Dear Emuna,

My son has been married for four years. From the planning of the wedding until now, it has been difficult. I was blamed for things that happened before the wedding which were not true and I just find my daughter-in-law to be very cold. According to my son she had a list of 11 things I did wrong before the wedding. The wedding was difficult as I was completely ignored. She never calls me or emails me. My son said she is not that type of person. He said she doesn't email her best friend. They come to my house occasionally for holidays. I was never invited to their home as he said the house was too small. They now have a son. I gave her a beautiful shower and nice gifts. Everyone got a thank you note but me. I cry a lot over this. I tried talking to my son and he says she is not outgoing. Her parents live out of town and come occasionally and spend the night. I feel hurt and left out. I cannot talk to my son anymore. He says I am too emotional. I think too much about things. What do I do (other than pray which I’m doing already)?

Hurting Mother

Dear Hurting Mother,

You’re not going to like my advice. It’s not that I don’t empathize with your situation; it’s just that your choices are limited. You can’t change your daughter-in-law – that’s a fact.  And if you keep complaining to your son and push for more of a relationship with his wife you risk losing your son (an unpalatable alternative) or destroying their marriage (a less likely but equally unpalatable alternative).  At the moment it just is what it is.

So don’t ask for anything (especially don’t ask your son what she thinks of you – you shouldn’t even know about those “11 things you did wrong”).  Be kind and loving and giving.  Invite them over to your home and keep smiling, whatever their answer. (I realize this is not easy to do.) Perhaps once the daughter no longer feels the burden of your expectations and needs, she’ll come around.  But perhaps not. It is out of your hands.

And keep praying. It is the one thing you are doing that has the potential to make a positive difference.

Burnout

Dear Emuna,

I have been working for the same non-profit organization for the last 20 years.  I don’t want to reveal details other than to say that it is a very worthy cause that helps the Jewish people.  But I’m starting to feel burnt out.  While the cause is important and I do know that I am helping people, no one I work with ever says thank you or tells me I am doing a good job. I’m not doing it for the applause but I am human and would like some acknowledgement.  I’m not sure I can keep going…

Dear Burning Out,

Well, I certainly know exactly how you feel.  Your plight is the plight of almost every parent in the world! 

The Torah teaches us that burying someone is a particular type of kindness called the kindness of truth because there is no ulterior motive and nothing to be received in return.  I believe that actually most acts of kindness should be like that (especially parenting adolescents).

It is certainly wrong of your employer not to recognize and acknowledge your valuable contribution to the organization.  It is poor character as well as being a poor business decision since it destroys motivation and morale.

But you (we!) need to be kind and do good just because it’s right, with no expectation of thank you or any other tangible this-wordly rewards.  The act of kindness should be a pleasure in and of itself.

This isn’t easy, especially in some charitable organizations (and I’ve been involved in enough to know). But like everything in life, we have to keep our eye on the ball, on the end game and not on our emotions of the moment.

If the cause is truly important, supporting it is worthwhile, in and of itself.  Take a little vacation, make sure you’re giving yourself some ‘me time,’ and go back to the office refreshed.

Mistakes in Parenting

Dear Emuna,

I made a real parenting mistake the other day. I was tired and I let my frustration get the better of me.  I told my six-year-old that he couldn’t have any hot dogs if he didn’t stay in his seat. Boldly ignoring me, he got up, grabbed a hot dog and started eating it. My baby started crying at that moment and I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with the hot dog situation. I just let him eat it and was glad I didn’t have to worry about his dinner. I know it was a breakdown of discipline but I’m not sure how to rectify it. Any suggestions?

Wishy-Washy Mom

Dear Wishy-Washy Mom,

I understand your predicament. We have all been there at some point – dinnertime, baths, homework and everyone clamoring for attention. It’s hard not to make some mistakes sometimes.  Everyone does. So my first piece of advice is: Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s impossible to parent without many mistakes and very few of them are irreversible. 

Begin by identifying what the behavior is you want to change – sitting at the table, better listening, more self-control.  Then establish a system of rewards for engaging in the desired behavior.  “Every time you stay in your seat until dinner is over, you will receive a star on your chart.  After 14 stars, you will get ________ as a prize. After 28 stars, you will get _______ as a bigger reward. Make sure your son is clear about the system and excited about the prize.

Then you need to have a talk about the situation.  A six year-old is capable of understanding how inappropriate his behavior was. Let him know how disappointed you are.  Explain that sometimes mommies are busy but that he isn’t allowed to take advantage.  Maybe he thinks you didn’t really notice.  You need to make clear that you have high expectations of him and that you are counting on him to behave like a mensch. It may not immediately change his behavior but the message will definitely get through.  Our children are always watching and listening.  The worst thing we can do is ignore them.