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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 11/04/10

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Dear Rachel,

First and foremost, thank you for your wonderful column which provides informative and practical advice with a Torah hashkafah. I have been having trouble dealing with a very close relative of mine who recently celebrated the birth of a child. While for the most part we have always gotten along, when we were younger she called me names and often got me into trouble by lying to our parents about who perpetuated a given “mischief.”

I am not blaming her since she went through a very difficult time when her parents divorced and she and the other children in the family were the “go-betweens” for every issue. There were times when she was not speaking to either one of her parents and I was always her defendant.

Now she is married with a couple of kids of her own. She does not speak to her father, stepmother or grandparents and will occasionally speak to her mother (when she needs something). She has even gone so far as to badmouth her grandmother – after the woman had sent her birthday money.

Since she has continually hurt me, such as when I supposedly said something “wrong” or “stepped on her toes,” I have distanced myself from her. Still, I have at least always tried to maintain some sort of relationship, mainly for her kids. But this time was the last straw. You see, she recently had a baby and did not bother to let us know (this includes her siblings, her father, stepmother and grandparents). How did we find out? Through Facebook, when someone wished her mazel tov!

Her excuse: we aren’t calling anyone; whoever finds out, finds out. I texted her a mazel tov – apparently she believes that this mode of communication is appropriate. I along with other members of our families am deeply hurt and angry. My feeling is that she cannot distance herself by doing hurtful things and then expect to come back to us when she needs something.

I will not let myself be a pawn in her games. The only issue I have is not wishing to act out of anger or revenge. How do I continue to relate to her without anger? I cannot communicate with this type of person; she has been so hurtful, and yet I am torn because of the children.

I would appreciate some advice. Thank you!

Distressed

Dear Distressed,

There are many reasons why children behave the way they do. Though there is certainly much more to the background history of this saga than a mere letter could reveal, you make it clear that there was enough suffering and hardship to go around in the divorcing couple’s (your relative’s parents) tragic tug of war. Depending on individual circumstances and nature, some children weather such trauma better than others.

Your relative seems to be harboring much anger and bitterness and is letting it out at her most convenient targets in whichever way she can. She should have received counseling a long time ago. (Maybe she has – one of the details that perhaps elude us ?)

Naturally you are hurt and upset at her inconsideration and indifference to her close and caring blood relatives, but your exasperation will do nothing to alter her pattern of behavior. You ask how you can relate to her without anger. (Your concern discloses your own very special and noble character.)

The best way for you to convey your feelings would be to write her a letter. This will give you the benefit of releasing some of your own frustration as well as circumvent the pitfalls of ugly confrontation.

In your letter you can emphasize your desire to have a loving and meaningful relationship with her and her family and at the same time make it clear that you can settle for nothing less than sincerity and genuine friendship and will no longer tolerate her game-playing.

After that you must leave it up to her and get on with your life. If your letter does not move her to change her modus operandi, there are still ways for you to maintain contact with her children. You can acknowledge their birthdays with cards and send photos of your family, as well as invitations to special occasions; you can attempt to see the children in places such as school, playgroup, camp, etc. As they grow, communication with them will become easier.

By no means should you allow your relative the freedom of playing havoc with your emotions. Unburden your heart and let it be. By making peace with the fact that you cannot dictate how she should live her life (she is an adult, after all), and by resolving not to let her run roughshod over yours, you will free yourself to focus wholly on your primary interests – your well being and the welfare of your immediate family.

You may want to share your sentiments with the other hurt “victims” in your/her family, which may induce them to follow your lead. Maybe, just maybe, she will then rethink her reckless and callous behavior, but she is unlikely to do so while being catered to and allowed to get away with her self-serving agenda.

I wish you much luck in achieving family harmony and a tranquil state of heart and mind.

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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