Dear Emuna,

I have a hard time saying no. There are so many needs in the Jewish community – physical and spiritual – and I am pained by all of them. I feel compelled to respond and to take responsibility. I have the energy and I don’t think my children suffer but my husband complains. I feel like we have plenty of time together but he feels that, even though we are physically in the same room, my mind is elsewhere – on all of these different projects – and he is resentful. I know he comes first but how can I say no to all these other worthwhile causes?

Do-Gooder

Dear Do-Gooder,

I suspect that you already know the answer to your question. You are correct that these are important causes but none more so than your own marriage. There is no point in saving the community and hurting yourself. Your marriage and your family come first. That may sound selfish but that is the reality. There is a famous question in the Talmud about two people being trapped in the desert. One of them has enough water for only one person. If he shares it, they both die. What should he do?

The answer is: drink it! Or, as Hillel said, If I am not for myself, who will be for me? You need to take care of yourself and your marriage because that is your primary responsibility. It will also enable you to give from a place of fullness rather than emptiness. I imagine that sometimes you feel that your husband is too demanding, that his expectations are too high, that he doesn’t fully appreciate the dire state of the Jewish people. Whether he does or he doesn’t is irrelevant. This is his marriage too and he feels like he is only getting part of you. He feels like he is not your priority and he is correct. You need to reverse this. He needs to come first and only after you have given him your full attention and he feels satisfied in this respect can you begin to think about other activities.

Dear Emuna,

I have a 7 year-old daughter and now I am finally expecting my second child. My husband and I are thrilled. It was a long wait and we couldn’t be more excited. Our daughter, on the other hand, is a different story. She is miserable. She doesn’t want to share us and she resents any conversation where the baby comes up. I feel badly because she has been the sole recipient of our attention for a long time and I know the change will be difficult. What should I do?

New Mom Again

Dear New Mom,

Stop feeling badly. Not only is this a normal part of life but this is good for your daughter. She needs to learn to share the stage. It will be healthy for her to discover that she is not the center of the universe. It will be healthy for her to give to her baby brother or sister and to help you as well. The problem lies in our attitude. If we act like it’s a terrible trauma, our children will respond in kind. If, however, we treat it as a perfectly normal phase of life (which it is!) our kids will be more accepting. Families are not democracies. She doesn’t get to vote on whether you want to have more children or not. The decision is not based on her selfish wishes and concerns. She will be a better, kinder, more well-rounded person if she has a younger sibling to care for.

Stop feeling badly. Treat the issue in a very matter of fact way that doesn’t concede there’s any emotional trauma. Ultimately it will be your attitude that determines your child’s. If you feel badly, she will pick up on it and respond in kind. But if you are excited yet down-to-earth, that’s the attitude she’ll pick up on as well.