Dear Emuna,

I don’t know much about Judaism but I did learn once that husband is supposed to buy his wife some new jewelry or a new outfit for Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot. Every year I show my husband the style of jewelry I like – thin, delicate, filigreed, preferably sterling silver or white gold. And every year he gets me something completely different – usually much larger than I like and in yellow gold. I don’t want to behave like a spoiled brat. I know I’m lucky to have a husband who wants to buy me gifts, but I actually feel unheard and hurt when he brings this home. Should I be ashamed of myself? Should I just be grateful and “suck it up?” Please advise.

-- Uncertain Wife

Dear Uncertain Wife,

I hear both sides of the situation and I think a proper response incorporates both aspects.

You should definitely be grateful. All gifts deserve a thank you, an expression of appreciation. Your husband spent time, effort and resources. The gift is an expression of his love for you. You are fortunate to be married (just ask your single friends) and have a caring husband. You are, as you accurately describe yourself, lucky.

On the other hand, I understand and empathize with your dilemma. You need to gently ask (after effusive expressions of gratitude) why he ignored your requests. Presumably you will discover that he just wasn’t paying close attention (a common occurrence even with loving husbands!) and not some passive-aggressive behavior on his part.

But there is a deep spiritual opportunity here that has nothing to do with marriage. This is how the Almighty feels when we ignore His commands. This is how He feels when we say, “This is what makes me feel closer to God” even if the Almighty never suggested it or has specifically ruled against it.

If you want to feel close to another human being – or to the Almighty – you need to respond to what they want, not to what you want. Giving our spouses gifts that we like instead of what they requested defeats the purpose of gift-giving and makes the recipient feel alienated from us instead of closer.

So, too, in our relationship with God. He has made it easy for us. He has told us exactly what we need to do to get close to Him. All we need to do is follow His wishes.

Perhaps if we understand what’s holding your husband back (perhaps he wants to choose on his own and not just be told which is akin to how some of us respond to the Almighty’s commands), we’ll also understand what holds all of us back in our relationship with the Almighty.

-- Emuna

My Kids are Driving Me Crazy

Dear Emuna,

I have four kids – two girls and two boys, ages 2, 4, 6 and 8. I love them; I really do. But they’re making me crazy. Each one, in his or her own unique way, is selfish and demanding and just always pulling on me. “I need new notebooks for school.” “My shoes are too small.” “You gave her a bigger piece of cake.” “He pulled my hair.” I’m literally going out of my mind. Please help.

-- Mother on the Verge

Dear Mom on the Verge,

Welcome to parenthood. I frequently feel exactly the same way! Your description of your children is both accurate and universal. Children are selfish and they are demanding. Our job is to train them to be otherwise. But it’s not easy and it takes years (not minutes, hours or days).

The best we can do (besides our tried and true fallback of prayer) is to model the behavior we’d like them to emulate. However they act, we need to (try to) respond with patience and calm. In a quiet, gentle voice we need to take them aside and discuss where their behavior needs improving, all the while hugging them and expressing our love.

Will you always succeed? Of course not. Will you sometimes lose it and blow up? Probably. Don’t beat yourself up. Apologize for losing your temper (this models important behavior as well) and move on.

We are all works in progress. This is one of the most crucial ideas we want to communicate to our children – that we should always be working on ourselves and growing, never stagnating. So take a deep breath and keep moving forward. You won’t really lose your mind…

-- Emuna


Dear Emuna,

Both of my daughters (elementary school age) are good students with nice friends. They don’t act out or misbehave and their homework is always done. They are also both, thank God, healthy and full of energy. Yet the youngest is always calling me from school with headaches and stomach aches and requests to come home. Sometimes I let her; sometimes I don’t. But I feel like it’s getting out of control. What should I do?

-- Manipulated Mom

Dear Manipulated Mom,

In the popular experiments with rats, scientists discovered the obvious – that rats will push a lever constantly if they always get a reward and they will stop pushing it completely if they never get a reward. But they discovered something else as well. Intermittent reward is enough to keep the rats pushing the lever indefinitely. If they get one piece of cheese every 10 or even 20 pushes, they’ll keep at it. Because maybe this will be the time another piece will come.

So, too, with your daughter. If you bring her home sometimes (sick or not), she’ll keep it up. Because maybe this will be one of those times. So the key is to try to understand why she’s doing it.

From my limited perspective and the sparse information provided, I can only suggest the most basic motivation (although it probably is the accurate one): It’s a cry for attention.

The classic response to demands for attention that are expressed in a negative fashion is to 1) ignore them and 2) look for opportunities to give positive attention. Find actions and behaviors to praise. Try to carve out some after-school private time and other occasions where she feels heard and attended to. Hopefully, with enough positive focus, the stomach aches and headaches will “magically” disappear.

-- Emuna