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Family Gathering
Mom with a View

Family Gathering

A young couple's pressure to conform to family expectations, with no regard for their needs.


I recently read an article describing the conflict occurring in the life of a young mother with a number of small children. Since it was often difficult to get a babysitter, among other reasons, she was frequently absent from many of the larger family gatherings. Unfortunately, instead of understanding and empathy from her siblings, instead of judging her favorably and assuming she had good intentions, she was attacked for not "acting like family". She felt like she was in a lose-lose situation. And she is not alone.

All too often older family members -- parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles (the whole tree!) -- pressure young couples to conform to certain family norms or expectations without any sensitivity to the best needs of the couple and their family.

Some children need schedules more. The consequences of a missed nap or delayed bedtime in order to attend a family gathering may reverberate for weeks. Some mothers need schedules more. The consequences to them of missed naps, bedtimes or even household or work time may also have lasting repercussions.

Some children love the car. Some colicky babies even find the motion soothing. Other, previously non-colicky babies, may scream for hours when strapped into the confines of their car seats. Even some adults find long car trips wearing. Especially if, like me, you're subject to motion sickness. (TMI, as they say)

Some couples are homebodies. Some like big parties. Some like quiet evenings, some a noisy crowd.

People's emotional needs are complicated, as are their psychological needs. And as mentioned earlier, there's always the trauma of getting a babysitter. It was usually easier just to stay home when my children were small.

Yet despite all the potential obstacles to attending every family gathering or event, extended family members are rarely sympathetic, rarely understanding.

The needs of the family writ large seem paramount; the needs of the young couple/family irrelevant. But just as a true friend is sensitive to what her friend really needs, what is in her friend's best interest, so too should concerned and loving family members respond.

The question is not "Are you coming?" or a more aggressive "Why aren't you coming?" but "Are you happy?" "Can I help you in any way?" The carefully thought-out retort is not "What a neglectful cousin you are to stay away!" but "What a wonderful mother you are to be responsive to your children's needs!"

Rabbi Jacob Adler, one of the rabbi's asked to respond to the young couple's dilemma, wrote in the Mishpacha magazine article: "If you are unable to attend all family gatherings, you shouldn't feel like you have to conform to these expectations. You should try to come if you can – it's good to have a pleasant relationship with one's family – but you need not bend yourself out of shape to do so. If your siblings claim you aren't acting like family, make it clear that you are being family-oriented – you are taking care of your immediate family. No one has a right to define your priorities."

Perhaps in the merit of such love and understanding for the needs of their young family, this couple will ultimately receive greater love and understanding from their own parents, siblings, great-aunts, third cousins twice removed…I'm trying, as a mother-in-law, to bite my tongue if ever such words should spring to my lips, and keep my itchy fingers off the phone…

June 14, 2008

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Anonymous, August 26, 2012 4:48 PM

Thank you for writing such a thought provoking article. There is another factor to consider here, which none of the commenters mentioned. It is possible that there is a child and/or children in the family with a developmental disability such as autism and/or ADD. In the case of the former, large family gatherings can be very frightening to the individual who is has the disability. It is also overwhleming to the parents. Perhaps in cases like this the family can attend the gathering, but leave early. In any event, I agree that understanding and flexibility go a long way toward improving family relationships.

(7) Anonymous, June 29, 2012 6:48 PM

I enjoyed reading this article very much. We all need to keep the unique needs of our family members in mind when planning a gathering. Sometimes we can make that trip to the gathering with our small children and other times it is just way too difficult. Re: People who say you can always get a babysitter. That is not always the case! Sometimes the parents simply cannot AFFORD to pay a babysitter. Other times the only available person to watch the child/children is simply not an appropriate caregiver for YOUR child/children. Kindness, compassion, sensitivity and an absence of lashan hara can go a long way in dealing with this issue.

(6) Anonymous, June 18, 2008 4:33 PM

Easy way out??

If you start by missing one simcha, it becomes easier to miss the next.Its so easy to become estranged, cousins grow up not knowing one another, is this what we want for our children??Effort has to be made or families will become strangers to one another, we recently had a death in the family and it was amazing to me who showed up at the shiva...the niftar would have loved to be there to enjoy the presence of those who came to comfort the breaved!

(5) Ronni, June 17, 2008 9:12 PM


First off I would like to say that I am a mother of six. Secondly, I read the aforementioned article and you mention only one opinion. There were two other opinions that did not agree with staying home at all. I think people will come up with any excuse they can when the are either just being lazy or don't get along with some of those attending. Whatever happened to family harmony, is that not the most important thing? Sure we don't have to attend every two year old's birthday party but at least major parties should be attended. There is always a babysitter to be found if you are motivated enough. I also feel certain parties that are not child-friendly should be attended by at least one spouse (the other can stay home if it'll be a really late evening) and nobody should bring their hyper or cranky tired children with and distress everyone else.

(4) Ester, June 17, 2008 9:46 AM

A suggestion

This works for some young couples I know: she goes to her side of the family while he babysits and vice versa. When the kids are old enough to go along or babysit the younger ones, the parents can catch up on relationships with each other's families.

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