I was always very close to all my children but especially my middle son. He had some serious struggles and even rebellion during his adolescence and we spent a lot of time together. Although not all of it was pleasant (to say the least!), it deepened our bond.
He recently got married and the relationship has changed dramatically – and not only in the ways it should. My daughter-in-law is very unfriendly and doesn’t show any inclination to spend time with us. Every conversation is like pulling teeth. I tried to hint to my son but he got angry and took her side. Now I feel like I’ve lost him.
– Lonely Abandoned Mom
Dear Lonely Mom,
You can play this two ways; it’s totally up to you. You can look at it like you lost a son or you can look at it like you gained a daughter. It may sound trite but it’s true. If you practice the former (as you seem to be), you will probably end up losing your son; it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. His wife and his new marriage is his first priority and he is correct in taking her side.
It is unfortunate that you have put him in a position where he needs to choose but it is not too late to rectify the situation.
It’s time to reframe. You have acquired a daughter – a wonderful, charming, young woman of sparkling character whose sole goal is to love and give to your son and make a home for him. You should be thrilled.
You don’t recognize your daughter-in-law from this description? Start looking at her this way and you will. Start focusing on her positive qualities and start giving to her. And don’t ever stop.
The more you give to her, the more you find ways to compliment her, the more you will care.
All the women I know who have good relationships with their daughters-in-law say it’s because they are great girls.
I say it’s because they made them great girls. They only focus on their good, they only notice their positive qualities, and they only give, give, give – unconditionally. They work constantly on making a good relationship with their daughters and so they reap the rewards. But it doesn’t come without the effort. It’s your turn to step up to the plate.
We recently married off our youngest child and I couldn’t be more depressed. I walk the empty halls of our house, dejectedly looking for someone to talk to or something to do. When my husband gets home, I’m in such a bad mood, I just snap at him. I’m feeling totally bereft. Is this normal? What should I do?
– From My Empty Nest
Dear Miserable Empty Nester,
While it is certainly normal to miss your children (at least I imagine it is; I’m still dreaming of that day!) and to take some time to adjust, your situation sounds atypical.
I’m not sure if I can help you; I can certainly give tips that can prevent others from falling into this trap.
The Talmud teaches us that “A man doesn’t die except to his wife.” Our primary relationship in this life is with our spouse. Even amidst the overwhelming demands of childraising, our main focus should still be our marriage. If it has been fed and nurtured it should continue to be a source of joy and growth, even after the children leave. Take this opportunity to renew your relationship with your spouse and make plans together for making the most of this new phase of living.
Additionally, we can’t live for or through our children. We need to have our own goals (being a good parent is certainly a legitimate one of them), our own purpose, our own meaning. We need to connect to something bigger than ourselves, something transcendent. If you have neglected the opportunity to develop your relationship with your Creator (and the depth of your pain and paralysis suggest you have), this is your chance. He will never leave you and He will lift you to new possibilities and opportunities.
If you take advantage of this, your loneliness will fade and you will discover new direction and, surprisingly enough, will wind up being a better mother and mother-in-law in the process – one who is able to enjoy her adult children and take their pleasure in their navigation of their new phase of life, and one who is able to enjoy her time away from her adult children and take pleasure in her own growth – in your realization of your own true potential.
I am trying very hard to be a good wife and mother. I run around after our toddler all day and then try my best to be attentive when my husband wants to talk. I have a part-time job to help support our family and I encourage my husband to go learn Torah when his workday is over. But I find that I am exhausted by theses activities and have no time left for community involvement – no PTA (okay, she’s a little young!), no fundraising activities, no cooking meals for others. I feel that I am maxed out looking after my family but I feel racked with guilt that I’m not doing anything else.
I think I am going to take out some billboards saying, “Guilt is not a Jewish idea.” Maybe I’ll do refrigerator magnets as well.
If we do something wrong, we acknowledge our mistake, vow never to repeat it, ask forgiveness and make restitution where necessary – and move on. No wallowing or obsessing.
If you have time to help the community and you aren’t, it’s appropriate to examine why, to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and find a task suited to you. There is still no role for guilt – which frequently takes the place of genuine action.
If, as you say, you really don’t have time, then let it go. Your primary responsibility is your immediate family. Many people make the opposite mistake and serve the community at the expense of their spouse and children. You should take pleasure in the fact that you have your priorities straight and are creating a warm and secure home for your husband and child. If you've read the two previous letters, you've seen that your time for community involvement will eventually come.