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Being An In-Law
Mom with a View

Being An In-Law

Give financial support and keep your mouth shut.


When I asked for topics for a new piece on marriage, "handling in-laws" topped the list. This suggests the universal nature of this struggle with new relatives. But it doesn't have to be so.

Starting with the parents themselves, it's helpful to determine if there are any rules for being an in-law. There seems to be very few books and teachings. So we asked a local rabbi (and experienced father-in-law) about the role of in-laws. His words were clear and succinct. The in-laws should provide financial support and keep their mouths shut.

Simple advice, but hard to accept -- and act on.

While providing financial support can certainly be a challenge for some, the second part of the advice is what trips most of us up. Particularly when the parents are following the first part! It's very hard to give with no strings attached. It's very hard to give with no expectations. It's very hard to give with no advice. It's very hard to sit back and let your newly married child make it on his/her own. But we must do it. (Unless they ask)

In a misguided effort to be involved in their lives, we can actually create a greater distance.

Not only can we do damage to the fledgling marriage, God forbid, but we can ruin our relationship with our own child by being too interfering. In a misguided effort to be involved in their lives, we can actually create a greater distance.

"Tell your wife to make that chicken dish for you like I said," complained Raphael's father. "Tell her to send photos. Why isn't she reaching out to us? What kind of girl did you marry?"

All Raphael's parents want is to be close to their new daughter-in-law. Their strategy will have the opposite effect. Not only are they pressuring him but in criticizing his new wife, they are putting their son in an untenable position.

He can side with his parents and put his marriage at serious risk. Or he can side with his wife and create a wedge with his parents. Who's happy now?

The Torah teaches us that a man leaves his parents' side and cleaves to his wife. This suggests that the marital relationship takes precedence; a man's primary responsibility is to his spouse. We don't want to force our children to choose. Either way we won't be happy with the outcome.

Not only do we not want to be critical of our new child, we want to avoid criticizing our natural offspring as well. It doesn't help the young couple if we are frequently pointing out our son's or daughter's flaws. Our job is to draw attention to their positive attributes. "Doesn't she look beautiful?" "Aren't those cookies she baked delicious?" "He is so kind and considerate." "That was so thoughtful of him to get you flowers for Shabbos."

Shalom Bayis, domestic harmony, mandates constantly praising one spouse in front of the other. Outside our own marriages, whose shalom bayis is more important to us than that of our children?

In general parents require a constant reminder that it is not about us. It is not about our needs, ambitions or goals. It's not even about our relationship with our children. It's about creating healthy, whole adults who can make responsible choices (with the Almighty's help of course). This holds true through infancy, childhood, adolescence (where it's really tested) and young adulthood. It's especially true when our children marry.

So we should give support and keep our mouths closed. Unless of course we have something nice to say.

April 14, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 27

(27) Anonymous, April 11, 2008 6:38 AM

You hit the nail on the head!

I don't think that this article could have been any better said. Giving is SUPPOSED to be an unselfish act, meaning you don't give and expect something in return.
I have been a "victim" of a mother in law that has no idea how to behave,. to her son or me. This has created problems, especially because everyone in the family enables her behavior, especially her husband....Who I think may be tied up in the basement!
This article was great, I may need to send her a copy!

(26) Anonymous, May 7, 2007 7:35 PM

Very off-putting article.

Why should in-laws give financial support if they have to keep their mouths shut - either keep your mouth shut and don't give, or give and be able to speak. I think there is a double standard here and I really don't like it. (I am not an in-law but found this article quite distasteful.

(25) SB, May 6, 2007 8:10 AM

Safety Net - not necessarily banker

I personally feel that the old addage of "shut your mouth and open your purse" is worn out. Our children today are well educated. Even those that don't go to college are plenty street wise. In addition, families have grown in leaps and bounds and there is a limit as to how many kids one set of parents or both sets of parents can support. Support in itself doesn't necessarily mean financial support.

It is very important that children know that they have a safety net and that neither set of parents will allow them to starve or be thrown out on the street. However, children need to have a plan and an idea of how they themselves will make a parnassah. Relying on their parents to pay for everything and then on top of that in abundance is ridiculous and foolish. It does not teach responsibility nor accountability. We must expect our children to be mature and responsible when they marry as much so as we expected them to do their school work and stheig in their learning. Just handing them everything they want above and beyond everything they need is foolish and counter-productive.

Both sets of parents should work together to share the expenses of setting the kids up with the necessities of an apartment, furniture, appliances, etc. Then if necessary, provide them with a monthly allowance that will cover the rent and basic necesseties as they are getting started. However, you must also discuss with them how they plan on making a parnassah, and set up a guideline and time line for review. Don't leave it wide open forever. Such as "You need to find a job, and we will help pay the rent for the next 6 months while you get settled into a job and then we will renegotiate this agreement." Or we will continue this arrangement for one or two years so you can learn in Yeshiva.

In addition, unfortunately as of late, many young woman have taken over the roles of "Superwoman" and this has had a devastaging effect on their health and well being. Discuss and define in advance who will be responsible for what. If your daughter will work part-time to pay for insurance, and your son-in-law will work part-time to pay something towards rent, discuss that and for how long that will take place. If your daughter plans to work until she has kids, or she plans to work even when she has kids make sure she says that as long as she feels up to it. Many young women are killing themselves, because they feel they made a life-long committment for their husbands to be in Kollel, and they are working both in and out of the home to support them. Tell your daughters to think before they speak. They can't possibly know how it feels to work part or full time once you have three kids at home.

If you leave the field wide open, what happens when the next child gets married and the child after that? Even when children are committed to learning. You must give them a timeline, or discuss what type of part-time, moneymaking position they can hold to help make some parnassah, such as tutoring or leining, etc. If you don't teach responsibility from the get go, and insist that the young man meet his obligations of the Kesubah to be mepharnes his "own" mishpacha, you are not doing your children a favor. Because when reality sets in so do problems in Shalom Bayis.

(24) ilana, May 1, 2007 8:23 AM

The way I heard it.. was "Keep your hand open and your mouth shut."

(23) Anonymous, May 1, 2007 7:54 AM

"The in-laws should provide financial support and keep their mouths shut."
I don't have a problem with the second part - it's the first part that really trips me.
If your children are old enough to make the decision to marry then they should certainly be old enough to worry about how they will support themselves in life. When I got married we lived on our wedding money until my husband was done with school. We furnished our place with free cycle(in those days discarded relative's handmedowns!) furniture. When we bought our own new furniture it was a true celebration. When we bought our own new home we felt true accomplishment. How will the children of this generation have any appreciation --- or knowledge of attaining through their own means? We want to raise independent adults not welfare (whether it's parent support or government support) adults. Supporting them is not the answer. Good luck.

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