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July 23, 2014 / 25 Tammuz, 5774
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Improving The In-Law Relationship

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Dear Dr. Yael:

My in-laws have a wonderful reputation in our community. They are looked upon as truly charitable and giving people. However, charity should begin at home. My in-laws never helped us financially, even when approached gracefully and tactfully. But they often give generously to their shul’s tzedakah funds, among other charities – as long as the public recognizes their contributions.

Baruch Hashem, we have six beautiful, frum children. But they are not my in-laws’ favorite grandchildren; their daughter’s children are. My children are constantly berated by my in-laws, both in front of and behind their backs – even though they are great children. On the other hand, I never hear anything bad about their daughter’s children, even though one is off the derech and another dropped out of school.

My in-laws feel they deserve all the respect in the world from all of us, but give nothing of themselves in return. They make cowardly excuses for not attending milestone events in our children’s lives. For example, they did not attend either our daughter’s bas mitzvah or her high school graduation. And this year, be’ezras Hashem, three of our children will graduate from various schools. While my in-laws chose to attend their favorite granddaughter’s graduation, they are planning to travel out of the country to attend their neighbors’ daughter’s wedding at the time of our family’s smachot.

All this is very painful to us. Not only does it hurt us as parents, but it also does irreparable damage to their grandchildren.

I write this letter with great hurt and a heavy heart. It is probably too late for my in-laws to undo the damage that has been done, but perhaps it will enlighten others to think before they cause such grief to their children and grandchildren.

Thank you in advance for reading my letter. Hopefully, you will address my situation.

Name Withheld

Dear Name Withheld:

I hear your pain and realize that whatever my answer, it cannot possibly repair the damage that’s been caused in your relationship with your in-laws, whose side of the story I have not heard.

The in-law relationship is generally a challenging one, and many find that there is a closer relationship between grandchildren and the parents of their mother. This is certainly dependent, in large measure, on the personalities of the in-laws and the manner in which the children treat them. I know many people whose children are closer to their paternal grandparents because of more interest, more availability, and the fact that they live closer to them.

I hope that you accord your in-laws kibud av va’eim. However, it appears that your pain is deep and that the constant rejection must be difficult for you, your spouse, and your children. Have you attempted to engage outside intervention, such as a rav or therapist, to try to address these issues with your in-laws in a respectful manner? Do your in-laws feel so secure with your children, because they are frum, and feel a greater need to be more involved with their other grandchildren who may be struggling with various issues? As the saying goes: “The squeaky wheel gets more grease”; namely, parents sometimes make the mistake of giving more attention to the children they feel have more problems. Just thinking about your situation differently may make you less angry and hurt, which will enable you to speak about your feelings without getting into a fight.

If you show your in-laws this letter and attempt to speak to them in a respectful manner about the pain that you are experiencing, perhaps a healing process may begin. Is it possible they don’t realize they are hurting you and that they don’t consciously behave this way to cause you pain? Do they feel comfortable when they are with you and your family, or do they feel unwanted in any way? Outside help will likely help you address all these distressing issues.

I invite Jewish Press readers to share their ideas on how to solve this difficult situation. Hearing from in-laws might shed some much-needed light.

I receive many letters from in-law children who feel slighted or unloved. Difficulties in relationships often arise because of a misunderstanding. When one feels hurt, one acts in a cool or upset manner, which may be misinterpreted by the other party as a slight. This scenario is the first crack in a relationship. If one of the parties has the strength to address this “crack” in a helpful and calm manner, the issue is likely resolvable in a quick and almost painless fashion. However, both parties all too often feel wronged and hurt, and the relationship begins to deteriorate. While these types of misunderstandings are so easy to fix, someone must be emotionally strong enough to do so.

Conceivably, there was a misunderstanding early in the relationship with your in-laws that has now become a colossal rift. I ask you to take a step back from your anguish and reframe the situation in a way that gives your in-laws the benefit of the doubt. Then attempt to speak to them in a loving manner about how important it is for you to be close with them. From an emotional standpoint, this may be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. But if you can succeed, you will reap huge rewards in this world and in the World to Come.

It’s also possible that your in-laws are very insecure and do not know how to act while around you. They may feel that you do not like them or want them around, not realizing that this might stem from the way they’ve behaved toward you. Since we can never know how a person feels until we’re in their shoes, please do your best to keep an open mind. Hatzlachah!

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