Dear Alice,

As we approach Mother’s Day I am struggling with a family situation that feels anything but celebratory of. Our daughter is married to a man who appears to the world as a caring and religious person. However, he treats my husband and me as if we were unimportant to him. When we go to their home for our weekly visit to see our grandchildren (it is almost an hour drive away and not easy to do each week), he is usually on his computer and doesn’t even look up. I always go over to him to say hello, but my husband now refuses to.

We have been very good to our son-in-law and have fully accepted him into our family. This mostly affects my husband who is the stepfather and feels that he matters even less than I do. My husband no longer wants to be with them. Usually we celebrate Mother’s Day together. Going out for dinner has been our tradition. I have asked my husband to attend this dinner but he does not want to go.

Our son-in-law, an only child, is very close to his parents who live part of the year nearby and part out West. I suspect that he resents us, but I don’t know why. He does everything for his parents when they are in town. He even helped renovate their apartment. Sadly, when we ask for something simple, he is always too busy to help us.

I don’t want to make trouble with my daughter who seems to adore her husband and has never criticized him to me. She lets him make most of their family decisions, and I fear that he could limit our contact with our grandchildren if we are not careful.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can convince my husband to come to the Mother’s Day dinner?

— Ignored

Dear Ignored,

Certainly things have gotten quite tense as a result of your son-in-law’s lack of civility toward you. Your description of him suggests that he knows how to behave better than this. He is exhibiting barely suppressed anger when he doesn’t acknowledge you.

It’s hard to know what’s on your son-in-law’s mind. He may be holding onto some situation that occurred early on in your relationship. He may resent that his own parents do not live nearby throughout the year. Either of these two explanations or other possibilities may explain why he is acting out in poor treatment of you and your husband.

Doing nothing about your son-in-law’s behavior is risky since your husband is terribly hurt, and his refusal to participate in future family gatherings will certainly have a serious impact on your family. How you handle this now may improve the situation.

I recommend that you speak with your daughter about it in a very non-threatening way. Ask her if there is a problem since you have observed that her husband has seemed very busy whenever you come to visit. Be open to anything that she has to say, even if it is painful to hear. Do not mention the inequity between how he treats you versus how he treats his own parents since this may cause his defensiveness when she talks with him. Your daughter may not have observed any of his behavior. Hopefully, she will ask her husband if he is unhappy about something regarding her parents.

Perhaps your son-in-law will recognize that there is a consequence to his bad behavior in that it has been noted. Her mentioning this to him may cause him to think about it and reevaluate how to behave toward you. He may, however, choose to ignore what your daughter says and continue to behave rudely.

You can’t change your son-in-law’s behavior and certainly your confronting him directly would be disastrous. Since you want to stay close to your daughter and grandchildren, continue to visit and have low expectations for any meaningful contact with your son-in-law.

Ask your husband to attend your Mother’s Day gathering this year, and every year. You want your grandchildren to experience the joy of having family celebrations that create beautiful memories and honor important members of the family. Mother’s Day is such a day.

Families are complicated and take work to maintain. Encourage your husband to keep the family together in spite of this challenge. Perhaps you will have a surprisingly good Mother’s Day after all.

— Alice