In last week’s column, a devoted daughter wrote of the emotional turmoil she endures in caring for her elderly mother. Very frustrated made it clear that she has no misgivings about doing all she can, in every way, to make her mother’s life as comfortable as possible. The writer is blessed with having her family’s backing and cooperation as well, and, in fact, her mother has been on an extended stay in their home now for several months while recuperating from surgery.
The difficulties experienced by this daughter stem from her mom’s negative attitude; the elder woman is distrustful of everything and everyone and is especially critical of her son-in-law whom she derides under her breath at every turn.
In addition, she has the annoying habit of meddling into the family’s affairs – such as when she finds fault with shidduchim for her granddaughters and thinks nothing of inappropriately interrogating their shidduch dates.
As an only child and hence sole caretaker of her widowed mom, Very frustrated has shouldered this awesome responsibility ever since her father passed away (years ago, before she got married). At this time she fears that the dam may soon burst and that her thus-far-forbearing husband will “reach his breaking point.”
Basically, she is interested in knowing where her obligations lie, both in a religious and moral sense, to a parent “who has made me completely miserable my entire life.”
A reply to your letter would hardly be worthy of print if it failed to sing your praises: Kudos to you for being a devoted and dutiful daughter to your mother!
Lest we forget, kibbud av v’eim is a divine commandment. What’s more, Hashem considers honoring a mother and father in the same league as honoring Him. Essentially, we have no choice in the matter.
But how far must we take this obligation? To what lengths must one go to honor a parent? The Talmud states it clearly and leaves no room for doubt: To the extent that no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassed a child is made to feel by his/her parent, the child must not show any distress or anger towards that parent.
Getting back to your own personal situation you indicate that you have always been there for your mother, and that it’s never been easy. But now she sorely tests your endurance, as you are hurting badly not only for yourself but for your loved ones who are at the mercy of your mother’s acrimony.
On the positive side, you can count yourself fortunate in many ways. For one, it is apparent that you have a mature and understanding man for a spouse, one who knows not to take your mother’s barbs personally and who conducts himself with dignity under trying circumstances. In all probability, he recognizes and appreciates the importance of the role you undertake and roots for you in your noble cause. (For the record, one is obligated to honor and respect one’s in-laws as well as one’s parents.)
Then there are your children (good kids, you say) who reap the benefit of viewing up close the selfless manner in which you dedicate yourself to your mother’s needs – a valuable lesson they will take with them for life.
Whereas honoring a parent in ideal conditions is certainly meritorious, consider how much greater is the merit for one who performs the commandment under grueling circumstances. Besides, where does it state that carrying out the mitzvah is supposed to come easy? And are you aware that each individual act (of your kibbud eim) counts as a separate mitzvah? That knowledge by itself should help you sustain chizuk in fulfilling your lofty goal.
By the time you read this, your mother may be back in her own home and may even have agreed to have outside help. It is perfectly acceptable to have someone reliable assist or relieve you so that you can catch your breath and recharge your batteries. Both you and your mother can benefit from such an arrangement.
You may even go so far as to suggest an assisted living facility (which may be just what your mom can use at this stage in her life), but be mindful of your approach – for you are not permitted to communicate to your mother that she is a burden, nor are you allowed to make her feel pressured to go. The option should be hers alone.
Last but not least: It surely does not escape any member of your family that your mother is an almanah, a widow – who is rendered vulnerable and fragile by her tremendous loss and whose feelings we are divinely warned to be extra-heedful of.
In merit of your unwavering commitment to the mitzvah of kibbud eim, may you and your husband be rewarded with loads of nachas from your own children. Hatzlacha!
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