Dear Dr. Yael,
My family situation is okay but not great. Somehow my husband and I always seem to be yelling at the children, giving them orders and acting uptight with each other. I always dreamed about having a quiet peaceful home and yet, our home resembles that of my parents and in-laws – lots of screaming and very little warmth and love.
We are stuck in this negative cycle. My husband has a very difficult job and is always tense. I work as well and I feel like I am always juggling. Even Shabbos is not relaxing as there is a lot of pressure in our community to entertain.
Our children are losing out and so is our marriage. And so, Dr. Respler, we turn to you for help in making changes.
There are many issues to be addressed in this letter. Often, we dream of creating wonderful marriages and homes for our children, and yet, somehow, we find ourselves recreating the homes we grew up in and reverting back to the ways our parents raised us.
My first suggestion would be that you sit down with your husband and make a decision that the two of you will speak to each other and your children in a soft tone of voice. Instead of being drill sergeants, speak to your kids in a loving tone. For example, rather than barking out, “Go to sleep,” try to say, “Let’s go to bed now,” and spend some time with each individual child. I do not know how old your children are; however, I have spoken over the years a lot about “Cozy Time.” This is the time that you spend with your children talking about things that they want to share with you. Doing this when they are young is, in effect, establishes a foundation that will make them feel safe coming to you with their problems. Connecting with your children on a feeling level is the best protection that you can give them in life. It will help them be in touch with their feelings and feel strong in their lives. It will actually help them make better choices in their marriages and become healthy adults.
The relationship children have with their parents often has a profound effect on their level of Yiddishkeit. When a child feels close to his or her parents, it can translate into a closeness with Hashem who is our ultimate father. Often, when I work with people who struggle with their Yiddishkeit, they describe a home where they did not feel a close connection to their parents or where the parents themselves were not really frum.
My second suggestion is restructuring your Shabbos table. Company can rob your children of special attention and time with you. Besides, it does not sound like you enjoy doing all this entertaining. I think that at least one Shabbos meal a week should be just your family.
My third suggestion is that you must make time to focus on your marriage. A tree trunk has to be strong and solid if the branches are going to grow and be healthy. This means that you must try to be loving in the way you deal with one another. Being in a happy marriage allows us to give more time to our children as well.
We all face challenges in our lives. It is the way in which we handle the challenges that is most important. Compliments and positive reinforcement are critical. Instead of focusing only on doing what has to be done, notice the positive things that everyone does for the others and be sure to point them out.
We can say, “Clean up your room” or “I loved the way you organized your room, I am willing to help you, let’s do it together.” We can say, “You never take out the garbage” or “It would be so helpful to me if you would take out the garbage each morning.”
You may need outside professional help to achieve your goals – please don’t hesitate to take advantage of the wonderful counselors in our community.
I wish you hatzlocha in creating a warm positive home in which your whole family will thrive!