(Situations and Relationships altered as requested)
In the past two weeks I have shared two letters from well spouses who were dealing with difficult machitanim. One pair of machitanim was coming to visit for the birth of a new grandchild but insisted that their daughter in law’s mother not be present at the Shabbos meals, or they would not come. The other letter dealing with difficult machatanim was from a well spouse whose daughter is soon to be married. It seemed that this well spouse and her husband could do nothing that did not offend the groom’s parents. Everything from helping the children with the expense of visiting on Yom Tov to using the father’s title “Rabbi” on the invitation appeared to be seen as a deliberate offense. Both letter writers wanted help in dealing with these difficult people. They wanted to make peace. They wanted to know how to survive their own discomfort and stress when they’re forced to be together with people who appear to be so openly hostile. Perhaps, they wondered, they should avoid contact all together.
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Toxic people need to be avoided, for they are simply bad for your health. However, this cannot be done when they are relatives, particularly parents. It is important for the couple about to be married to realize the pitfalls they will encounter by having one set of parents who may be toxic. They need to know that finding constant fault with the bride’s family is probably not going to stop after the chupah. It will, in fact, probably escalate. Though the groom’s parents may have not yet extended their constant criticism to their future daughter-in-law, it is probably only a matter of time before they will. Constantly verbalizing the faults of the bride and her family to anyone who is a captive audience (including the husband) may only be a matter of time. Chances are, issues of how the grandchildren are raised when the time comes, and the grandchildren’s behavior (as a result of their “upbringing”), will eventually be included in their tirades as well.
It is important for the young couple to realize what they are headed for if they choose to go through with the wedding. It is very important for the groom to realize that he should not allow his parents to mistreat or speak badly of his wife in his presence. He should never allow his parents to make him choose between them and his wife. His wife must be his first priority and he needs to protect her from his possibly toxic parents.
He can refuse to listen to his parents’ lashon horah with politeness and appropriate derech eretz. He can still honor his parents, while making it clear that if they choose to speak negatively about his wife or children, he will simply have to leave or hang up the phone and speak with them at another time. If the parents tell him they will only visit the grandchildren if the wife is not present, he should not accommodate their request. It will not be an easy future for any of them and a rav should be sought out for advice.
As far as the couple that is already married and about to have a simcha that his parents refuse to attend if the wife’s mother is present, it is important to remember that it is their choice. The young couple should, in no way, exclude his wife’s mother in order to appease his own. They are making a simcha. His parents are welcome. His mother-in-law is welcome. Whether or not his parents choose to attend under these circumstances is up to them. It is a family simcha and should remain so.
As far as the wife’s mother’s concern for peace, she must realize that accommodating toxic people has no end. If she does not attend Shabbos dinner at her machitanim’s request, what will be next? Will she not attend the bris or naming or the bar mitzvah later on, just to keep her machitanim from reacting? Giving in to inappropriate threats just leads to more threats. It does not lead to peace. And what of her daughter who is about to give birth? How will she feel not having her mother with her at her simcha?
It is true that the wife’s mother will have to deal with very uncomfortable feelings as a result of just being around toxic people who have made her the target of their venom. But there are ways to handle those feelings. Difficult as it may be, her place is with her daughter and son-in-law, sharing and enhancing the simcha; not being absent in a vain attempt for peace or because of her discomfort. I will discuss ways to handle being with toxic people next week.
It is important to remember that I am writing these articles, not of normal and every day relationship problems, but of dealing specifically with toxic personalities.
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