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Dear Carolyn: My old­est son has in­formed me he is fin­ished with fam­ily gath­er­ings “like a cir­cus” and wants to visit only my hus­band and me. The “cir­cus” con­sists of his two broth­ers, their wives and one grand­daugh­ter. The ex­cuse is that he and his wife have trav­eled 200 miles to see us and are too tired to par­tic­i­pate in fam­ily get­to­geth­ers, such as at Christ­mas.

He re­fused a Fa­ther's Day in­vi­ta­tion, is­sued to every­one.

I sus­pect the real rea­son for this is my grand­daugh­ter and now a com­ing baby. My old­est son's wife learned she can­not have chil­dren and was dev­as­tated.

We are never in­vited to their home, the ex­cuse be­ing the apart­ment is too small.

She was an only child and is self­ish at times, and self-cen­tered, mak­ing many non­med­i­cal di­etary de­mands and act­ing as she pleases when here. I ac­com­mo­date ev­ery wish, but to cut my son off from his broth­ers and their chil­dren is too much. I re­al­ize he's also re­spon­si­ble, but what should we as par­ents do? How can we keep our fam­ily gath­er­ings to­gether?

At a Loss

Dear At a Loss: This is ob­vi­ously a painful and re­gret­table de­vel­op­ment in an al­ready chal­leng­ing fam­ily his­tory.

In this case, my guess is this isn't “too much” for you, re­ally, be­cause you'll deal with it; what choice do you have? It's just a par­tic­u­larly tough de­vel­op­ment be­cause it's a shot to the heart of what mat­ters to you.

I also think it's an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to look at it as the lat­est point in a se­quence of ten­sions.

From where I sit, I don't just see a bro­ken­hearted fam­ily ma­tri­arch; I also see judgy lan­guage in your let­ter, both overt and sub­tle. There's “only child and is self­ish at times” – have you ever said that one to an only's face? They're all sus­pect in your eyes?

And there's your ref­er­ence to “many non­med­i­cal di­etary de­mands,” which could de­scribe ... let's see, kosher; veg­e­tar­ian/ve­g­an­ism; think­ing X is so gross that it gives you dry heaves when you try to swal­low it; and hav­ing the ge­netic quirk that makes cilantro taste like soap. Among oth­ers, right? Things we tend to be gra­cious about with peo­ple we like, and eye­rolly with peo­ple we don't like?

And, you've used “ex­cuse” to de­scribe their rea­son­ing, “ex­pla­na­tion” zero times, and “rea­son” once in blow­ing past a “dev­as­tat­ing” ex­pe­ri­ence with in­fer­til­ity. Wow.

You don't like her. I get it. Maybe she has earned ev­ery bit of your loathing. But if your opin­ion of her works its way into ev­ery line here, how much of it do you think you're keep­ing from her?

So that's where you get to work: Patch this up. Go back to all of the neg­a­tive judg­ments you've made of your daugh­ter-in-law where there was room for doubt, and think of ways to give her the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Think of it as a forced re­cal­i­bra­tion to­ward sym­pa­thy.

Then, adopt that new view. Be sym­pa­thetic to an only child who maybe needed time to adapt to big-fam­ily noise, or still needs breaks from it. Be sym­pa­thetic to some­one who is sen­si­tive to some foods and isn't sure how to say that with­out be­ing a jerk.

Be sym­pa­thetic to a woman who right now is dy­ing in­side around small chil­dren, and just wants some room to re­cover with­out hav­ing her re­quest re­ceived like it's the end of some­one else's world.

Maybe some of this sym­pa­thy won't feel war­ranted. But you're not go­ing to get your big happy “cir­cus” back by de­mand­ing it in anger. If you're go­ing to get it back, it will be through com­pas­sion, pa­tience, flex­i­bil­ity and love. Dig as deeply for th­ese as you must.

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