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March 3, 2015 / 12 Adar , 5775
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Demanding Family Equity

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Dear Dr. Yael:

Your recent column on “The Wrongs Of Onas Devarim” (Dear Dr. Yael, 12-28-2012) was, for me, the worst column ever. Here’s why:

I am the fifth of six children. I have two older, married sisters with whom I am very close. One of my two older brothers is married; the other is engaged. Then comes me (I am 16), followed by my 12-year-old sister.

As we are chassidish, my siblings married at young ages. Thus, my oldest sister (who is pregnant) is about 24 and has three young children, and my 22-year-old sister has two children. My married brother has one child, while my 18-year-old engaged brother is learning in Israel for a year before returning home to get married.

Now on to the relationship between my younger sister and me. Despite being healthy, smart and very capable, she is so spoiled – my parents do not expect her to do anything. For years, my siblings and I have felt that my parents treat her differently.

A few weeks ago, following our Friday night Shabbos seudah, my mother read aloud your onas devarim column about the girl who is upset about having to do everything because her younger sister calls herself a “schlep.” In the letter she says that her sister – when she wants to go out with her friends – is able to wash the dishes in 10 minutes and get dressed quickly. Other times, every job she is given seems to take her forever to do.

I was very upset by your answer. In the letter from Frustrated and Overwhelmed, the writer never said that she called her sister a schlep; rather, that her sister called herself a schlep. You then talk about her sister’s self-esteem and the issue of onas devarim, somewhat blaming the older sister. To me, however, it was the younger sister who was acting manipulatively, using a “nebach me, the schlep” strategy to get out of doing her work. While your great columns are always on target, this time you missed the point.

My parents loved the column, but my siblings and I were furious. Here’s why:

As my younger sister does whatever it takes not to work, my parents do not assign her any jobs. But I had many jobs when I was 12, including babysitting for her.

The following story will help you understand why I feel our parents spoil my sister: When my brothers were younger, they decided to research the ketones hapasim that Yosef got from Yaakov. We would then figure out a way to sew one for my younger sister for Purim. My older sisters were going to help us.

When my parents heard this, they accused us (including my brothers-in-law and sister-in-law) of always ganging up on our poor younger sister. (We haven’t relayed this story to my brother’s kallah, as we do not want to scare her away.)

I am sick over your column. It has worsened my situation.

Please reread the writer’s letter. Everything the younger sister does is to manipulate things to her advantage. This was not a case of onas devarim, just a spoiled little sister – like my sister – trying to get away with doing nothing around the house. However, in my situation, everyone sees that my parents are to blame for my sister’s behavior – except my parents!

I think the reason they spoil her is because she was born premature and spent a month in the NICU before coming home. My older siblings share this view. But now she is, Baruch Hashem, strong and healthy with many friends. She is a great student (better than me) who writes and speaks well, and is great at sports. In short, she is able to do everything if she is given a chance and makes an effort. For example, if she wants to bake a cake for her friend or for our bubbie, she makes sure it looks professional.

At home though, she is required to do nothing, and sits like a queen while I do all the work. As a “joke” all my siblings say that I am Cinderella. My older sisters feel bad for me and invite me over for Shabbos, telling my mother that they need my help. Then, when I get there, they treat me like a queen, e.g. letting me sleep late, preparing a good bed with the best covers, etc. They even prepare my favorite dishes, as if I was some special princess coming to visit. (My sister-in-law has also done this for me.)

Dr. Yael, while I love your column, please change your answer after rereading the letter from Frustrated and Overwhelmed. All of my siblings and their spouses agree with me. You have no idea how much onas devarim your column on onas devarim caused me – from my own parents, no less! With great respect, I do not mean to sound nasty when I repeat that this time you missed the mark. Please respond ASAP.

A Frustrated Older Sister

Dear Frustrated Older Sister:

I am truly sorry if this column caused you any pain. My intention was to have the older sister try to get her younger sister to change in a positive way. As most people do not respond well to criticism, the one on the receiving end is more likely to do what needs to be done after being given positive reinforcement.

I see your point, and never dreamed that parents would use my column on onas devarim against any of their children. Families need to be treated like the very fragile entities that they are; thus, you are correct that all angles should have been explored before I replied.

Of course, the younger sister in the original letter was not acting the right way. But please remember that it is hard to change. The goal was that the younger sister would feel special as a result of her older sister’s praise and would then want to do more around the house. This did not mean, chas v’shalom, that the older sister was to blame for making the younger sister feel bad! To the contrary, my advice was a suggested technique for the older sister to use for the purpose of getting her younger sister to be more helpful.

Please accept my apology. I hope that you are able, with the utmost derech eretz, to get your parents to understand that the household chores should be allocated more fairly. Hatzlachah!

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