Dear Emuna,

My daughter-in-law talks to me negatively about my son. How do I set a boundary?

Troubled

Dear Troubled,

First the good news. Obviously your daughter-in-law feels close to you and trusts you. She is not going behind your back to talk about your son and she is trying to work it out with you. So stop and take pleasure in the fact that you have created a warm and trusting relationship with your daughter-in-law. This is extremely rare (see most of the letters to Dear Emuna!) and is something you should appreciate.

That said, of course you can’t allow this behavior to continue. Not only should she not be speaking negatively about your son, but you are not the right person to help her resolve the issue. Don’t be seduced into playing the middleman in trying to redirect your son. It will not work out well for your relationship with either of them. You need to tell her gently but firmly that you love both of them very much and that you are neither comfortable with her criticism of your son nor qualified to help them resolve their issues. You should refer them to an appropriate teacher/counselor/rabbi.

Although speaking derogatorily is always a bad habit and your daughter-in-law shouldn’t be voicing her criticism of anyone, let alone her husband and your son, it is not your role to rebuke her either. You don’t want to push her away. We have a principle in Judaism that we bring close with the right hand (compassion) and push away with the left hand (discipline). Compassion trumps discipline. Even when suggesting that you are the wrong address for her comments, and even if done gently, she may be offended. Try your best to do something loving the same day – suggest a lunch, a shopping trip, a fun “girls” activity, something you can do together – that will take any potential sting out of your words. May your efforts meet with success!

Family Rupture over Baby Naming

Dear Emuna,

Thank you for your wonderful insight. I have a dilemma regarding the birth of my first grandchild – my oldest daughter's child. She is due in two weeks. Thirty-three years ago my grandmother passed away – 10 days before my oldest daughter was born. I was best friends with my grandmother and devastated that she died so suddenly. During shiva, the rabbi discussed with me and my family that there is no law stating that I had to name the baby with my grandmother’s English name or use the first letter. I could name her with the Hebrew name at shul to honor my grandmother. So I picked a name that I loved It began with an L and my grandmothers name began with an F.

From the day this beautiful child was born my mother and her entire family stopped speaking to me. I sat day after day with my new baby, crying my eyes out and all alone. No one would visit except my father. My father finally told my mother that if she did not start speaking to me he would divorce her. She finally started speaking to me after a month or two (it felt like a lifetime).

Now my mother has passed away and I of course would love to have this baby named after her – either first or middle name. My daughter point blank said, “If I don’t, will you stop speaking to me like your mother did to you?” I said that will never happen. She refuses to tell me names she has picked and briefly mentioned that I will be pleased with their choices. My daughter and I are best friends. At this point I just want a healthy baby and for my daughter to be healthy as well, but it is such an odd feeling that all this pain I lived with is coming back. I know my family will be angry at both of us and I am trying to figure out how to deal with this! Why has it become such a powerful force that breaks up relationships?

Anxious Grandmother-to-Be

Dear Anxious,

By this point, I assume the baby has been born and I pray that he or she is healthy and that the name issue was resolve to everyone’s pleasure. At least I hope so. I can’t answer the why question at the end of your letter. People’s emotions remain elusive and difficult to understand.

It seems to me there is really only one issue here that you need to have clarity about. The naming of a child is the sole decision of the parents of that child. I feel like I should write that again and scream it from the rooftops. It is NOT the purview of the grandparents or any other relatives. They had their turn with their own children.

This is hard for many people (not just your family!) to accept. That is NOT your problem. People have a hard time accepting all sorts of things. But, much as grandparents would like their grandchild named after a particular relative, it is NOT up to them. A wise grandparent recognizes this and, like you, only wants a healthy baby and a close relationship with their child. A foolish grandparent (I’m sorry but I can’t think of a better word) does not. How self-defeating to destroy the relationships you do have – with your children and grandchildren – in a fit of pique over the child’s name!

I confess that it is incomprehensible to me. Your job is to understand clearly that you did nothing wrong. It was not your job to please your parents with your child’s name just as it is not your daughter’s job to please you with her child’s name. I’m sorry if the situation evokes bad memories but perhaps you can take comfort from the fact that you did nothing wrong and that you are not responsible for the reactions of others. The most important lesson of course is that whatever your daughter names her child and however any other relatives behave, you will be only happy and will do your best to deepen your bond with your daughter (who is presumably exhausted and overwhelmed and needs you now more than ever!) and to create a warm and lasting bond with your grandchild, whatever his or her name is! I hope I can safely wish you Mazel Tov!!