Handbook for Inlaws
If you are a mother in law, father in law, daughter in law or son in law, this may be helpful to you! Read and enjoy!!!
How to survive being an inlaw is an art in and of itself….
Let’s begin with the perspective of the parents in law: well, at last your son or daughter is married. That wonderful day has arrived and you are now the proud parents of a married child. Mazal tov!
Then reality sets in…..
No longer is your child “yours”. Your child now belongs to his or her spouse. And the trick is how you view that relationship, how you understand your children and how you get along with the newest addition to your family (your daughter in law or son in law).
Well, it is very important to remember that as a parent you are naturally going to be protective of your child and it is hard to give up the authority you always felt you had over your son or daughter. You also may feel a slight natural “competition” with your son in law or daughter in law. If your son says he loves his wife’s cooking and you see he is not so enthusiastic about his mother’s cooking, you, as his mother, may feel hurt or slighted in some way and may want to find ways to put your daughter in law down. It is a subconscious situation but one that can be damaging. It is a kind of subconscious jealousy even though your daughter in law never did anything to hurt you.
Or you may find yourself trying to protect your child . For example, if your daughter who just got married comes to you and mentions that her husband made some remarks about her cooking, or rather her inability to cook, you may feel upset for your daughter and want to protect her dignity and feelings. You, as her mother, may also feel it is an insult to you since it implies she never learned at home how to cook well. So your first reaction may be to put down her husband and wonder why he should speak like that. You may begin to question his middot. You may make a comment such as “he never said those things before you got married”. And inside you may be thinking “We never noticed a lot about him. Now we are finding out after marriage!” And you may become upset, even angry, and as one thing leads to another, you may eventually start thinking that perhaps it was a mistake for your child to marry this person. One emotional reaction leads to another and to exaggerations.
Or, perhaps your son comes to you and says “Mum, I’d love to come over for supper tonight. My wife is not a great cook yet and I’m starving!” He says it as a joke, but you, as his mother, may react in a few ways. You may simply say “Great, come on over”. Or you may feel a bit of a competition with your new daughter in law and you are happy your son loves your cooking (deep inside you may not wish your daughter in law to learn how to cook so well so that your son will keep up his relationship with you!). And you may feel overly protective and worry that your son is not eating well.
Or, perhaps you want to go visit your daughter to spend some time with her, and your new son in law wants privacy and has made it clear that he is not so happy that you want to come over unannounced. You may feel very hurt and rejected. You may feel angry and secretly wish your daughter had not married this man. You may feel he is trying to take your daughter away from the family….
Or perhaps you, as the father in the family, are used to your daughter obeying whatever you tell her, looking up to you for advice etc. and suddenly she has to listen to her husband and what her husband tells her may be in direct contrast to what you tell her. So you may feel hurt: you may feel that your daughter is not faithful to you, is not respectful enough, you may feel put down, you may feel your new son in law does not look up to you…you may go through many emotions, some correct and some based upon hurt feelings and wrong perceptions.
There are many, many emotions involved in inlaw relationships!! And those emotions are the things we have to deal with on a constant basis and become aware of within ourselves.
Many emotions have to be discarded as unproductive or even harmful. And we have to learn to think of things from the other person’s perspective and to think without so much emotion: to do what is right for the children and not to pursue our own feelings of hurt or anger since we , as the parents, have to be more matured. We have to remember that the goal in life is to preserve shalom bayit for the newly married couple even when it means compromising on your own relationship with your child…..to a certain degree. There is of course a limit to everything. If anyone is abusive in a relationship or is really on a wrong path, things are different and have to be related to differently.
But we have to learn and to practice not to be quick to judge anyone. And we have to learn to cope with our own insecurities and inadequacies and constantly keep in mind that any encounter we have in life is to teach us something, to help us improve ourselves and to grow spiritually. Inlaw relationships are especially good for that!
You may have always felt you would be the best mother in law, or father in law, in the world. But when your child is actually married, the reality may become a bit different. Suddenly you could feel jealous, hurt, rejected….sounds childish? But that is what life is all about. The things you never expected to happen suddenly happen. Reactions you never imagined you would have may suddenly take over. The same negative reactions you saw your parents go through or your inlaws go through you find yourself having as well and it eats you up…but you can’t help it. Or, perhaps the better way to put it is that it becomes difficult to help yourself. It requires tremendous work on one's emotions and middot.
There are, of course, families that are very close and very well balanced emotionally and when their children marry they cope very well and know how to allow their children to grow with their spouses and they do not interefere . But let’s be honest: many, many of us are not in that category. And that does not mean we are no good. It just means that one of our challenges in life is to learn how to be get along and appreciate our relatives and family members, how to understand them, and how to work on improving ourselves.
The key to success is to learn and practice consideration for each other (both the parents in law and the children in law), and to try not to be very judgmental. You will see a lot of things to criticize in the spouses your children marry. You have to practice restraint and give people time to grow and learn. Always think to yourself: if you make too much of an issue, do you really want to cause shalom bayit problems for your chlidren? do you really want your daughter back home with her kids and going through a separation? Or is it better to see her happily married even if you, her parents, are not so happy with her choice of a spouse? And, perhaps most importantly, this marriage is min haShomayim, is from Heaven, and therefore everyone , including the in laws, will grow from it and experience whatever it is that Hashem wants each person to gain from the relationship so use it for the good.
Let’s take an example of possible problems:
Rivkie gets married to Chaim. Before the wedding Rivkie has her doubts. Is he really her bashert? But her parents see his good qualities and very much feel they should marry. After dating for a while Rivkie agrees. Yes, she will go for it. The parents are delighted.
The engagement period is nice. Chaim is respectful, kind and everyone is happy. The parents may notice certain things that are a bit negative but they ignore that.
Finally the day of the wedding arrives. Rivkie and Chaim get married. The parents expect them to be very close to the family: to live near them, to see them all the time, to come over for Shabbat and yom tovim etc. etc. But after marriage, Rivkie seems to change. She becomes withdrawn, no longer seeming to trust her parents the same way. Chaim becomes a bit chutzpadik, not the same character as when they were engaged. Both announce rather harshly that they do not want to live near the family: they wish to move to an area of town which is a bit farther away. The parents are devastated. All the dreams they built up of being close to their daughter and bringing her husband into their family with open arms goes out the window in two seconds. It is a blow to them: more than they can cope with. Mother goes around crying from time to time. Father is angry but remains silent, possibly giving the cold shoulder to his daughter and new son in law on certain ocasions.
So how should we cope with this situation?
First of all, it is very important to realize and to remember that when a couple marries, they need time and space to adjust to each other, to get to really know each other and feel comfortable together. Marriage is an adjustment and to some people a shock in some respects. Even though the newly married couple may smile in public, in the privacy of their own homes only Hashem sees what they are really going through or how they are really feeling. Some kallahs cry for months after their weddings until they become accustomed to life with their husbands. And they may be too ashamed to say such things to their parents, especially if the parents seem critical in any way or not totally accepting of their spouse. As much as you may think that your criticism of your child's spouse does not affect them, or you are upset that your child cannot see the faults in his or her spouse, that is not the case. Your child is always influenced by your opinion but may not know how to handle both relationships tactfully. So the child may say things or withdraw to protect their marriage and you may take it as a lack of respect or care....however that is not the reality. Sometimes in order to adjust to marriage, a child needs to separate a bit from family, especially if they were very close to their parents before marriage. That does not have to be interpreted as rejection. The children may not know how to handle their emotions and their conflicting feelings and they may come across as harsh or indifferent or even rejecting. But they always want their parents love and support. That is an important factor to remember. Children are not totally matured , even when they marry. They need time to grow up and learn in life and cannot be expected to understand many things when they are young. Parents have to be patient and as understanding as possible, and not have too many wrong expectations.
Parents, instead of feeling hurt, should try to understand what their child is going through. Of course, if the parents really feel upset because of certain behavior on the part of their child or son in law, they may have to discuss it with their child, but always in such a way as to promote peace. Not to criticize or put down their child’s spouse. That would be a grave error. Because the moment you as a parent want to criticize your child’s spouse, the child will automatically withdraw and close up and be afraid to communicate for fear that you want to break up their marriage or because the things you say may actually be things the child noticed but does not want to acknowledge as it negatively affects the way the child relates to his or her spouse. (after several years of marriage, when your child is secure with their spouse, at that time they may be more willing to hear and even acknowledge the faults of their spouse and work on fixing things, but in the beginning it is usually not so).
And let’s face it: even if there are things you see which are not good in the person your child has married, you must remember that nobody is perfect. Perfection does not exist in this world. Therefore you have to accept the other person with their faults and ignore many things. And you must keep in mind that you are happy your child is married and is happy in life. As long as your child is happy and thriving in the marriage, put your own feelings aside and do not complain. Remember how you would have wanted your parents or in laws to react when you got married.
And if there are certain points that really have to be addressed, do it with kindness and try to keep your ego and hurt feelings out of the picture!! It is hard, but try. The effort is well worth it. Remember: the person you married also was not perfect and you chose to overlook faults or not even to see them for the sake of shalom bayit. It is harder to do that for your child whom you want to protect, but you have to make your best effort.
And , if you really cannot keep your hurt feelings out of the picture because you are simply feeling too hurt and rejected, at least try not to attack your child’s spouse. Concentrate more on discussing how you are feeling and how their behavior is affecting you emotionally, rather than criticizing how the other person acts or what bad middot they have etc. etc. The more you attack, the more defensive the other person will become.
And remember: your child is someone you want to keep a close relationship to. You must do everything to promote shalom bayit. You do not want a divorced child to come home possibly with a baby in arms because you, as a parent, were too critical of their spouse! That is not your intention or goal. You may need to express concerns or hurt feelings, but your intention is not to break the marriage….so try to be sensitive to what you say and how you say things.
Also if you child perceives you as being overly critical of their spouse they may become defensive or move away from you in order to protect their marriage. and you do not want to push away your child.
Even if your child complains about their spouse they do not want to hear you confirm their complaints or put their spouse down. They want your approval. And in reality it is usually better to try to help your child see their spouse in a more positive light, as much as possible. This promotes shalom bayit. It is easy for a child to get upset or emotional about issues. As a parent we need to keep calm and help our children see things more objectively.
If there is a major problem (for example, your daughter confides in you that her husband started beating her), then obviously there are cases which require a more forceful stand and possibly the intervention of rabbis, marriage counselors, psychologists ,therapists etc. And you, as a parent, must do your utmost to get the husband to go for counseling in such a situation, and in that case, obviously it is necessary to make your daughter see that the man she married is abusive. Not necessarily must you advocate divorce immediately, even if that is your first reaction because you want to be protective of your daughter. Always try to resolve a problem before creating a new one. When there is no way to resolve things, divorce is a last resort. Nowadays marriages break up too fast and too easily, and very often over silly matters or built up emotions which are never handled properly or spoken about adequately.
You also need to take into account what your child really wants. You may see problems or issues with your child's spouse, and those problems may truly exist. The spouse could even have serious psychological or emotional issues from their childhood, upbringing etc. Things you may not have been aware of before the marriage. And you may feel it is not worth keeping the marriage going. But if you see your child seems to want to stay married and is not eager to separate, dont push it. They may have to be together to fix things in each other. And you also need to consider what will become of your child if they do divorce; will they be happier? will they remain properly frum? will they remarry easily? These are things we cannot know but it is far better to be married than alone in today's society. So promoting marriage and keeping a couple together is the priority in most cases, except for certain extreme circumstances, or of course if both parties (husband and wife) do not wish to remain married. Even if one wants to divorce, that needs to be taken into consideration. But first it is wise to promote peace as much as possible. It is often our first reaction to agree to separation or divorce if we do not necessarily like our child's spouse...but that is a mistake. People can change. Things can improve. We need to give things a chance.
Now let’s take a look at things from the perspective of the daughter in law or son in law:
You are married, possibly just newly married, or maybe married for many years. You are trying to cope with and adjust to your “new” family (your spouse’s family). For some people this is easy and pleasant. For others it is very difficult. One reason may be that you compare your in laws to your parents. Another reason may be that you feel some subconscious jealousy towards your inlaws (ie. you, as a daughter in law, may feel jealous of your husband’s relationship with his mother, or you as a son in law may feel jealous of how close your wife is to her father) or you may feel threatened by your inlaws and insecure around them. If they are critical of you it is even harder. You may be afraid that this relationship will interfere with your marriage or with shalom bayit or with the way your spouse views you. Sometimes your fears have a true basis and many times, more often than not, they are worries rather than realities.
Or perhaps the characters of your in laws are hard for you to deal with; maybe you perceive them as being too pushy or too interfering or too critical etc. etc. Maybe you are insecure and want to control your spouse and you do not want your spouse to feel too close to his or her family. You are afraid of what your in laws may tell your spouse against you. Or you feel you may lose control in your marriage. You may even become a bit paranoid about it.
You have to try ( although in the case of newly weds this is more difficult due to immaturity, lack of experience etc.) , to look at things from the in laws perspective too. You must understand that in general nobody is a bad person. Everyone has their good points. And if your mother in law, for example, is a pushy person and wants to spend a lot of time with her child or tell her daughter or son how to do things, you have to try to understand why: did she perhaps have a difficult childhood, is she insecure, is she lonely, is she going through a difficult phase of life, is she happily married herself, does she have emotional problems from her childhood or married life, or is she perhaps just overly sensitive in some ways and not emotionally mature? In all cases, you must try to judge kindly and to give the benefit of the doubt.
However, if you see that the behavior of your mother in law or father in law is hard to deal with or interferes with your shalom bayit, you may have to discuss the matter with them at some point in time (or at least discuss it with your spouse so they can speak to their parents), or you may have to politely try to minimize visits , but at all times you must be sensitive to the other person’s needs and feelings and realize their intentions are generally not evil. You have to always do things with respect and derech eretz.
If occasionally it happens that the in laws really have negative intentions and want to destroy your marriage, then you may have to take more drastic steps. But that is the exception rather than the rule!
In general remember that the adjustment to your married life is just as much of an adjustment for your parents or in laws. Especially if you are the first child to be married in the family. And even if you see that problems begin many years after you are married, you still have to try to understand the cause and work on it. And often it requires speaking to your spouse to try to work out his or her emotions because, for example, if a woman is nervous, pregnant, busy with little kids and her mother in law comes over and criticizes her way of doing things etc. etc. she may be overly sensitive and build up resentment and not want to have much to do with her mother in law. However, if the husband talks to his wife and makes her understand how much his mother suffered in her life, or how she criticizes because she means well but does not know how to communicate, etc. etc. he can help his wife to be patient and deal effectively with his mother. He can keep peace. That is an important factor. Certainly it is wise to try to look at life from your in law's (or parents) perspective and to remember they are deserving of respect and consideration.
It is important to keep in mind that your spouse has an obligation to respect his or her parents and if you interfere with that or put down the parents (your in laws) it will create conflicts within your spouse and probably more shalom bayit problems. Besides, if you put your in laws down or speak badly of them or treat them with chutzpa or disrespect, your spouse will feel angry and upset with you, not with the parents. A child always will defend their parents, unless the parent does something really wrong or really off line. But since a person also wants to defend and please their spouse, it will create feelings of conflict, guilt and can negatively affect your spouses relationship with his or her parents…which is not at all a wise thing to cause.
You do not have to take sides: it does not have to a situation of either joining your spouse or joining your parents. You can keep peace with both if you do so cleverly.
It is very common to blame marriage problems on in laws. But that would only be the case if , for example, the relationship of the husband with his mother, or the wife with her father, is so close that they cannot respect their spouse properly at all. However, in most cases that is not so. In general in laws may aggravate existing situations but they are not usually the real cause marriage problems. And in many cases in laws actually help out when there are marriage problems: they often make peace. It is important to look at the useful side of in laws and remember all that they can contribute from their own experiences in life.
When a woman marries, she needs help. She may have one baby after another and would greatly appreciate the help from her parents or in laws. She would appreciate many things that they can offer. So it is always good to keep the extended family on good terms.
In the past generations, and even in today’s society among Sephardic Jews in particular as well as many Chassidic Jews, family closeness is a normal thing. And the families are very close. For example, when a child marries, they usually live right near their parents or in laws , even in the same building. They get together constantly, spend hours in each other’s homes, are together every Shabbat etc. And they raise their children to respect the grandparents and to be connected to all the family. This is very important and very beneficial. Such families are happy. They have togetherness, closeness. They have lots of help and support. There is true unity.
Today’s society breeds separation. Families do not know how to be close anymore. Families do not know how to connect with relatives and outsiders. People do not even have time for each other anymore. Even husbands and wives have difficulty communicating and spending time together! Society encourages separation, loneliness, individuality….society does not encourage togetherness. And therefore, growing up in such a society with such attitudes makes it harder for people, when they marry, to merge easily with their families and relatives.
The backgrounds, attitudes, family experience of each person will influence how he or she relates to in laws and this must be understood as well.
There is a case we know of personally where a couple got married about nine months ago. The husband and wife moved away from the wife’s parents to live in a different country for parnassa reasons. The wife’s parents were very disturbed by this. And they were the type of parents to constantly want to interefere in their daughter’s life. But it got to the point where the husband would actually get an acute case of diarrhea every time he had to speak to his father in law on the phone! The pressure and pushiness was more than he could cope with. He was a calm, quiet, soft spoken person. His wife wanted to be close to her parents but she also did not appreciate their pushiness. The parents meant well and wanted to help their daughter and give advice, but they did not know how to do it cleverly. Someone finally mentioned to the parents to leave the couple alone and allow them time to grow and learn on their own. The parents became extremely insulted and basically cut off much communication with their daughter. Even her brothers and sisters became cold to her. This led the daughter to feel very depressed and rejected. And the final blow came when the family sent a letter to the daughter saying that they were officially cutting off with her and wanted no more contact with her or her husband! The daughter went into a severe depression, the husband became depressed and did not know how to cope with the situation, and the daughter even ended up going to a therapist! And what did the therapist tell her? That she had to basically forget about her family and go on with life. She is now happily married, the mother of a newborn baby, yet she has no contact with her family. Was the therapist correct? Not necessarily, although it did temporarily solve the problem. Who is the loser in the long run? Of course the daughter will always feel upset to be without her family, and extended family is an important part of life (although she BH has a good relationship with her in laws) but it is in fact her parents who are the losers and are missing out on seeing their grandchildren and on having a positive relationship with their daughter.
So did the situation have to get to that point? Of course not! It is an extreme case perhaps, but these things happen. And most of the time the reasons have to do with hurt feelings, hurt egos, power struggles, lack of understanding, lack of proper communication, etc. etc. But all sides end up suffering. And in many cases, this type of situation can put an unnecessary strain on a marriage and bring arguments, division or lack of closeness between couples. If a woman is depressed and feels rejected, she may subconsciously feel she does not deserve the love of her husband and she may reject his affection as well, as a sort of self punishment. If the husband is not aware of that, he may not understand his wife’s psychology and may develop marriage problems. Newly married couples have a delicate psychology.
Another problem that often arises in a marriage is a case whereby one or more of the in laws are not religious and the couple are religious. For example, Yehoshua married Sara. He was from a traditional Sephardic family. Sara was from a non religious family and became a baalat teshuvah. She and Yehoshua wanted to live a very religious life and raise their children very strictly. But when her family wanted to visit, there were problems. And even when his family came over there were problems; his family felt they were religious enough and could not understand their son becoming so strict, so extreme as they viewed him. So they put pressure on the couple. Things were not easy. As long as there was agreement on the part of Yehoshua and Sara about how to run things, it was okay. But if Yehoshua also felt Sara was being too strict in certain areas, there could be conflicts, especially when his family supported his viewpoint and Sara had nobody to support her on her side. She was accused of being “too fanatical”. This can bring tremendous conflict to an otherwise healthy marriage. Sara could also feel her husband does not respect her or look up to her.
And of course if the couple are not so religious but the in laws are very religious, that creates a different sort of tension and stress… and also for the in laws themselves! Because they have to come to deal with their child’s lifestyle which definitely does not reflect their own values and that is very difficult for parents or in laws to handle. They may feel ashamed of their child, or the may feel like failures in life. And they are worried about the negative influence on other children in the family. It creates many barriers. However, it is important for parents and in laws to still keep up a positive relationship with their children since in the long run they can have a positive influence, even on the grandchildren, and certainly it is not good for their children to feel utterly rejected or pushed away.
The possibilities for conflicts and problems are immense. But the desire to maintain peace and have a good relationship must be there at all times so that the family can work things out and come to terms with their realities of life and learn how to respect one another. That is the key: respect and consideration. If that is lacking, peace will be difficult.
Many in laws are so concerned that their children should have shalom bayit, that they forego their own respect. For example, Ruth's son married a girl that Ruth did not approve of so much. Nevertheless she welcomed his wife into their family, only to realize his wife did not respect her at all and made it very clear to Ruth’s son that she wanted very little to do with them. Ruth’s son felt terrible: he loved his mother and father and wanted to have close family ties. But he also loved his wife. His mother was understanding and told her son not to worry: he should keep shalom bayit with his wife. He did so. He came to visit his parents, often without his wife. He did his best. But everyone suffered. Ruth perhaps should have asserted herself more to bring about a respectful relationship with her daughter in law but she was so afraid of divorce. In the end her son got divorced and Ruth wished she would have spoken to her daughter in law about respect; perhaps it would have helped…..
In laws should not have to insist on respect, but their behavior and attitudes should command respect. If they see that their son in law or daughter in law do not respect them, they should behave in such a manner to encourage respect and they should keep their dignity, not allowing the children’s attitudes to affect them inwardly. Because if inlaws become too emotional and distressed, it can have a damaging affect on everyone involved.
At the same time, a person must not tolerate real disrespect from their children or their children’s spouses because that would breed resentment, hurt feelings and of course a negative relationship. Parents must at all time refuse to take nonsense or hurtful behavior because that would encourage averas as well. There is a very delicate balance and art to being a parent in law!
One must always realize that many, many people have various emotional or psychological problems and immaturities and may not even be aware of them consciously. Many people need time to mature or to heal. And parents have to give space and time to others to grow. Nevertheless, it is the duty of a parent to watch out for his or her child and be sure the spouse the child is living with will not abuse (even psychologically) their child. Many children are ashamed or embarrassed to tell their parents what is really going on behind the scenes. And many children are embarrassed by their spouse’s rejection of their family or difficult characters. It is painful for the child to acknowledge or to know the famiily realizes their spouse's faults or their marital conflicts. Parents have to do their best to ease tensions and always make their child feel comfortable, loved and cared about so the door is always open should the child need real help.
Shmuel and Rachel were newly married (only for about four months). Shmuel was feeling very wary of his father in law: he did not trust him. He saw that his father in law liked to give advice and Shmuel had a hard time accepting advice: he wanted to be his own boss and he did not want to hear anything his father in law had to say. His father in law at first tried to share whatever knowledge he had with Shmuel: he meant it in a good way. But then he realized Shmuel was not appreciative and in fact was outright disrespectful in many ways. He saw how Shmuel was attempting to undermine his opinions with his daughter Rachel. So he pulled back: he stopped giving advice and basically said nothing. He was friendly, polite and respectful but he said very little. However, Shmuel still did not want to trust him. He felt somehow it took away from his own authority with his wife and he was insecure about asserting himself. So he became more and more disrespectful to his father in law. He even went to the extreme of pushing Rachel's family away and limiting times that they would see each other. He was even paranoid about Rachel spending time alone with her family if he was not there, imagining they would say negative things about him.
Rachel’s parents were mature enough to understand that if they would continue to fight, the results would be negative. They would just alienate Shmuel more and their daughter would feel forced to follow her husband. So they changed around and started to simply be nice to Shmuel. They did not lower themselves or lower their dignity. But they treated Shmuel normally and were very friendly to their daughter. Rachel responded likewise and was happy with the family. In the end it worked out well and Shmuel actually came to appreciate and respect his in laws and to truly like spending time wit them. Although at times it is emotionally difficult, nevertheless In laws have to try to handle each situation with intelligence and not react emotionally or in a way that would alienate the couple. Everyone would just end up losing that way.
Many times parents have to make very difficult decisions about how to handle numerous situations that arise. Often it entails putting aside their own respect or happiness. But in the long run they are better off. Breaking up families is counter productive and should only be encouraged when there is a real problem and a situation is really dangerous or hopeless. Generally separation and divorce should not be encouraged even when one’s child claims to be very unhappy in the marriage, and particularly when children are involved. Of course at times divorce is inevitable but it should not be something to jump into quickly. People have to have patience and give youngsters time to learn, understand, grow and get over their own problems. To end a marriage is easy, but to begin a new marriage and a new life is hard. And if Hashem put a couple together, they have something to accomplish together. Divorce should be a very last resort.
In a case where the marriage is basically good and it is just a matter of working out in law conflicts, people have to have patience and understanding and not jump to conclusions or over react emotionally. This is one of the secrets to being a successful in law. Patience!
It is very important to remember that being an in law is a new phase of life and it takes some adjustment. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail here and there: that is normal too.
It is also imperative to remember that the newly married couple are young, need time to mature, mold together, learn to assert their independence and they need time to adjust to marriage. For some the transition to marriage is easy. For others it is more challenging. And inlaws certainly should not be the middle and the ones that the couple would choose to blame when problems arise. Do not be a catalyst for problems. Do not allow yourselves to be the ones who fight and create problems. Because later it will be difficult to rectify things.
Time and patience are the secrets to resolving many problems.
Parents must learn how to be patient, not expect too much from their children and yet to be there for their children when they need them. Naturally parents should expect a certain degree of respect and care. But do not have high expectations from your children. Learn to be happy by yourself and to be busy and have your own life, as much as possible. Do not get too involved in every aspect of your children’s lives. That way you will be happier, your children will be happier and calmer, and there will be much less tension and conflicts.
However, it is very positive if families are very close. In many Sephardic families, the children remain very close to their families even after marriage, going every week to their parents or in laws for Shabbat meals and visiting often during the week, going out shopping together, going for vacations together, bringing their children over often to spend time with their grandparents, etc. etc. The degree of respect and appreciation is often higher and more pronounced. And that is considered a very basic and important part of Sephardic life.
But in general if you do not make your entire happiness on how often you see your children or how close they are to you, it makes life easier and when expectations are not too high, children also manage better. Your entire happiness should be on your spouse, your relationship with Hashem, whatever it is you are happy doing (whether it is learning Torah, praying, exercising, writing, doing business, etc. etc.) and on fulfilling whatever mitzvahs you can and doing whatever possible for your children, grandchildren etc. without expecting anything back in particular. Then your children and grand children fit naturally into your life and schedule. But if it becomes a psychological obsession to stick to your children and be part of their life like it was when they were young and living at home, you may find yourself disappointed, suffering and feeling empty.
And what I have seen over and over again, is that over time things change a lot. If at the beginning you may feel unable to connect properly to your child’s spouse or life, and if at the beginning you may even feel that your child is more involved with their spouse’s parents (which obviously may arouse some twinges of jealousy), you still have to give things time. After a while you will see your children come closer to you and their children will be very close to you as well.
Many in laws make the mistake of destroying relationship with their children for no good reason just because their honor is slighted or they see faults that their children cannot see etc. We have to learn to be patient and understanding and be the mature adults rather than expecting our children to be that way. Children need time to grow up and to really mature and gain understanding in life.
Of course, if children are wise they would take advise from parents and learn from the wealth of experience their elders have gained in life. But if children are not wise, they may resent and push away advice. So parents have to be patient. Eventually the children come back…..it may take time, but things work out in the long run, in most cases.
One positive point: Time really does heal all. Over time tensions and conflicts get forgotten or at least pushed aside and good emotions take over. With time everyone has a chance to think and correct themselves , even if only inwardly, and this reflects in better relations outwardly. With time children come to understand parents better and to calm down from their emotional outbursts or hurt feelings, and with time parents come to understand their children better and to learn to be tolerant and keep peace.
One thing to keep in mind as well: communication is very important. It is imperative, at a good timing, to sit down and talk over all of ones differences and complaints, calmly and with understanding, so that things can be clarified and misconceptions can be done away with. That is a very important step towards peace and improving ones relationships.
So do not give up on any situation and do not judge anyone harshly because with time people come to appreciate each other’s good qualities, to overlook problems and to live in peace with each other despite any conflicts that may exist.
And when children see their parents responding to them with kindness and understanding and not being too pushy, they relax and do not put up their guard or get so defensive. They come to trust their families and to enjoy them and that is very imperative for establishing a good relationship and a happy family life.
Perhaps the key to everything is for parents to put aside their own feelings somewhat, since they are the more matured and experienced ones, and to give the children a chance to grow, develop and come to understandings over time. Of course talking and communication is fine and discussing hurt feelings is often a necessity, but overall there should be a warm welcoming feeling and a feeling of connection and love, despite any hurt feelings or aggravations. And with time things really do work out, in general. And the main thing is if your child is happily married and has shalom bayit and is building a Jewish home. If all of that is in order, then so what if the person he or she married is not exactly what you wanted or what you thought your child deserved? You have to put your feelings aside and realize it is Hashem Who brought this couple together and they have things to work on and accomplish together and you just have to have patience.
I remember when I first got married my mother was very critical of my marriage and of my husband, always making subtle negative comments. She used to say things that really made me feel terrible and I wanted to avoid any confrontations with her because I had to keep my marriage healthy and not look down at my husband. And I told myself I would never do that to my children….
When my daughter married, I found myself at times tempted to do the same thing to her. I saw sudden faults in her husband and felt worried about his character. But I did my best not to be critical (unless it was a major issue that needing to be resolved and was getting out of control). I felt that I had to promote shalom bayit and respect even if her husband was not perfect. After all, which spouse is perfect? Nobody. And if I see the faults, so what? Probably my daughter sees them too but she is trying to deal with them in a respectful tolerant way. I have to be patient just like I was patient with my husband and he was patient with me. I have no right to damage my child’s marriage or happiness because I want to be overprotective of my daughter or because I may not have had the best relationship with her husband. I think that is part of the problem: if we, as inlaws, perceive our child's spouse as not being really respectful or appreciative of us, we tend to feel critical , which is perhaps just a sort of defensive reaction to feeling hurt.
I have come to realize that our daughter's husband is a very good person and she sees his potential and works on that, and even if I see faults, I have to just give him a chance to mature and grow. This is the person Hashem designated for her and she needs to fix her husband so this is her task in life. As long as my daughter is happy, who am I to say anything negative? And so I have come to be tolerant, happy and to actually enjoy our relationship now. And my daughter and her husband feel more trusting of us and they are happy with the family…and isn’t that the real goal we all strive for?
Because when I think of myself, when I got married I did not see many faults in my husband. To me he was Mr. Perfect. I got to recognize his faults slowly, over many years. But I was patient, realizing Hashem put us together and we both had things to work on and perfect. And still I see my mother’s critical face in my mind, casting doubt and insecurity into me, and I realize how much damage a parent can do, even subtly. So I certainly do not want to cause that suffering to my daughter. I have learned to look at things differently and not expect perfection.
And that perhaps is the greatest secret to good inlaw relationships.
May Hashem help all Jews to get along and tolerate each other and truly respect each other. We all have a neshomah, we all are here to fix things and we need help and we have to respect every Jew because they have a holy soul and are a part of G-d and we certainly have to have unity and love for all Jews and all people, and not reject anyone because of our own insecurities, psychological problems or selfishness. We all have to be patient just like Hashem is patient with us!
So do not despair: being an in law is a challenge in and of itself: a new stage in life and one to be met with courage and hope and happiness, because one learns and grows from every experience in life. And certainly one should never put into one’s mind that it is normal or a matter of fact situation to have problems with in laws. Certainly not! It is very much a matter of how you view things and how you look at life. Problems are often created. Or, even if they are there, one can deal with problems cleverly and tactfully….or one can destroy relationships for no proper reason.
For example, I know a couple that were newly married about a year and a half ago. The wife was very eidel and fine. Her husband was a very nice person, but full of insecurity and he felt very threatened and intimidated by his wife’s father, to the point that he became very rejecting in order to try to assert himself. This created a lot of tension and hurt feelings within the wife’s parents. The situation became quite stressful with the wife's parents deciding to give the children “space’ yet at the same time feeling tremendously hurt and causing their daughter to feel a constant conflict between her husband and her parents . Finally, through proper open communication many of the problems got worked out and the relationship improved tremendously…….whereas it could have ended up in disaster, with the wife’s parents actually contemplating pushing to have their daughter divorce this husband who took her away from them and was ruining their family closeness.
So again, there are many feelings to consider in relationships and this is actually the purpose for being in this world: to learn to get along and love each other despite different feelings, opinions etc. That is the whole idea behind sefirat haomer: the time that Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim died due to lack of respect for one another. We have to correct his idea and have extra love for one another…even our in laws!....with the idea that this behavior will hasten the Messianic redemption and will certainly bring good results within one’s family.
None of us are really prepared for the various stages and changes in life that occur with time. For example, when we first marry, we are usually young, not so matured and we do not even think about growing old or what awaits us in the future. We are busy having children, raising them, concentrating on building our lives and our homes and our businesses etc.
Suddenly we are faced with middle life: we are in our thirties and forties and we feel older, not so energetic and we begin to realize that our child bearing years are coming to an end and we have to focus on our futures. We begin to think about things we never thought of before, such as old age and what we will leave behind for our children etc.
At this point in life we often marry off some of our children and become in laws as well as eventually grandparents. This is a stage of life which is very nice, but at the same time stressful in its own way and sometimes depressing. Aging is never easy. And yet there is a lot of joy involved in marrying off one’s children and seeing one’s grandchildren enter the world.
But it is also a time of insecurity and a time of great change in one's marriage, in one's family, within oneself....those changes are not always easily dealt with.
Once we enter our fifties we definitely feel our age and our limitations physically. Many women go through menopause and all the difficulties that may entail. For frum women this can be a depressing time since they no longer feel productive and cannot look forward to having babies anymore….so all our happiness is transferred to our married children having babies. And if our married children are receptive and kind and understanding, it is a very fulfilling time. But if our married children are rejecting or seclude themselves and have little to do with their parents, then the parents definitely suffer. Children often have no idea how much their parents may suffer and they may be at fault without even realizing it. By the same token, parents should not be overly critical or demanding of their children so as not to push them away. It is a delicate situation requiring a delicate balance and tremendous understanding from all sides.
Many parents over react when they get hurt and they later are very regretful of their words or actions. Had they been more patient and understanding things could have resolved faster and in a more positive manner.
Many children are not sensitive to their parents or are too busy or tired to realize the suffering or challenges their parents may be going through.
So in the final analysis, let us all work on doing our best at each stage of life, constantly thinking of the other person and what they need. For example, If a mother in law is sensitive and caring about her daughter in law, she will not be critical of her and will do her best to get along nicely so her daughter in law respects and loves her. And if a daughter or daughter in law thinks constantly of the psychological needs of her mother or mother in law, she will be careful not to hurt her feelings or reject her in any way. Becoming sensitive to one another is one of the secrets to maintaining good relationships.
Sometimes things can be complex and it is important to try to arrive at the underlying, true reason for sometimes inacceptable or strange behavior…often there are psychological reasons that have to be worked out. Parents should never assume a marriage is no good and was a mistake just because they see their children behaving in a wrong manner. They have to try to find out what is the problem.
And, there are times when the parents may even believe their child married a spouse that is not the best for them…nevertheless, that was from Divine providence, clearly guided by Hashem, and the point to consider is this: is their child happy? Because if the child is happy and only the parents are not, then they have to simply cope with the situation the best way possible but not necessarily should they go about breaking up their child’s marriage.
However, I must mention that it is very important to insist on respect, even from your married children. They have to behave with proper dignity and respect towards you, their parents. If a child has a difficult time doing that, either because of confusion or wrong influence or advice from friends, spouse or whatever, you still have to retain your dignity and insist on being respected. It works. It may take time, but it works. Your child has a level of respect for you anyway, and your child will feel guilty not to treat you nicely. Many parents are afraid of their children, afraid of rocking the boat, of saying something to trigger an unpleasant scene or a feeling of being rejected etc. But this should not be your attitude. You have to insist that your children respect you and not hurt you. When you stick up for your rights and your dignity, the child will also feel happy and will feel they are doing the right thing in life. And if the child feels unable to juggle their responsibilities towards their parents and their responsibilities towards their spouse, give them time to grow. Deep inside they know where they are wrong.
Sometimes a child will consciously choose to support their spouse and to ignore the issues bothering their parents. That may be because they feel a conflict dealing with the issues, they want to avoid shalom bayit problems, or they simply are too tired to handle the situation. Or , perhaps they do not wish to resolve these issues. If that is the case, keep your respect. Be nice, be welcoming, but avoid going to your child’s home that often. Don’t lower your dignity. Pull back and give them space and time. Give the message they are loved, cared for, but you will not be trampled upon or made to feel that you are worthless. They have to come to a level of recognizing their parents worth, sacrifices in life, and value. Sometimes that can only be accomplished by pulling back and being patient. It will happen. But it may take time.
Often out of immaturity, we do or say things that we may not even realize are wrong. We react emotionally or we react based on our own anger, frustrations and emotional issues. Later, sometimes many years later, we regret our behavior. But at the time we feel justified or simply think we are right. This is the case very often when we are young , newly married and adjusting to married life, to inlaws etc.
We, as parents, need to be patient and realize our children and their spouses will say and even do things that may be hurtful to us. We need to try to handle those situations gracefully (often by ignoring things, as if we do not notice, or not reacting emotionally to those behaviors. With time so many things improve. If we see things get worse or negative behaviors continue to a point of real disrespect, we may need to say something, but often it is even better to simply swallow our pride and just keep a distance for a while: keep your respect. Do not lower yourself to the level of the children.
But one point I think is essential: a child should never lose respect for their parents based on a spouse saying things (because of their own insecurities, psychological issues or conflicts). A child should always remain supportive of their parents and respectful, from deep within, not superficially. Of course they have to learn to show respect for both their parents and their spouse, but because one;s spouse may have a psychological issue or conflict with one's parents should never cause the child to lose respect for the parents!
I would like to now discuss some more complex matters. There are times when your child may actually marry someone who has problems that were not obvious before the marriage. Those problems could be physical, psychological or emotional.
For example, Ephraim is a young man in his early 20’s. He married a girl from Israel and he married with good intentions, wanting to build a home together, a banyan adei ad. His fiancé at the time of their engagement did not convey major problems. She seemed happy with his plans in life and he went into his marriage quite naively. But the honeymoon ended rather quickly. Shortly after marriage Ephraim discovered that his wife had serious emotional problems. She was immature, difficult to get along with, she argued about everything and she was constantly fighting with him. He did his best, trying to make peace, take care of her etc. only to see with time that nothing worked. After a year and a half of suffering in his marriage, and after the birth of their first baby, he made the decision to divorce. His wife basically came to the same conclusion. It was a very sad ending to a very sad marriage. But his parents supported his decision. To ask him to remain in a relationship with a wife who was not psychologically normal was simply too much to demand.
So at times if a child seems disrespectful or withdrawn, it may have nothing to do with the parents. It is important to find out what is going on in the marriage relationship.
Also, there are times when there is no way to fix a particular marriage and at that point ones child needs support and help, not criticism.
This is a different aspect of being an inlaw and one that cannot be ignored in today’s society. Unfortunately the rate of divorces within the first year of marriage has become alarmingly high.
We have discussed many scenarios but I think the main point is to have patience, tolerance, understanding and to utilize the maturity and wisdom that comes with aging so that one maintains shalom bayit for their children as well as themselves.
We as inlaws must take the attitude that we are the older, more mature couple and we have to give the younger couple space and time to mature. There are issues that perhaps a young couple are struggling with and do not want to speak to us about. We could interpret their lack of friendliness as an insult…or we could realize they are going through various things and need time to grow. Sometimes a young daughter in law may be shy or embarrassed to say things to her inlaws and they inlaws may interpret her actions or words negatively when in reality she simply does not know how to communicate properly. We must avoid judging negatively. With time and patience things improve.
However, as mentioned before ,at all times basic respect for parents should be insisted upon. For example, a young newly married man was having difficulty juggling respect for his parents and the demands of his new wife. He had a tendency to push aside his parents in order to fulfill the things his wife wanted. His parents felt hurt and he noticed it one day. They spoke to him about it explaining their hurt feelings. Once the matter was brought to the open, the young man became aware of what he was doing and was able to correct himself and still manage to take care of his wife.
Also, the Lubavitcher Rebbe once said , when asked why there are many youngsters with a lot of anger and bitterness towards parents, that the youngsters need a scapegoat, someone to blame for their difficulties in life. Being that the parents are the people they spend the most time with , they easily tend to blame parents. However, it is wrong: it is a lack of appreciation and understanding that whatever they go through in life is not the “fault’ of their parents, but rather circumstances of life, Divinely ordained, and challenges each soul must go through and grow from. That is not to say that parents do not make “mistakes” in parenting. However, children must understand that parents love their children, mean to do the best for them and yet are not always able to cope with their own challenges in life, stresses or problems and they may even make decisions that are not the child’s liking. That however does not mean the parents was a bad parent or is to be blamed in life. We know everything is by Divine Providence and therefore there is nobody to blame. Parents are entitled to make mistakes and fail at times, like anyone else. Trying to place blame on someone is running away from responsibility. A person has to learn to take responsibility in life for their own actions, problems etc. and to try to fix things to the best of their ability. And even if a person has a particular issue or problem because of their parents, even that is meant to be and something the child has to work on.
Communication is important. One should be open with their parents to the best of their ability. But at all times children must retain an attitude of respect to their parents, recognizing whatever good the parent did for them.
Demanding respect will have a good effect in the long run…but it should be done with sensitivity and understanding.
As Hillel said, do not do to others what you would not want done to you….
And “be of the disciples of Aharon Hakohen, loving peace and pursuing peace…”
With the right attitudes and behaviors we can build long lasting harmonious relationships. It is up to us to implement things in a positive and proper manner and not to assume the young couple will understand us or see what we need or want. We must never have those expectations. We have to realize it takes time for a young couple to grow , mature, feel secure in their own marriage and be able to give properly. Of course at times we have to point out things that may need correcting and that if left unsaid could breed negative feelings. There are times when honesty and expressing our feelings has its place. But it is a delicate situation that requires truth and admitting our own failures. However, sometimes one has to simply speak from the heart because words from the heart enter the heart…so if we truly are distressed about something, it could be positive to express that to our children so they have a chance to correct themselves.
I would really not do justice to this topic if I don’t mention another important point:
Young couples really cannot understand what it means to grow older. As a young person none of us really think about aging very much, and we have no idea how aging affects us in terms of our nerves, energy, ability to do things, stress level etc. It is very very important to understand that an older person goes through a lot of changes in life. They become weaker physically and often emotionally more worn out, with a lower tolerance for noise, stress, etc. They need to sleep well, eat well and they often cannot cope with the same things they did when they were younger. A young woman may find it possible to juggle a couple of babies, cooking, cleaning, having guests for Shabbos etc. whereas her menopausal or premenopausal mother in law may feel exhausted, inadequate, unable to cope with lots of guests or lots of cooking or noise and the hectic situation of having lots of kids running around all day messing up her house which she has no energy to clean! And yet she feels guilty not to help her daughter or daughter in law. She feels inadequate, depressed at these changes in herself.
It is very essential to recognize this reality of life, and it is very important for each person to evaluate honestly their abilities and limitations, at whatever age or situation they are in. One does not have to feel guilty if she cannot cook huge quantities of food to feed an army like she did when she was younger, or her patience for having little kids underfoot is simply not the same. This is part of aging.
One does not have to feel guilty if she cannot help her married daughter or daughter in law as much as she would like to.
Children often expect a lot from parents and do not want to recognize or accept that their parents or inlaws are getting older. But it is essential to become aware and not to be very judgmental.
One has to be patient, understanding and welcoming to one’s parents and inlaws.
At an older age, parents deserve some time to relax, enjoy their children, grandchildren and their lives and not to be expected to constantly do for their children, often without the proper appreciation. People need space to grow and progress in life and to adjust to a new stage in life. And children should be helpful rather than demanding or upset if their parents or inlaws cannot perform as they would like.
A point that merits mentioning is also the fact that as parents age, we become less patient and somewhat more critical at times. We expect our daughter or son in law (or even our son or daughter) to do things more efficiently, with the experience that we have accumulated over the years. But we forget that for our daughter in law or son in law etc, this may be the beginning of a learning process. For example, it is erev Pesach and our kitchens are in order, we are beginning to cook and we want our son to do this or that for us. However, our daughter in law may not be as efficient or organized (besides having babies to care for she may also not be experienced or know how to clean quickly etc. etc.) and therefore she is not up to the level we would expect her to be. Rather than being critical or annoyed, we have to realize that this is where she is at, this is as much as she knows so far in life, and we have to have patience and wisdom to give her time to learn and grow at her own pace. We can offer helpful suggestions but avoid sounding critical or condescending in any way. And deep inside we should not feel upset. We have to remember that as younger mothers we also were learning and were not at experienced as we are today. We cannot expect others to be at our level automatically. And even if you were always efficient and on time, we still have to understand that not everyone is that way or had the opportunity to learn that. So we have to put aside our own needs and desires and leave space for the other person to grow and learn. Many conflicts happen due to lack of understanding or putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Or simply forgetting how we were when we were younger!
It is also very helpful to recognize what background our children’s spouses come from. If a child is brought up in a family where he or she is pampered, spoiled and taught to be demanding and get what they want all the time, that is how the child may be as an adult as well. And most of it is a result of what they absorb from their childhood. Or if a child is brought up in a home where they see people taking advantage of others, using others, and not showing consideration, that behavior will repeat itself in adulthood. So we have to realize what family backgrounds others come from and realize they are a product of their upbringing and it takes time to change. We also do not know how much our children may be working on changing their spouses but it does take time and patience…..and if we are too critical or bring up the faults of the spouses too much or too often, our children will feel ashamed or will feel defensive and it will have an opposite affect.
Another important matter is to realize that everyone has their moods. Sometimes your daughter in law may come to your house with an angry looking face and you imagine she is upset with you or unfriendly. But she could have her own problems, maybe shalom bayit problems, maybe she is angry about something or misunderstands something but she needs time to calm down. There is no point to go behind her back and complain to your son unless of course this is a constant problem and is taking an emotional toll on you, in which case it may warrant a conversation but with pleasantness. But otherwise it is important to give people a chance to learn to deal with their emotions, communicate etc. Of course it is good and proper for children to be pleasant and nice and present a good face to their parents or in laws. And same with the inlaws to their children. But people are human and emotions are difficult to control and there are many factors involved, including hormones etc. and one has to be patient and not jump to wrong conclusions immediately. It also behooves a daughter or son in law to do their best to put on a pleasant face in front of their inlaws so as not to give a wrong impression or be hurtful.
I suppose for inlaws, the key to success and happiness is patience and also not having too many expectations from your children. Then you do not feel disappointed all the time.
Your happiness in life has to come from within and from your own relationship with your spouse. Not from your relationship with your children. Children of course give nachas to their parents and are a joy. But one cannot expect to build one's life based on one's relationship with one's children.
And children also cannot expect too much from parents or take advantage of the kindness of parents. No parent wants to feel used. A child has to appreciate and show respect and consideration. If that is missing then the relationship will be strained. A mother by nature always feel an obligation to help if her daughter or daughter in law is having a hard time or needs assistance with the children, cooking etc. But often the mother may not really have the koach but she goes beyond her limitations and helps, never wanting to feel a burden to her children. And she does so happily. But if the daughter or daughter in law does not show proper appreciation and expects the help, as if the mother is obligated to do for her, then certainly this is not proper respect, the mother may feel used and certainly she may build up resentments or try to avoid visiting much if she feels uncomfortable.
Remember, as one ages, one needs time to relax, enjoy life and breathe a little. Grandparents do what they can but should not be expected to do more than they can. Children have to learn to manage their lives without depending constantly on help from their parents. Of course parents by nature will help as much as possible, but children by nature often take advantage and try to grab more than they should. This is not very beneficial to the relationship and children as well as grandchildren should be taught proper respect for their parents and grandparents, and should learn to see the good and appreciate whatever small or big thing is done for them without feeling it is anyone’s obligation to do for them.
Middot are of utmost importance in any family relationship. This is something worth working on.
Many times newly married (or even not so newly married) children want to come to their parents for Pesach. But behind the desire to be with family, is a desire to avoid hard work: it is certainly far easier not to clean for Pesach and not to have the pressure of cooking etc. However, the children must think of the pressure the mother (or mother in law) is going through. She is older, has less energy, and does not necessarily enjoy yom tov when she has so much cooking to do. Nevertheless she enjoys seeing her children and grandchildren. (There are exceptions of course: some bubbies love cooking up a storm and if that is so then certainly it is a blessing). But it should be a normal part of life for everyone to pitch in and help with cooking, cleaning up, setting the table etc. etc. Nobody should feel like a guest in the family. And if a child does feel or act like a guest, this is a lack of consideration and appreciation for their parents.
Often newly married children want to go out together, have a good time etc. That is fine. But not at the expense of their parents! Not by dumping all the kids on the parents and leaving for a few hours at a time, not caring if the parents are tired or the kids could scream and be difficult.
Parents always go out of their way for their children anyhow. They will offer to babysit or cook or do things, and the children have to be able to judge whether it is too much for their parents or they truly will manage and enjoy fulfilling their offer.
Children have to realize, and this is something that takes sometimes years for children to acknowledge, that their parents are aging and do not have the same strength or abilities they had when younger. Very often it is difficult for children to accept that their parents are older and are not able to help them as before. Married children need help. They often feel they cannot cope easily with all their responsibilities unless they have help from their parents or in laws. And parents often are embarrassed or uncomfortable to say no to their children. They wish to help out and do a lot. They really want to do things with the same engery they had in their youth. But the reality is that they cannot do as much as they used to. Everyone has to face that reality and recognize it and do according to their abilities so as not to feel resentful over time.
My cousin is a very good natured person, always helping everyone. Her daughter in laws constantly send their children to her to be looked after and expect a lot from her (coming over for Shabbos, yom tovim etc.). My cousin loves to do what she can but she confided in me that she is not physically so well: she is very overweight, can barely move and she says she feels like a 90 year old woman. And her daughter in laws do not understand her limitations.
Children must be made to understand that mummy (bubbie) is not so strong now and cannot handle so much work. Children must tell their spouses not to overwork their parents. Never assume that the daughter in law will realize on her own. A lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings arise when we assume another person will understand on their own. Do not assume anything. Be specific. Explain your limits or difficulties. Do not be afraid to tell your children, or your daughter in law or son in law that you would love to help out but you cannot because you are not feeling well or you find it too stressful. They may not like it but they will come to understand it with time. And it is important for them to do so. After all, they will be grandparents one day and will realize the same with time.
So basically communication is of utmost importance.
Do not be shy to say it bothers you if such and such is dirty, and explain why: ie. You don’t have koach to clean, or you just moved into a new house and cannot handle the mess, or you don’t have a maid to help you etc.
And of course have patience. Time does heal. Time does change things. People learn and grow.
If you have an argument with your son in law or daughter in law, with time things are forgotten. If someone is too embarrassed to apologize or admit their wrong doing, with time the wounds heal because family ties are strong and nobody wants to have a bad family relationship. Time does take care of a lot. Many things can be ignored and the emotions heal and life goes on. Time is a blessing. It also brings with itself maturity and greater understanding in life. One simply has to have patience.
It is very important to bring up one’s children to have proper respect and the children should insist that their spouses have proper respect as well. Far too often we may see marriages whereby the children do not insist on their spouse showing adequate respect to their parents….this is very damaging to the relationship. A child should stick up for their parents, should insist their spouse respects t heir parents, and should not allow their spouse to pull them away from their family. Of course if the family is affecting shalom bayit, things have to be handled delicately, tactfully, and the child must say things in such a way to respect their spouse. But not to agree to the spouse disrespecting their parents. That should never happen, even if the parents do or say things that the spouse does not like. Your children should not allow their spouses to speak badly of their parents, even if the spouses have good points to say. But if those points are said in a way that will put down the parents or make them look negative in their childrens' eyes that should not be allowed. Very nicely one has to remind one's spouse to have respect and not to speak loshon hara.
It is also extremely important for both spouses to show equal respect to both sides of the family: in other words, if the wife is very respectful to her inlaws but the husband is not respectful to his, then it causes a lot of hurt and conflict, not only between children and their parents but even betweent he inlaws on both sides.
Of course there are rare situations where a relationship with one's parents can be very detrimental to one's marriage and in such cases it sometimes is necessary to avoid that relationship. But even then it has to be done in a tactful way, trying to avoid causing hurt to ones parents. But it is also not okay to harm one's shalom bayit because of one's relationship with one's parents . These are difficult situations that require tact and clarity. Sometimes it is necessary to speak to a Rav or a professional to see how to best handle things.
If a parent somehow puts down a child’s spouse, for whatever reason (right or wrong) the child should speak to the parent and explain this is hurtful. But it does not mean the parent child relationship has to be destroyed. Things can be worked out with proper communication.
Many times parents really want to enjoy their children and their grandchildren but it becomes difficult when they see that their children or their children’s spouses may not be as respectful as they should be, or as considerate, or as understanding. This creates a conflict. Parents may start to feel used, abused, taken advantage of and even resentful. They may even feel rejected. This interferes with a happy relationship and with having a good time.
So it is very important for children to realize when parents are overwhelmed, over stressed, perhaps lacking in strength and unable to cope with too much mess, noise etc. Children have to realize their parents limitations as they age and not put extra pressure on their parents. That may mean looking after children without expecting the parents to do all the babysitting, cooking, clean up etc. If there is consideration on all sides, nobody will feel overwhelmed or upset.
The problem is that many children come to visit their parents and expect a vacation: that means they want to go out, have a good time, leave the kids with the parents for babysitting, etc. etc. All of that is normal and fun, but can the parents handle it?
Parents also want to enjoy the visit. So it is extremely important to have consideration and care for one’s parents and to size up the situation. If your parents are retired, not busy, have help at home, they can cope better. If they are working hard, worn out, under stress and have no help, then they need more consideration and the children have to pitch in and help, and certainly look after the grandchildren themselves without expecting much from their parents. Allow the parents to enjoy the grandchildren on their terms. It is not healthy for parents to build up resentment and feel nervous for the next visit. Everyone should look forward to the next visit. Not just the children!
Another issue that does need to be addressed is that every person has their own emotional needs and psychological situations that need fulfillment. If a mother in law, for example, is a very insecure person who very much needs approval from her children, she will interpret any lack of communication with her daughter or son as a sign of rejection. Children are not always able to be sensitive to these matters.
It is very important for one to become aware of their own emotional issues and not mix those into their relationships.
A woman who has problems with her mother or her sister and is feeling rejected or hurt often will carry those feelings into her relationship with her own daughter or daughter in law and will be overly sensitive and see little things as being a rejection or an insult when in fact it was never intended that way.
One has to learn not to judge others in a wrong way.
AT the same time, it behooves every child (or spouse of one’s child) to make an effort to feel what the parents are going through and what they may need emotionally, not just physically or materially.
Very often children are busy, stressed, have their own problems and may not realize how much it means to their parents if they simply call to say hello or call for advice. Parents have a lot to offer. They want to give to their children. Often children do not utilize what parents can offer…sometimes because they simply do not realize what they have, and sometimes because of their own egos or their desires for independence.
But the Torah does stress the importance of caring for parents…a child is supposed to make an effort, wherever possible, to live near their parents if their livelihood and shalom bayit permits this. And certainly a child must make sure their children love and respect their grandparents since this is an important part of respect. When a parent sees that their grandchildren really love and look up to them, then they also feel their children love them and respect them. If a grandchild is not respectful or caring, it often reflects on one’s children….parents are very sensitive to these things, especially as they get older.
It is extremely important for a son in law or daughter in law (as well as a son or daughter of course) to call their parents on their birthdays,
anniversaries or other special occasions, or to contact them if they know they are not feeling well or are going through a difficult time…in general it is important to show concern and care. It is also important to answer your in laws when they try to contact you on skype (if you are online and you just prefer to ignore them or not respond), or if they send you an e mail, respond! Show that you care, that you acknowledge them. Any lack of response will often be interpreted as lack of care or even an intentional disregard and will cause hurt feelings.
Obviously parents also should contact their children or son or daughter in law on any special occasions, but parents in general would do
so…they are older, usually semi retired, and have time to be busy with these matters. A child or son or daughter in law who is busy and working hard has to make an effort to remember special occasions , but it is important. Very important for building a proper relationship.
Sensitivity is the key to maintaining a good and healthy relationship with family members. This is actually an aspect of ahavat yisrael.
By the same token parents must also realize the emotional needs or psychological issues their children or childrens spouses may be going through and not aggravate things or trigger things or have expectations their children find very difficult to fulfill. People need their space. People don’t have to tell you everything they are suffering or going through in marriage, in their family lives, at work etc.
And actually the same goes for parents. Very often parents suffer from various emotional situations with their own families (siblings, parents, etc.) and they are more sensitive than normal. They turn to their children for support, emotional and psychological. If the children do not understand what their parents are going through, they could be hurtful without meaning to be just by being insensitive. But if parents do not verbalize what they are suffering they also cannot expect their children or children’s spouses to understand them! These situations can be complex and in reality it is the parents who have to do their best to work out and resolve their own emotional ‘baggage’ without involving their children or having unrealistic expectations from their children.
Life is complicated. Emotions are complicated.
Honestly, what is very important is to not lose one’s perspective or priorities. We have to learn to enjoy life, enjoy the family…..life is short. It is not worth wasting it on unimportant arguments, worries, egos and other things that detract from one’s quality time with family.
Also, one has to remember that things do get better with time.
And one has to remember that it can take years to build a relationship and get to understand another person. Each person is an entire world; a whole neshomah. Each person deserves respect, the benefit of the doubt, and nurturing. It behooves each of us to try to do our best for another, rather than putting someone down or being judgmental.
And finally, just as it takes years to build a good relationship, it may not take long to ruin one….so be careful and be sensitive to each other!
I remember a good friend of mine said that she loved when her daughter and grandchildren would visit but she also found it stressful: she spent most of the time running after the children, cleaning the house, making sure they did not write on the walls, drop food all over the floor , make certain rooms chametzdik that she liked to keep clean for Pesach all year round….she ended up feeling the whole visit was a burden and she did not enjoy it the way she planned to. She did not feel comfortable asking her daughter to help her more as her daughter was busy with nursing a little baby and was exhausted staying up at night etc.
But afterwards my friend confessed that she felt sorry and wished that she would have been more relaxed and simply enjoyed her grandchildren properly.
So it is important to put things into perspective: enjoy your children and grandchildren. Don’t be so worried about mess and dirt: those things are cleanable, fixable and can be dealt with. On the other hand, do your best to organize visits at a time when you can deal with mess (physically and psychologically) and when you can also minimize mess and extra work for yourself. But do take time to enjoy your family. Time passes quickly and later you wish you would have enjoyed them more. Time is one thing you cannot get back.
Being an in law (whether you are the father in law, mother in law, daughter in law, son in law, sister in law or brother in law!) is an art, a responsibility and a privilege. Treat it as such. Much hatzlacha and bracha! And only simchas for everyone.