievance, or an old grump.

I am, as it happens, in a similar situation, with a son and his delightful wife both working and a couple of teenagers. I am trying hard not to lean on them; they've got enough on their plant. We can bide our time for when they have a bit more of it.

Read our tips for building a relationship with your daughter-in-law.

Our readers say...

We also asked our Facebook followers for their advice...

"Adult sons are so often like this....! It seems sadly normal. So hard for we mums who have devoted ourselves to our children, put ourselves last, and nurtured and loved them for such a large part of our own lives. The transition from childhood to independent adulthood catches us unawares and takes considerable adjustment and stoicism! But that's life apparently and we just have to be grateful for the close and happy childhood times and try to be good company when we do see them! And for those who have sons who adore them and give them plenty of time and attention - just be aware how incredibly lucky you are smile emoticon And no, it is not to do with how you brought them up - it is just pot luck! In this lady's case my suggestion would be to offer help (or a treat in the grandchildren's case) in whatever form might be received well - they sound a busy couple with 2 semi-adult kids at awkward ages and stages."

"Help all you can when asked. Offer help when not asked and accept the answer. Just being there is all you can do."

"It's a very difficult one to come to terms with, my adult Son is the same with me! I dearly love him and his wonderful wife and get on with my grandchildren when I see them (they live a long way from me) but my son always seems 'disinterested' in me and my life, I have recently started taking no notice, I enjoy seeing them but get on with my own life when I'm back home! It's sad, but part of life!"

"Why not set up a family Sunday say once a month and invite all your family for lunch. Keep it a regular date eg first Sunday of month. Great opportunity to catch up and for all the cousins to get to know each other."

"Take as much interest as you can but never butt in."

"I suggest offering to help, perhaps the DiLaw would be grateful if you did some ironing for her or take the grandkids out to their favourite place for lunch, you can only offer and it's a start .. X"

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