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April 26, 2015 / 7 Iyar, 5775
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Mother-in-Law in a bind… or is she?

Dear Rachel,

I need sympathy and you sound like the type of person who would understand where I’m coming from. Here we are, finally at the stage where our kids are all grown, baruch Hashem, and raising families of their own, and we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Okay, sit back may not be totally accurate since my husband and I are both still working in order to be able to maintain our standard of living.

Please don’t get me wrong; we are far from well to do (we don’t even own our own home), but we are not the couch-potato type and are grateful to have the ability to lead active lives. The extra cash my job brings in also makes it easier for me to spoil my grandchildren — one of life’s little joys. Until recently, that is…

Two of our granddaughters were having birthdays just weeks apart. Our son and his family live quite a distance away, but with that being a surmountable issue, I happily shopped on my lunch break for some nice gifts for the two girls. (A younger sib had been the recipient of my generosity just a couple of months earlier when he had his Chumash party, and the baby’s birthday was still several months away.)

I gave the wrapped-up gifts to a co-worker who happens to live in their vicinity, and I phoned my son to let him know that my co-worker would be in touch with them. As for me, I could hardly wait for the girls to see what I bought them and could just picture their reaction.

My enthusiasm was short-lived — when my son called me later that day to ask if the gifts were only for his daughters and to let me know that my gesture wasn’t sitting well with his wife. My daughter-in-law, he went on to explain somewhat awkwardly, felt that it was not right to exclude the other children.

I pointed out that the girls were celebrating birthdays and reminded him of the occasions when their other children had been the recipients of my big heart, but I may as well have talked to myself. The bottom line, apparently set by his wife, was gifts for all or for none. Period.

I was floored, to put it mildly, but the last thing I wanted was to get between my son and daughter-in-law, so I just let it go. My husband had no qualms about the solution: Return the gifts for a cash refund and forget about it.

I did exactly that, and there’s been no mention of the incident since.

Here comes graduation and I can’t ignore it, Rachel. How should I handle this?

What’s up with daughters-in law?

Dear What’s Up,

Nothing new. It’s ages old, well known and documented — there’s just something there (between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law). That’s not to say that there aren’t any who get along famously, but generally speaking, it is not an easy relationship. Even the Gemara concurs and sums up the friction as rooted in a mother-in-law’s resentment at seeing all that she has entrusted to her son bestowed on his wife. The daughter-in-law senses the vibes her husband’s mother gives off and reciprocates in kind. One’s heart reflecting the other’s heart…

Your letter makes no reference to past contentions between the two of you that might have precipitated this incident. Regardless, let’s keep in mind that daughters-in-law are as entitled to their moods as the rest of us overworked and underappreciated women.

Still, this is no reason for you to “ignore” upcoming graduations and other occasions you wish to acknowledge. One resolution that works for many grandparents, for a myriad of practical reasons, is to let your grandchildren choose their own gifts — with the money you give them, or with gift certificates they are bound to appreciate.

Come graduation, hand it to the graduate, preferably in a card that can contain a personal message from bubby. If you can’t make it there, put the card (with check or gift certificate enclosed) in the mail — you know, the old-fashioned kind that requires a stamp on the envelope and address in longhand.

Same for birthdays. Monetary gifts of chai ($18), double or triple (according to your means) will save you the hassle of endless shopping and wondering whether your choice of gift was appropriate. Needless to say, playing favorites is not a good idea, especially where you’re concerned. Just be consistent and you’ll be surprised at how thrilled children are to have money of their own, which they can choose to spend or save up, sometimes toward a more costly item they’ve set their sights on.

Your inner longing to confer gifts upon the einiklach can be satisfied in subtle ways, without formality or gift-wrap. Stock up, for instance, on children’s books suited to different age groups. (Publishing outlets such as ArtScroll and Feldheim run sales events several times a year.) Then when the grandkids visit, they can enjoy the reading material on the spot, and when they leave they can take a book home with them — at bubby’s suggestion, of course.

This will surely not ruffle any feathers, and you will have the additional satisfaction of knowing you are contributing to your grandchildren’s library, education and reading skills.

Not pressuring your son to see it your way was a good move on your part. You swallowed your pride for the sake of peace and harmony in the family — always a good choice. Kol hakavod!

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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