Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing about the letter from the wife whose husband is so involved with his business and his chesed projects that he does not have time for his family (7-20). Your comment that “It is very hard for people who are deeply involved in chesed to realize that they are neglecting their loved ones,” really hit home. However, in my case, I am the husband with a wife whom everyone thinks is amazing.
And she is. She is beautiful, dresses well on a budget [her own choice], runs a beautiful home and takes excellent care of all of our physical needs. The meals are amazing, the house is spotless, and the kids are dressed very well. However, her priorities are a bit messed up. My wife grew up in a home where chesed was always their motto. Yet, I and our children are unhappy.
Baruch Hashem, I make a very good parnassa and we are able to afford the better things. My wife is very organized and a great homemaker. Everything runs beautifully, but the moment I walk in the door, somehow she is on her way out. She heads Chinese auctions, is on many committees, and uses her great talents to be a free party planner for so many events in our community. She is the busiest person that I know. Every weekend we have guests, many who are sad cases (and even strange) and stay with us for a long time. For her birthday or on our anniversary, the only present my wife wants is that I make a donation to tzeddakah.
I work full-time and play full-time parent. I do homework with the children and take care of all their emotional needs. Our teenage daughters are angry and hurt that they can’t turn to their mother and our younger children yearn for attention. Our sons are doing better since they are in yeshiva and I am really there for them. Shabbos and Yom Tov are really hard for me. I am a quieter person who needs peaceful family time and I really think that the way our house is run is not fair to our family.
Dr. Respler, I am so tired of hearing how lucky I am to have married this amazing and beautiful woman who is full of personality and is truly not materialistic. When I speak with my rav and address all my concerns, he thinks that our way of life is not a healthy one.
I have spoken with my wife many times, but then she gets a call and everything goes back to the way it was. “How can I say no?” she asks me. “They asked me to do this chesed.” Then I think, “How can you say yes when we are all suffering?”
Dr. Respler, my wife reads your column all the time. Please respond and hopefully she will see it and come to her senses.
A Frustrated Husband
Dear Frustrated Husband,
I understand your dilemma and have some questions I want you to think about.
- Is your wife insecure over your financial success and your relationship with the children?
- Is your wife trying to be like her family and perhaps competing with a sibling or even her parents as to who can do more chesed?
- Does your wife get any positive feelings from you and the children or does her self-esteem only get bolstered by the outside world?
While your answer to number three may be that she is not putting in anything to the family to get positive feedback, unfortunately you are in a cycle where it appears the children prefer you so that she seems to gravitate to where she is getting the positive feedback that we all crave.
Perhaps you can find something to praise your wife about that will make her want to stay home. Changing diapers, dealing with children and teenagers is not gratifying on a daily basis. It is only in the long run when we see these children turn out to be happy productive adults that we are truly gratified from caregiving.
As I don’t know anything about your in-laws, ask yourself if its possible that your wife is simply duplicating what she saw at home. If she comes from a family where doing for others was the priority, and the children were not given attention, she may not know how to be any other way.
If your wife is willing to go for professional help, I implore you to find a competent therapist. If she won’t go, please go alone. You yourself can learn effective countermoves to deal with this difficult situation. Please try to do everything to save your special family. Hatzlocha!