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Yom Tov Family Crisis


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Last week I interrupted a series of columns on the subject of “holiday mayhem,” concerning the problems faced by many families whose adult children come home for Yom Tov with their families.

Our letter writers expressed frustration at the attitudes of their daughters and daughters-in-law who feel they are on vacation when they come home for Yom Tov. Specifically, they spoke of the insensitivity of their children who act as though they were at a resort that offers maid, dining, and baby-sitting services.

The question they posed was, How can we register our annoyance without damaging our relationship?

B’ezrat Hashem, I now hope to respond to that challenge.

My Dear Friends:

To begin with, your complaint is not unique to your families. I do not mean this to be an expression of comfort, for I do not believe any decent person derives consolation from the knowledge that other people share their difficulties. My mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, of blessed memory, was always annoyed when people tried to offer comfort by pointing to those who had even greater tsoris.

“Should it make me happy to know that someone else has even more trouble than I do?” she would ask irritably.

I have never forgotten her words and I try not to resort to this type of glib response when people speak of their personal pain. So why am I mentioning this? Because parents have a way of flagellating themselves – “It must be my fault. I didn’t raise them properly!” This self-condemnation can be endless, so I would like to assure all those mothers and fathers who blame themselves for their childrens’ chutzpah that it is not necessarily they who are responsible, but that the root of the problem may be traced to cultural aberrations that are symptomatic of our times.

Nowadays, people (and there are always exceptions to every rule) have an attitude that in Yiddish is referred to as “es kumpt mir” – “it’s coming to me” or “I am entitled.” Always entitled and never indebted. Appreciation is a foreign concept to this generation; a genuine, heartfelt “thank you” is rarely heard. And the colossal chutzpah of this generation is often manifested by a lack of kibud av va’em (honoring father and mother).

Having said that, let us try to deal with the problem at hand. Some people would advise these mothers to remain silent and be grateful they have children who are willing to come home. “Keep your mouth closed and your pocketbook open,” they may recommend, quoting a Yiddish saying: “Years ago, parents taught children to speak. Today, children teach parents to be silent.”

I do not believe that we, the Jewish people, who heard G-d Himself proclaim “honor your father and mother,” should ever accept such perfidy or compromise our legacy in favor of a vacuous and decadent society. Rather than parents “zipping their lips,” they have a responsibility to talk and teach. Obviously, precautions must be taken that this be done in a positive, constructive manner rather than in a destructive and harmful way.

Some Practical Suggestions

When you invite your children or when they call and announce their intention to spend Yom Tov with you, speak with joyous enthusiasm: “Daddy [or Abba or Tatie] and I will be so happy to have you with us for Yom Tov.”

I included the various titles with which children refer to their fathers, for they reflect different shades of Jewish observance and, sadly, in situations such as this all groups are equally affected.

Today’s parent/child relationships are, to say the least, not what they were years ago, and in expressing delight at your children’s forthcoming visit, ground rules often need to be laid down. But how to do this without offending is the challenge.

After expressing delight at the prospect of their visit, ask what you can do to make their stay more enjoyable. For example, is there any special dish they would like you to prepare? What would be a good toy to buy for the children? Admittedly, this can be somewhat tricky, for they might ask for something beyond your means. In that event, don’t be embarrassed to tell them that in these difficult economic times you have to be more cautious in your spending.

Having assured them you are prepared to do whatever you can to make their stay a wonderful experience, you can proceed to inform them of the rules of the house.

You might say something to this effect: “We do not have a staff to help with the household chores, nor are we at a resort where these services are readily available, so I will have to ask you to pitch in, be it cleaning, cooking, baby-sitting, etc., because as much as I would like to, I can’t possibly do everything by myself.”

Should it happen that both your daughter and daughter-in-law are coming for the same days of Yom Tov, warn your daughter to refrain from criticizing her sister-in-law if she feels she in not doing her share. Such remarks can only lead to serious family disruptions that, G-d forbid, can split a mishpacha.

Should it happen that, despite making these guidelines clear, your daughter or daughter-in-law fails to abide by them, be careful not to criticize her in the presence of others or complain to one regarding the conduct of the other. That type of an exchange can only cause terrible damage, with long-lasting ramifications

What you should do, however, is take that individual aside and, in a warm, loving voice with kind words, tell her you would really appreciate it if she would pick up after her children, not leave dirty diapers around, or go visiting friends and expect you to baby sit and prepare the seudah at the same time. The manner in which you couch your words, the body language you use, the love that emanates from you – these will make all the difference.

I have often given this advice to grandparents, many of whom were hesitant to act on it from fear of alienating their children. If, however, this discipline is enforced in a warm, loving manner, children and grandchildren will learn to relate to grandparents with respect rather than arrogant entitlement.

At the end of the day, all grandparents have to realize it is up to them to set boundaries. If they are afraid to do so, they will have to accept the consequences.

In these pre-messianic times in which chutzpah abounds, families are splintered, and children and parents often do not communicate, we all need the help of Hashem to recreate our mishpachas on the pillars of shalom bayis.

There is no magic solution that guarantees good children. Painfully, even the best of families who spare no effort to do everything right can have troubled offspring, and the converse is also true. So at the end of the day, with all the advice and guidance, we have to do a lot of davening and ask Hashem to help us see nachas.

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