Recalcitrant Mother-in-Law Poses Seder Situation

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Dear Miriam,

My newly widowed mother-in-law says she doesn’t want to come to us for Passover this year. Maybe she’s being honest and really just wants to be alone. Or maybe we should continue to push and invite her again. Or maybe continuing to push is disrespecting her? She doesn’t have anyone where she lives to go to for seder. How can we make her know we really want her to come without making her feel bad if she really doesn’t want to come?

Signed,

Come and Eat

Dear Eat,

When graciousness and hospitality and kindness and persistence don’t result in the desired outcome, it’s a real challenge to figure out how to move forward. But as much as you hate to see your mother-in-law isolated and alone at such a vulnerable time, she’s an adult who can’t be forced into doing what you think is best. Ultimately, you’re going to have to let this go, but along the way, here are some other ideas.

As per the advice columnist gold standard, when an issue involves your mother-in-law, your spouse should be the primary contact. Since your spouse is also likely still grieving as well, this is tricky, but I wonder if the response would be different if you stayed out of this. Maybe the two of them could reminisce about old family seders, opening up a chance to talk about this year’s plans, or maybe you’d all gain some insights into why she really does want to be alone.

If she has access to email, some of this could also be accomplished in writing, which may be less fraught than talking. You could tell her how much you want her to be there. (Feel free to add something about grandkids saying four questions and/or wanting to see her if you have kids.) You could offer two concrete transportation options. You could tell her what time you’re starting, what time you’re eating, what time you’re likely to end and offer that she doesn’t have to stay the whole time.

You could also, whether on the phone or over email, try to make specific plans for the next time you’ll see each other. “I understand that a visit for seder isn’t going to work out this year. What about next weekend? We could come to you if that would make things easier. We also have a long weekend for Memorial Day, though I’d hate to wait that long if we can see you sooner.” Offering these types of specifics might help you to figure out how she’s doing overall and whether this has something to do with Passover, with not wanting to travel or just with grief in general.

Any of those possibilities are legitimate from her end, but your concerns are also valid. You say she has no one near her but I wonder if there’s somewhere nearby that has a community seder option. You could get that information and send it to her. There may also be programs specifically for senior citizens, and you could learn about these and share the information in an informative but not pushy way. If she’s not interested, as I started with, it’s time to let it go, but hopefully if you try a couple of these tactics, at least you’ll feel better moving into seder knowing you’ve genuinely reached out to let her know she’s welcome and that you care about her.

Be well, and chag sameach,

Miriam

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