Dear Dr. Yael:
Although I appreciated your reply to A Loving Sister in your September 27 column, “Giving Parental Advice: Is It A Good Idea?” I was not so successful with my brother and sister-in-law after employing your advice. I hope you can help me repair my situation.
I have always had a very close relationship with my younger brother and his wife, and as my husband and I are both the eldest of our respective siblings, we seem to be the ones they all come to for parenting advice.
. My brother and his wife are wonderful people, but they are too soft with their children. They hardly set limits or rules and buy them everything they want. Baruch Hashem, they are doing well financially. While my husband and I are also comfortable, we’ve instilled in our children a value for money and an understanding that they do not need to have everything they want.
We have hardworking, responsible, and respectful children who have derech eretz for others and practice tremendous kibud av va’em. We are extremely warm and loving parents, but made sure to set limits and discipline our children. We also expected respect in return and complimented our children’s efforts to be ambitious, respectful people. By always giving our children age-appropriate jobs we enabled them to be helpful, raising their self-esteem.
On the other hand, my brother and sister-in-law appear to be raising children who are very spoiled – and their “no limits” and “no discipline” attitude is disastrous. So in an effort to avoid disaster, I gently tried to give them examples of how to pay compliments, encourage respect and increase expectations from their children. I even took their three young children for a few days so they could get away for a long weekend. I used all of my techniques and the children were wonderful with us. They received many compliments for serving and clearing the Shabbos table – things they never do at home. They also spoke respectfully to us, something that I unfortunately do not see them do on a regular basis. It seemed easy to change these children’s disrespectful and ungrateful attributes, so after the weekend my husband and I took out my brother and sister-in-law to dinner and shared with them our ideas and the success we had over the weekend.
My sister-in-law was very quiet during our talk, and since then our relationship, once very close, has become distant. My brother is also cold to us and hardly calls anymore. We are so hurt by their immature behavior.
We see a looming catastrophe ahead but still see hope for their children’s futures because they are young and responsive to our techniques. Please help us solve our difficult dilemma.
Thank you for your interesting letter.
This situation is difficult, as your brother and sister-in-law were obviously hurt, or at least embarrassed, by your advice. On the other hand, you have an obligation, as an older sibling, to help your brother. The most important thing right now is to establish communication, no matter how uncomfortable that would be. Perhaps you can take your sister-in-law out for lunch or just have a talk with her.
Begin by apologizing for having hurt her and tell her that you realize that things are not the same between you. Ask her for suggestions on repairing your strained relationship. Let your sister-in-law feel like she is in control, since people tend to become defensive if they feel that they are losing control of a situation. With that feeling, the conversation will likely deteriorate.
If it’s established that your sister-in-law is truly upset by your advice, you need to address the situation. Explain to her how much you love her and your brother and how badly you feel that you hurt her. Tell her that you know how much effort she puts into raising her children and that you never meant to criticize her. Instead, you simply wanted to share some true and tried techniques that seemed to work both with your children and with hers when you had them over for the weekend. And emphasize to her that you respect everyone’s right to do things their way.