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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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Daughters and Daughters-In-Law Also Need Help (Part One)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Special Note: Those of you who have been following my columns know that for a number of weeks, I have been focusing on current world events, which are indeed overwhelming and frightening. Just the other day, I had a discussion with a prominent businessman who is also knowledgeable and connected to the world of politics. He made a simple, but telling statement, “Rebbetzin, if a year ago, someone would have told me that the powerful financial institutions of Wall Street - Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, etc., would disappear and the current political situation would look as bleak as it does today, I would have said,  That’s preposterous and impossible.

But today, the impossible has become our reality. Events are transpiring so swiftly, that we have difficulty absorbing them. Our generation is sleeping, and we have failed to react to that which is befalling us. So I felt compelled to devote my columns of the past month to those events. Nevertheless, despite the critical world situation, personal problems – family, shalom bayis, children, illness, continue to assail us. I receive hundreds of e-mail requests for help weekly from every part of the globe, and while, in the past, I published many of these letters, for the past few weeks I have been responding to them personally. Some of these e-mails, however, do not lend themselves to personal responses, but require the public forum of my column since many people are reluctant to identify themselves and write anonymously, or the letter writer hopes to convey a message that will be read by people involved in his or her problem. So I now return to addressing family conflicts through my column.  

 

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I truly enjoy reading your column in The Jewish Press and have heard you speak in person. I am always inspired by your words. I am writing to you about an issue that you have addressed more than once. I realize that this would have been more appropriate to address before the Yamim Tovim, but I hope you will still take the time to address this matter.

In the past, you have printed letters from bubbies whose married children come for Yom Tov and act like they are in a hotel. According to the letter-writers, they work very hard all of Yom Tov and are constantly cleaning up after their grandchildren whose parents do not help at all in the kitchen or with other household chores. I agree with you that married children should help out. You have not, however, addressed the needs of the married children who visit their parents or in-laws for Yom Tov who work hard the rest of the time and would like to take it easy and relax.

My parents live out-of-town, while my in-laws live within driving distance from my husband and me and our son who is less than a year old. My husband works full-time and I stay home with our son who has special needs that require therapy and visits to specialists. Additionally, I must deal with bureaucracies in order for my son to get what he needs, which can leave me frustrated and worn out. I have no outside help and, therefore, do much of the housework myself (my husband does help when he can) on top of taking care of my son. We often have guests for Shabbos and some Yamim Tovim and I do the cooking myself. I do not mind doing all this; I am just trying to give you an idea of how hard I usually work.

Because of the timing of the Yamim Tovim this year, we were not able to go to my parents at all. We did not go to my in-laws either, because we feel they demand that I help more that what is reasonable and expect me to make that the priority even more than taking care of my son. My mother-in-law is not like the bubbies that write to you saying that they never get out of the kitchen. She and my father-in-law are professionals who have had live-in housekeepers who do most of the household chores during the week from the time my husband was an infant (he is the oldest of several).

My mother-in-law does very little cooking and has plenty of time to go to shul and take naps on Shabbos and Yom Tov.  They rarely offer to help with our son. We have no problem doing most of the work in caring for our son, but we feel that it’s a given that younger parents want some help with their kids when they visit the grandparents.

My in-laws, however, feel that it is our job to contribute more than we already do (I do help during meals and have on occasion brought baked goods, it is my pleasure to do all this). Yet if we ask for help with our son, we are supposed to do it all ourselves, and my in-laws don’t consider my having to take care of my son as a good reason not to be helping them at every possible opportunity. Again, I have no opposition to the need to pitch in and contribute. What bothers me is being told how much I must contribute. (I was once told that I wasn’t doing enough when I did their laundry for them, helped prepare food, and helped set and clear the table when I was more than six months pregnant) and the way it is demanded of me (as if it is coming to them).

What happened to judging people favorably? Maybe the daughters or daughters-in-law described in past letters have valid reasons for not helping. Perhaps their young ones don’t let them sleep much and they feel too out of it to be of any use in terms of helping. Maybe a daughter feels that her mother knows how hard she works in her home and will understand that she doesn’t feel up to helping or that she needs to take care of her own children. Maybe a daughter-in-law has been working especially hard and her husband asked her for her own sake, to take it easy when they go to his parents this Shabbos or Yom Tov and said that his mother will understand. There are many other valid reasons that the daughter or daughter-in-law may have for not helping that she may not be able to communicate.

My in-laws have never been in my shoes so they have no right to judge how much I should be contributing. If I wanted to work as hard as my in-laws think I should, it would be much easier to stay home and have guests.  My son needs to be my priority, which means that I will not have the same resources as my husband’s younger siblings to contribute, especially if I don’t have help with my son. It would mean so much to me if they would respect my limits and trust me that I am doing the best that I can, and allow me to take it easy.  My husband has tried to explain to them many times that I work very hard at home and that they should appreciate whatever amount I can contribute, but they demand that I push myself more than I already do. We have even suggested speaking to a neutral third party to try to work things out, but they aren’t very interested.

I hope that you will print my letter (but please omit my name) so that parents will reconsider what they expect from their children who come to visit, and that it is important to give us the benefit of the doubt (dan l’kaf  zechus). We really do appreciate everything they do for us and we try to help as much as we can, but please be reasonable and be sensitive to our needs as well.

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