Latest update: April 2nd, 2012
One Man’s Opinion…
In your response to “hoped to be a dutiful daughter-in-law” (Chronicles 8-25), you offer all sorts of suggestions to a woman whose mother-in-law treats her like dirt. You make excuses for the abusive woman, but you do give many good suggestions for Dutiful.
Yet your suggestions neglect a huge element of the family dynamic – her husband. Where in the world is he while his mother is causing his wife so much anguish?
I have been there. My parents, especially my mother, have never been particularly kind or welcoming by nature to my wife. Then again, their relationship was a rather abusive one, so I was not surprised.
My sister is married to a man who is abusive to her. But one can learn from bad examples as well as from good ones.
My wife and I have a decent relationship with my widowed mother. We concede she will never be a warm and loving person, but she is never abusive to my wife. That is because I am always aware of my wife’s feelings. Any hint of nastiness by my mother is met by me. I love my mother, but my wife comes first.
Dutiful is a wonderful daughter-in-law, but her husband is asleep on the job by ignoring the feelings of his wife. Then again, so are you when you neglect his role in this.
One who knows
The woman who wrote about her less-than-amicable relationship with her mother-in-law explicitly revealed her husband’s role when she said that he “displays fine midos, is extremely caring and respects me tremendously.” To reiterate my related response, “There is not much better a young wife can wish for than to have a caring and understanding mate.” Had her husband been oblivious to her discomfort or failed to address her concerns or mollify her pain, she would not have described him as such.
Furthermore, who would argue that it is to a woman’s advantage to acquire a resiliency of nature that will serve her well in life – especially in instances where she may be caught off guard, without her suitor at her side to “hold her hand.” All the same, your wife is fortunate to have her knight in shining armor ready to stand guard between her and your mother. And if you have been able to function in this capacity without violating the edict of Kibud Eim, I congratulate you. Not everyone can walk that precarious fine line.
Your letter brings a memory to fore. A young wife / new mom had her newly widowed mother-in-law move in with her and her family. The mother-in-law kept harping about her daughter-in-law’s habit of using paper towels instead of dishtowels. The daughter-in-law insisted that she had no need for them. In fact, she had received a set of magnificent dishtowels as a wedding gift, but these exquisitely hand-painted ones would have served more suitably as a wall hanging – certainly not as dishrags.
One early morning, the young wife and her husband were awakened by his mother, who excitedly held aloft a basket of – dishtowels. “You can no longer say you don’t have any. Here!” There lay a pile of the mutilated pieces of cloth – of their once beautiful, hand-painted towels. The mother-in-law had actually taken scissors in hand to get her point across in her most cutting manner.
The young wife said nothing. But the tears welling up in her eyes that spoke of her pain did not escape her husband’s notice. Having witnessed the unfolding scene, he gently commended his wife for her virtuousness in not reacting, and then humbly excused himself for taking no action himself – explaining that as her son, he could not risk transgressing the commandment of Honor Thy Mother…. She fully understood.
* * *
One woman’s opinion
Very often we have the solution to a problem in our hands and fail to see it.
Most likely, as your husband was growing up, he had many occasions to experience his mother’s “unkind comments, churlish demeanor, sour attitude and shoddy treatment” either directly or vicariously. Yet, although he experienced these negative behaviors in his formative years, he was successful at developing into a “doting husband” and creating a stable marital relationship.
Instead of turning outside for advice, have a discussion with your husband with the objective and goal of hearing and learning from him how he grew to be a healthy adult in spite of the “barbs” in the home. Who and what were the positive influences and role models in his life? How did he handle his mother’s attitudes? Did she have some other positive contributions to his life? Can he help you see the positive influences and strengths that worked for him?
Chances are good he may help you cope with your mother-in-law in a more positive way, and it will also help your “feelings about your marriage.” Hopefully, you will come out of the discussion with even greater respect for your husband and, thereby, greater appreciation for your marriage and the stable marital bond.
Your altruistic viewpoint is most praiseworthy. We live and learn daily, yet the most obvious and accessible source may easily elude us. An additional advantage of your astute counsel is the communicating factor – always a plus.
In the event that the young man would be incapable of identifying with his wife’s dilemma in a personal way (his mother may have come across to him in a totally different manner than she does to her daughter-in-law), they would still benefit from connecting heart to heart. Such open dialogue can lead to new ideas in how to deal with their predicament, as well as foster a valuable closeness between them that will strengthen the wife emotionally and be a general boon to their marital relationship.
Thank you both for taking the time to express your views.
About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.