Dear Emuna,

We live in Israel; our parents live overseas. They come to visit for at least two weeks, and unlike back home where they have their own car and kitchen, they are very dependent on us. They're also not familiar with our day-to-day routines or kids' playing styles and interests. We're very happy that our parents are able to travel and want to come to us, and that we have space to host them. Nonetheless, it can get stressful. I'm the mother of young (and older) children and it isn't always easy for me to host their three-week vacation while trying to keep up with my regular responsibilities. Add to that some typical well-meaning comments and understandable but unrealistic expectations, plus conflicts in style such as planning ahead versus leaving it until the spur of the moment to decide to think of an activity - I find it a struggle.

Do we set a two-week limit for how long we can host them in our home? Do we ask them if they'll cover supper (takeout or a restaurant) once a week while they're here? Or because they come from so far and they’re our parents we should just do our best and be thankful it's for a limited time? I'm concerned that not setting some limits will detract from the visit, even the children's appreciation of their visit. Thank you.

(Trying to Be A) Dutiful Daughter

Dear Dutiful Daughter,

You are describing a situation that is familiar to almost all parents and children who don’t live in the same city. The visits are “unnatural”. The grandparents can’t just pop in and pop out. They have to come for an extended period of time which disrupts everyone’s schedule – including theirs! Its’ a dilemma with no magic answers – especially since everyone wants to be able to visit with their parents and enable their children to develop a close relationship with their grandparents.

Try to see it from your parents’ perspective. While you are in your own home with your basic routine intact, they have left everything behind – their jobs, their exercise regimens, their social lives, their car…they are willing to relinquish all that in order to come visit you. But imagine how uncomfortable they are feeling.

So what should well-meaning kids and parents do?

First, the practical. Wherever possible, decrease dependence. Maybe a car can be rented or borrowed – or at the very least the bus (and light train) routes can be carefully plotted and explained. Maybe they can stay in a hotel or a neighbor’s empty home. Maybe your mother can be helpful in your kitchen if she misses hers and take some of the burden off you. Maybe a few special trips or adventures could be planned in advance so that everyone has something to look forward to and is reassured about the time they will have together.

Emotionally, you can be loving, gracious, and firm. Attend to their needs and then explain that you have work to do. (You could even write out a projected daily schedule.) It’s important to be clear yet caring. “We’re so glad you’re coming. I’m sure you’ll have a great vacation. Unfortunately I can’t take time off from my job but we’ll still spend meals and some breaks together. And here is the children’s schedule...maybe you want to take each child out privately for a few hours…”

Advance planning, good will and clarity make a big difference. And gratitude. These are your parents who have made a big effort to come see you and your children. Your family is lucky to have them. Our routine is frequently thrown off for many much less important situations. Make a simpler Shabbos and enjoy the opportunity of family time.

Don’t ask them to cover supper – they covered yours for many years! And don’t worry about how their trip is impacting the children – I can assure you it’s only positive – they’re excited to see their grandparents and be spoiled by them. Just stay out of their way…

Emuna

Sisters-In-Law Don't Get Along

Dear Emuna,

I have two sons who are both married. Unfortunately, their wives don't seem to get along. What do you suggest?

Seeking Family Unity

Dear Seeking,

That is an unfortunate situation but I don’t think there’s actually anything you can do about it. In fact, I think that any interference on your part is most likely to exacerbate the situation, cause strained relationships with your sons and their wives, and perhaps even make you an additional target of the animosity.

This is something that your grown-up children have to work out themselves. Please God, at some point, your sons will decide that their relationship with their brother is important to them and will ask their wives to be more accommodating, to make a greater effort to get along. Or they will find other ways to get together/speak/stay in touch that doesn’t involve their spouses.

You can always (and should always) pray for a better outcome. But when our children are adults, and particularly when they are married, we need to resist all desire to attempt to manipulate their relationships with their siblings. (In fact it’s probably better to stay out when they’re younger also!) We do not want to be stuck in the middle…

Emuna

Outcasts

Dear Emuna,

I never had many friends as I was socially awkward. As a result, I was bullied and taunted which consequently made me distrusting of people. I knew I was never going to fit in no matter how uniform I tried to be. I learned to accept that and move forward with other prospects.

My husband had a similar problem growing up. When we got married, we were looking into communities and tried to find an area where we would fit in best. Someone recommended a community that was known for its genuine hospitality, warmth, and acceptance. We moved to that community only to find out that it did not live up to its reputation as being such. For the past years we were living there, we were shunned and ignored as we were in our hometowns. We haven't been invited out for Shabbat meals and when we are, the hosts invite their best friends thus ignoring us the entire time. We have invited people over for meals, helped them with their needs voluntarily albeit our hectic schedules. We try to be social and did whatever we can to improve our interpersonal skills and relationships with people. Alas, our efforts seem to be futile since people give us the cold shoulder no matter what we do. When we seldom ask for help, they refuse to come through and shut us down with excuses such as they don't have time.

Some of them made it clear to us that they have no interested in anyone that is not part of their social crowd. Some people are openly hostile and rude towards us. We've politely asked for an explanation for mistreating us and they either deny doing such a thing or don't answer us.

After seeing people's true colors, we've been thinking about relocating elsewhere. We have to remain where we are because my husband is in grad school. It seems like our social problems are following us everywhere we go.

While I'm thankful to have my loving and caring husband in my life, I want to have friends too. We are good people and have been raised to care and help others regardless of whether we know them or not. We both mean well even if our social skills are lacking. What are we doing wrong? What will it take to fit in? Thanks.

Socially Challenged

Dear Socially Challenged,

I feel terrible about your pain and loneliness. I understand and empathize and wish I could be more helpful. Unfortunately there isn’t enough information in your letter to fully explain the cause of your social isolation. You suggest that your social skills are lacking but it is unclear what exactly you mean.

Nevertheless, I will attempt a little advice and perspective.

Sometimes when we think people are shunning or ignoring us, it is all our own projection, our own insecurity. Maybe they are oblivious (not to their credit but certainly not as bad as shunning), maybe they are busy and overwhelmed, maybe you are unwittingly sending out “vibes” saying "leave us alone; we’re not worth your time.” Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s hard to know. Perhaps you could speak to the rabbi of the community. Hopefully he has his finger on the pulse of communal life and can give both you – and his other congregants – some tips. Maybe he can clear up some misunderstandings. It’s certainly worth a try.

In the meantime, the age-old Jewish wisdom in situations like this is to take the focus off of ourselves and give to others – whatever their attitude, whatever their response. You will feel better, you will stop obsessing about your loneliness, you will make a difference – and slowly, slowly, I think the walls may come down.

Be patient. It takes a long time to break into an established community. Just give to others with no expectations, show kindness and good will, and pray to the Almighty for help.

Emuna