Dear Dr. Yael:
Regarding your recent column on in-laws, here are my views on the subject – based on my experiences. I hope they’re helpful.
Both my paternal grandmother and my mother-in-law, despite the substantial achievements of their sons’ children, rejected their sons’ families in favor of their daughters.’
I always think of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Psycho,” wherein the grown son so closely identifies with his mother that he is jealous on her behalf of any other woman he finds attractive. He essentially takes on the identity of his mother and becomes murderous.
My experiences with my paternal grandmother and my mother-in-law were similar. They both identified so strongly with their daughters that they became jealous and resentful of their daughters-in-law. They would not attend the weddings and bar mitzvahs of their sons’ children, essentially distancing themselves by being supportive primarily of the daughters’ families. They ignored the accomplishments of the sons’ family members, who attempted to forge relationships with the grandmothers. When visiting these grandmothers, the pictures on the walls would be suddenly changed from full display of the daughter’s family to those of the son’s family. Of course it was always expected that the minute the company left, the wall pictures would return to its original display.
The daughter-in-law must understand that jealousy is at the root of the problem, and it cannot be overcome by confrontation or any similar means. Based on my experience, if you consistently show kindness, the grandmother will, at some point, find a grandchild that she identifies with or wants to take pride in. This allows for your family to be re-introduced into her life. Keep in mind that this may take many, many years to happen – if it happens at all.
In my case, my mother-in-law compared my daughter’s beauty with her own picture as a young adult. This propelled her to show up at her wedding. She did this after refusing to come to two weddings and a bar mitzvah of our children. So take heart: you never know if or when jealousy might be overcome to the extent that the grandparents want to enjoy the nachas of identifying with your family. But don’t push it; that will backfire on you.
Ultimately, if you are aware that jealousy is at the root of the problem, you can take solace that you and your family are doing well. You can thank Hashem for these blessings. I believe that it is far better to be shunned due to jealousy than to be pitied due to ongoing issues. Be careful to avoid arrogance by not extensively discussing the virtues of your family members to those who are prone to jealousy. This can only fuel more envy.
Finally, do not worry about the grandchildren. So long as they have good parental relationships and communication, they will be fine. On the positive side, they will learn that family relationships have complexities that are not always rational or controllable. They will also learn that despite disappointments that they will inevitably experience, respect and kindness to parents and grandparents remain essential qualities that must be practiced. With this knowledge, they are better equipped to understand and react more maturely to future complex relationships.
I hope my thoughts on this issue offer comfort and are helpful.
Dr. C. L. W.
Dear Dr. C.L.W.:
Thank you for your insightful letter regarding your challenging plight.
It is truly painful when grandparents ignore their son’s children. All grandchildren should be treated in an equally loving manner. It is amazing that you were able to process what happened to you and deal with it in the best possible way. While you would not be at fault if you felt hurt and decided to shut out your in-laws, you seem to have taken the high road by continuing to try to form a relationship between them and your children.
The grandchildren will likely be fine, as long as they have good parental relationships and understand that their grandparents’ detachment has nothing to do with them. Nevertheless, it is still their loss, as a good relationship with grandparents can be a treasure and an additional source of self-confidence. It also leads to a positive sense of self.