Dear Dr. Yael:
I read your column about the woman having knee replacement and was struck by the daughter’s comment that “while she is a happy and positive person, at this time she is very depressed.”
Your response, which included the sentence, “If you want happiness for a lifetime help somebody” was great a suggestion. And that is why I am writing to you. My story is a little more complex and I am hoping you can help me deal with our situation more effectively.
To begin, let me say that my mother is a most helpful person with great talents.
A few years ago, after my father passed away, my husband suggested that she move in with us. My husband and I are both professionals with excellent jobs and we have a huge home where my mother has her own private suite. Baruch Hashem, my mother is in great shape and in good health. My mother is an amazing cook and baker. She loves to clean and babysit for our grandchild, her only great-grandchild – she even cooks for my daughter. You see, I am an only child and my mother’s life revolves around our family.
We do have cleaning help and my mother supervises the help, and even does some of the cleaning herself. In addition, she has a part time job and insists on giving us money, as she also has income from renting out the house where she lived with my father.
My husband is thrilled. The house is always very clean, suppers are amazing and there is always something delicious baking in one of our ovens. I no longer have to worry about Shabbos. My husband sees it very positively – he says we have a full-time live-in cook, cleaning supervisor and babysitter who loves doing all these jobs. The children love Bubby and my married daughter coordinates her work schedule with my mother so she gets dinner and free babysitting.
My mother and my husband really love each and appreciate each other – this past Mother’s Day he bought her a gift and beautiful flowers.
So, what’s the problem, you ask?
Although my mother is all the things I just described, she is extremely critical of me.
Now, this is not a new situation. She has been like this my whole life. My father was the warm and loving parent who protected and looked out for me. He was the buffer between me and my mother’s negativity. My mother is the child of survivors and I know that she always wanted more children, something which I have heard is common in the second generation. I think that because she only had me, she put a lot of time and effort into my education and comportment – she expected me to be perfect. Baruch Hashem, I was an excellent student and I tried hard to please her. But I never seemed to succeed.
My husband is very loving to me and tries to understand my feelings. He says that because my mother is an almanah, we have to be extra sensitive in how we deal with her. He sees the help that she gives us, and the fact that she often pays for groceries, as her way of showing her appreciation to us.
Dr. Respler, I know all of this and really do try, but I am at my wits end. As far as she is concerned, I am either wearing too much or too little make-up, my sheitel needs to be washed more often, my clothes are out of date, etc., etc.
The criticism would be hard to take even if it were true, but its not. I am slim, attractive, and take good care of myself. I work hard and I am very successful.
In terms of our kids, they love my mother very much, yet they see how hurt I am and try to compliment me often and comfort me when my mother says negative things.
I have always emulated my father in the way I deal with my children, making sure I compliment them often and let them know how much I love them.
I know that my mother is an insecure person and that she had parents who were very critical of her. Yet, Dr. Respler, she is so loving to everyone else. That’s what I have the hardest time with. Wouldn’t it make sense for her to be caring and loving to her only child?
Please help me figure out the best way to deal with this situation. I love my mother and know that having her live with us benefits everyone. I just wish I wasn’t surrounded by constant criticism. It hurts me to be the only one she acts this way with. How can I continue to mechabed her without losing own self worth?
A Hurting Daughter
Dr. Respler’s answer to this letter will appear in our next issues. Reader’s comments and thoughts are always welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.