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Handling In-Laws
Mom with a View

Handling In-Laws

The cardinal rule: Your first loyalty is to your spouse.


If your in-laws didn't read the piece on "Being an In-law" and are interfering inappropriately or, God forbid, destructively, you must make a firm separation between them and you. As difficult as it may be. Your marriage demands it.

In the Torah, Abraham is told to go from his father's home. To be a true servant of the Almighty, Abraham must leave behind the negative influences of his family. It's not a choice. It's a mandate.

A husband's first loyalty is to his wife. A wife's first loyalty is to her husband. Healthy parents will see that and take pleasure. Unhealthy parents will try to tighten their hold.

"I love you but this behavior is hurting my marriage. I can't participate in it" is a mantra that may require constant repetition.

Sara was very close to her mother. Her father was a salesman, frequently traveling, leaving Sara and her mother alone together. When Sara got married, her mother didn't see any reason for that to change. She often brought over dinner (which Sara welcomed) and then kicked her new son-in-law, David, out of the kitchen so that she and Sara could have a cozy chat. David was tolerant and good-natured but the constant banishment from his wife's company began to take a toll. Sara was forced to take a stand.

She suggested to her mother that either the three of them spend the time together or her mother would have to severely curtail her visits. It was the only way to preserve her marriage.

Tova's in-laws had wanted a different kind of daughter-in-law, one who would participate enthusiastically in all family events and outings. But Tova was shy and enjoyed quiet evenings at home with her new husband Yoni. "We never see you any more," complained Yoni's parents. "Your wife is destroying your relationship with us. She's not as nice as we thought."

Yoni was also forced to react strongly. "She's my wife and I won't listen to criticism of her. I love you but I can't continue this conversation unless the tone and content is changed."

This is not easy to do. It flies in the face of our preconceived notions about honoring our parents. But as long as we keep our manner and tone respectful and patient, not only are we not violating this mitzvah, we are fulfilling our own obligation to build a trustworthy home among the Jewish people.

The situations presented here are extremes. Most of us are blessed with kind and cooperative in-laws and we just need to work together to smooth out the rough edges. It's important to be able to let go; many small issues of disagreement arise in all relationships. Few are worth fighting over.

Treat your in-laws with warmth and respect. Like all of us, they just want to be loved,

Sometimes your spouse may speak negatively of his parents. It's crucial to be sympathetic to your spouse yet at the same time, not accept the slander as true. We each need to make our own individual relationship with our in-laws and perhaps even help our mate have a more objective understanding.

Most of all, treat your in-laws with warmth and respect. Like all of us, they just want to be loved, and many of their negative behaviors result from not feeling included or cared about.

It takes a lot of extra effort. But just imagine how you'd like to be treated someday. A good relationship with your in-laws will be a strong building block for your home.

We should all pray for good in-laws; and for the strength and good judgment to act appropriately if our prayers are not answered.

April 28, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Anonymous, May 26, 2007 10:08 PM

Non-religious in-laws

I am from a mixed marriage. When I was 18 I started to study and eventually went through a conversion. This caused much pain in my family. I met and married a wonderful Jewish man who had grown up with out any religion. His parents thought I was a great match, believing that because I did not grow up Jewish, my husband and I would not have a "superstitious" house hold. As we tried to create a Jewish home his parents tried to "enlighten" me, suggesting that I was compensating for not being fully Jewish. It continued with the birth of our daughter with constant argueing about my daughter being raised in a religion that thought of her as a second class person. I really wanted to respond with an angry, "get out of my house." Instead I felt very sorry for her. Twelve years later my children are the "only" Jewish grand-children. My brother and sister-in-law both marrying non-jews. Now my mother-in-law has asked me to give a bat mitzvah party for my daughter and my father in-law delights in listening to both my children say prayers.

(10) Jeffrey Wallach, LCSW-R, May 7, 2007 2:00 AM

Whose responsibility is it?

In the first paragraph of your article you write that if one's in laws are interfering "you" must make a firm separation. In the two examples later on, it is the adult children that you identify, Sara and Yoni, that have to speak out to their respective parents. I believe that it is the responsibility of each spouse to "manage" his or her own parents to prevent their interfering. It should not be the son in law or daughter in law that has to stand up to his or her parents in law. That will create to much tension within the marriage. Also please keep in mind that sometimes siblings of either spouse can cause just as much trouble.

(9) SB, May 6, 2007 7:55 AM

Dear Emunah

In your situation, it is wiser not to discuss finances with your father. If he wishes to help you only under the condition that your in-laws help too, then you and your husband need to find a way to make parnasah on your own. The other option is simply not to discuss who or how much each side contributes. Tell your parents in a nice way that if their help depends on what the other side gives, then it is up to them if they wish to stop helping you. You cannot force your in-laws to help and you cannot get into Shalom Bayis problems with your husband.

However, Emuna, as a parent you must understand how hurtful that is, everyone wants to know that their child is loved and cared for the same way that they are loving and caring for their in-law child. And that they are not being taken advantage of. So try and have an honest conversation with your parents. Tell them that you appreciate everything they are doing for you, but they do not live in your home and in your marriage and they can't judge what you can and can't say to your husband. They cannot judge when you can or cannot push your husband. And they don't know what he disucsses with his parents, even you can't know that. So if their support is dependent on equality from the mechatanim, you and your husband are going to have to figure something out for yourselves. If your parents decide to call your in-laws directly, there is nothing you can do about it, and in all honesty they should have taken care of this agreement before the marriage.

There is one more aspect that you haven't mentioned either and that is if your in-laws are in a position to help. One thing you should know which is very sensitive and sticky. Finances such as these can cause tremendous havoc on marrital stress down the line. And when push comes to shove, many times it comes out in a fight "YOUR parents never helped, MY parents did everything for us."

So if they can afford to help and there is some reason that they are not helping, it might very well be time that the two of you considered not taking help from anyone and just making it on your own.

(8) Mildred Mendelson, May 5, 2007 11:29 PM

Well written.

Allnew situations require readjustments.
Accept that and decide that you are all on the same team with the goal of winning.

(7) Anonymous, May 2, 2007 6:41 PM

question for Emuna

Dear writer;
What about when your parents complain to you about your inlaws? My father often objects to the fact that my husband's father does not help us financialy and he asks me to tell my husband to ask for help from my father in law.

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