In a recent column (Chronicles 11-26-10), we responded to a woman caring for her elderly mother who was turning out to be more than a handful and then some. The writer had gone the extra mile for her mom all along but now feared that the older woman’s grumpiness and constant criticism, especially of her son-in-law, would end badly. This daughter wanted to know what her religious and moral obligations are regarding honoring her mom and whether any boundaries could be set in order to preserve her sanity and marital harmony.
Our reply emphasized the significance of the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim and the writer was encouraged to continue being a dutiful daughter, to enlist outside help for relief when necessary and be appreciative of having a supportive family (husband and children).
The following is a sampling of readers’ reactions that came our way:
Regarding the woman who wrote to you about her aging and cranky mom, she should be grateful that her mother is communicative and mobile. I wish my mother could have told me how she felt and offered her opinions. You see, she was rendered mute and paralyzed by a stroke, and it was heartbreaking to see her face and know that her thoughts were trapped in her mind. Lady, at least your mother can express herself.
Count your blessings
I totally disagree with your answer to the woman caring for her mother. First of all, where is her mother’s responsibility in all of this? She needs to be respectful and pleasant to her daughter and her family who are caring for her.
Maybe the mom has a psychiatric problem that causes her to act like that. Also, what about the toll on this woman’s sholom bayis? You are not a rav and yet you gave her very little wiggle room to get out of caring for this mean woman forever! The daughter deserves happiness and, if her mother cannot at least try to act like a mensch, she should be strongly encouraged to move out.
Suffering is for fools
No doubt you have rankled some readers with your candid reply to the woman taking care of her difficult mother. I refer to those who place their own needs above anyone else’s and would never dream of exerting themselves to care for an elderly parent, let alone bring them into their homes.
You were also exactly right about the obligation to respect a mother-in-law. My widowed mother-in-law is about as big a kvetch as you can meet. She criticizes non-stop, is steeped in self-pity, and – as you can imagine – isn’t the most pleasant or sought after houseguest.
Baruch Hashem she is self-sufficient enough to live on her own, but that doesn’t stop us, her daughters-in-law (she has no daughters) and her grandchildren, from making the rounds to visit her, to see to her wellbeing and comfort and to make sure that her food pantry is well stocked. (Some of us travel quite a distance to do so.) We also take turns having her over for holidays and manage to tolerate her crankiness and faultfinding with dignity and good humor.
It’s not always about “me” or “I”
For years my sisters and I tended to our dear mom who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The disease distorted our mother’s normally great personality, and when she stopped communicating with us altogether it was almost too much to bear.
Even then we kept her updated on the details of her large family’s doings and often detected an emotional reaction in response. Her eyes would fill with tears at sad news or would brighten at good news.
What we would have given to engage her in give and take dialogue! If only she had been able to communicate her discomfort or disapproval!
Thank you for reminding us of what counts most in life: practicing kindness and giving, especially to our kin.
Charity begins at home
I really appreciated your answer to the frustrated mom caring for her own mother. I have the privilege of caring for my elderly widowed father, and yes, consider it a privilege.
Like you say, the mitzvah was not meant to be easy. That is precisely why I found your message most inspiring. You boosted my morale just when I needed it most.
A grateful reader
I am a widow in my mid 80’s and I strongly believe that most people pray fervently to be self-reliant until their dying day. As parents age, their biggest fear is to become a burden to their children.
Even with devoted children, you don’t want to be in their way – especially when they are busy raising their own families.
I have a message for my children, and I’m sure I will be speaking for others as well:
I appreciate your concerns about my being alone and your standing invitation to come and spend Shabbos with you. At the same time, please try to understand that I seldom have the energy or stamina to keep up with your schedule or to tolerate the noise level at your place, and that is a big reason why I find it so much more convenient to stay put in my own home, despite my physical aches and pains.
But why must it be “all or nothing.” It hurts when nobody thinks of asking whether I need any help with getting the few things I would need for Shabbos. Is it too much to expect a phone call when you do your own grocery shopping to see if there is anything you can pick up for me so that I don’t have to venture out on a cold winter day?
Just because I choose to remain in my home for the occasional Shabbos, it doesn’t mean that one of my grandchildren shouldn’t stop by with some homemade challah or to see if maybe bubby can use some help.
I won’t be around forever
* * * * *
We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to email@example.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215. 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.