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Dear Emuna: Parent Invasion
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Parent Invasion

Help! My parents are visiting for three weeks and my life is upside down!

by

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

Published: November 11, 2012


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Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Miriam, December 12, 2013 11:08 AM

in-law visits - some ideas

After going through the routine a number of times, I've started to realize exactly what areas cause a lot of trouble. One was their phone habits - they would sit in our living room or dining room and loudly make many calls to people, especially during the evening when we were trying to get kids to bed and during Friday afternoon when preparations were getting hectic - because we were busy with other things. This time I explained that those are difficult times to have the extra phone activity in the center of the house and could they take those calls in their room, and they did. I also asked them for more advance notice whether they will be joining us for supper or extending a day of touring into dinner elsewhere. And last, I made an effort to keep my mouth shut when they left food or drinks around that they "might eat later" and other things that didn't work with my operational style - after trying to get them to do things my way for years, I realize I need to clean up what I can't stand and tolerate anything else so we can enjoy their visit while they are here.

(4) Bobby5000, November 14, 2012 1:50 PM

parents -how to make your visit welcome

My son is married and has two young girls. On one occasion after the baby was born, his wife seemed a little frazzled. Next time we visited, we made arrangements to rent an economical hotel room nearby when we visit and the visits have been wonderful. His wife usually makes a wonderful initial dinner, a lunch the next time, and everyone gets a little downtime in between. We have the children over to the hotel where they can swim. My son and his wife can use the free time to do some shopping. When we get up, we are now in a nice hotel room and my daughter-in-law does not have to worry about cleaning the house or setting up a fancy breakfast while getting two children dressed. Everyone has a little privacy (their house is smaller) and downtime and our visits are welcome. Everyone, my son, lovely daugh ter-in-law, two children, ask when are we coming down again.

(3) Allie, November 11, 2012 9:02 PM

Social Outcasts

I'm having a little trouble with the idea that this community, as well as all others the couple has lived in, are so terribly lacking in hospitality and kindness that the couple is routinely shunned. I believe the couple FEELS routinely shunned. I believe they even may be, after some time, shunned. But I also believe that there is one common denominator here: them. It seems to me that rather than having accusatory thoughts and words toward these other people, this couple needs to examine their own behavior to figure out what they are doing that's creating a unilaterally negative response in others, in this community and the other communities they've lived in. Without more data in the letter, it's hard to extrapolate a real cause for the situation, but I am seeing a whiff of some level of entitlement that is making this couple think they should immediately be embraced and treated as family when they've yet to put forth the time and effort to become part of that community. I also think Emuna's suggestion to discuss the community response to this couple is a good one. The problem is obviously lying with them, and not these various communities. Perhaps if they can do some serious introspection with the help of their rabbi, they can figure out what modifications in their behavior need to be made so as to eliminate whatever the off-putting behavior is. Moving is not going to fix this problem - introspection and behavioral correction should, though.

Anonymous, November 12, 2012 9:18 AM

Try looking at it from their point of view

Just because this couple's social skills are lacking doesn't mean they are the problem. Apparently there are communities that are reputable for being cold and unwelcoming towards newcomers. I lived in such communities. Rather than judging this couple harshly, try putting your feet in their shoes and try to understand what its like to be rejected by a community that you have contributed so much to. And yes, childhood bullying can have a major social effect on someone during their adult years. I know this couple personally. Albeit their social awkwardness, they are by far the most warm,giving,loving, and selfless people I've ever met. Unlike their peers, they don't demand much and feel entitled to everything. Yes perhaps their lack of social skills may be harming their prospects but there are people who are upright mean,selfish, narcissistic, and couldn't care less about anyone else but themselves. Some of them lack common decency and couldn't care who they mistreat. Or some weren't raised in a household where middot tovot and derech eretz weren't emphasized as much as others thus having a dismissive attitude when it comes to chesed and hospitality. Sometimes a community leader can't or is unwilling to get involved. If your child was having a difficult time socially adjusting and making friends, who would you blame?

(2) Bob Rabinoff, November 11, 2012 7:23 PM

Siblings

Your advice to not manipulate sibling relationships is spot on! We have an older son and 3-years-younger triplets, a boy and two identical girls. Very early, as soon as they learned to say "Mommy, he/she did such and such!" -- we learned that the best response (after seeing there was no physical damage) was always "I'm sure you can work it out yourselves." They quickly learned to talk things out and come to a compromise. When the triplets were 4 their Mom and I split up. The older boy lived with me from age 10 and the triplets lived with Mom and stepdad far enough away that we saw each other maybe once a year. They all went to separate universities and graduate schools. Yet they're as close as can be, including spouses. It's absolutely remarkable. I attribute it primarily to their wonderful middot. The only input we really had was to provide good examples in the way we related to one another after our split, and the way we related to our new significant others, and we more or less stayed out of their way and let them learn to love one another. And we pray every day for their continued success.

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