Dear Dr. Yael,
I am a great fan of yours and I have been following your column for years. I read the letter from the woman whose husband is very involved in chesed (7-20) and the one from the husband whose wife can’t seem to find time for her own family as a result of all her communal work (8-3).
I am actually the “man” in our family who is involved with doing chesed. However, I am very careful not to do it at my wife or children’s expense. Baruch Hashem, I own a huge lucrative business in which I employ many people. That allows me to go on Hatzolah calls during the day. Although I have very specialized training and am often called for consultations, it is understood that I do not take calls on Shabbos or Yom Tov, or in the evenings unless it is crucial for the case.
Hatzolah is very respectful of me and the dispatchers are careful not to call me randomly. In reality my children have normal Shabbos and Yom Tov meals and it is rare that I get such calls.
So most of my Hatzolah work is done during the day when I can leave my business in the capable hands of my workers. My wife lives a luxurious lifestyle, has full time help and does not have to work. So what is my problem?
Sometimes neighbors or friends will come to our home frantically instead of calling Hatzolah to get an opinion on Shabbos or Yom Tov. It is generally about a child and I have a kit where I can do basic work that they can then get medical attention after Shabbos or Yom Tov. This can happen maybe once a month or even less frequently. Since I am very well trained and I cannot asses a situation without seeing the patient, I run to their homes to help out. If Hatzolah needs to be called, they do so and I go back home. People know that my priority is my family and I do not chit chat, but rather try to help and go back to my family.
Unfortunately, my wife is very different than the woman described in this past week’s column. She sounds like a woman with a lev tov whose priorities are not in the right place. I think my priorities are my family, yet, my wife gets very upset if anyone dares to bother me on Shabbos and Yom Tov. She will act very politely to the people, but then give me an earful. I feel my wife is very selfish. While your letter writer said, “For her birthday or anniversary all my wife wants is that I make a donation to tzedakah,” my wife wants more and more jewelry and even gets upset when I am generous in giving tzedakah.
The difference is this man can work with his wife to help her change her priorities. One cannot change someone selfish to someone who has a Lev Tov. I still think the writer of the August 3rd column has a special wife. We have a large family and my wife is an ok mother. The children also say sometimes “Mommy cares only about herself.” I try to defend her, but some things she does are glaringly inappropriate. She does not read your column, as she is not a reader in general. So I hope that you can give me ideas without her knowing.
Thank you for all that you do for Klal Yisroel and for sharing your dilemma with us. Yes, it may be easier for someone to change their priorities than it is to change their personality or character traits, but a person can definitely work on themselves if they really want to. The first step is for your wife to recognize that there is something wrong with how she is behaving and to want to change. This will be the hardest and most important step.
You can start by taking your wife out for dinner or just wait for a time that you are alone and when she is calm and in a good mood. Ask her if you can talk to her about something that is important to you. She will likely say yes and then you can say something like, “I love you and the family very much and I try to be a good provider as well as a good husband and father. I know you do not like when people bother us on Shabbos or Yom Tov, but I love helping people and I would appreciate if you would let me do so without making me feel bad or that I’m doing something wrong. I try not to let my love for doing chesed interfere with my family time, yet sometimes people need my help and it would make me feel so good if you would allow me to do so happily. I know this will be hard for you, but I would really appreciate it!”
Maybe your wife will share with you why it upsets her. If she does, validate her feelings and then the two of you can decide how to move forward. Either way, this will begin to open up the discussion. If there are other times your wife is selfish, you may want to discuss those at a different time as it is not prudent to talk your wife about many things at once; it can make her feel as if she is being attacked. However, if the other things involve your children, bring them up first.
A very important thing to remember is to be non-confrontational and non-threatening so that it doesn’t become a fight.
Finally, whatever you have to discuss about the children should be addressed in a way that makes it clear it’s about the children, and not about her. Hopefully, this will make it easier for her to make changes without feeling as if she is the problem. Hatzlocha and please let us know how it goes!