Special Note: Subsequent to the publication of my article on the conflict between a young woman and her mother-in-law, I received an avalanche of mail. I feel very saddened to share with you that these letters all reflected anger, resentment, and most tragic of all, a deterioration of what used to be the beautiful cohesiveness of Jewish family life. Of course, I am aware that there are countless people out there who do enjoy the blessing of shalom bayis, but that does not minimize the reality of the conflicts that are plaguing us today. It also appears that this conflict is not only prevalent among in-law children, but between mothers and daughters as well. I am publishing two of these letters.
Letter # 1
A Troubled Daughter’s Perspective
I would like to respond to your most recent column about daughters/daughters-in-law. For a while now, I have had a serious problem with my mother. Hashem has blessed me with four wonderful children. For the majority of the week, except for Shabbat, I am alone with them. My husband works two jobs and doesn’t come home until very late after the kids have gone to bed. Thank G-d, we are able to send the older three to school and so, during the day, I am only with the baby. It is much easier than last year when I was home with two little ones. Having just one at home makes a big difference. I am able to breathe a little, but I still have responsibility for one.
In the evenings it is a constant challenge for me not to lose my mind. I have to do dinner, bed and bath, all alone. On nights when I lose it, which is too often, I think I break down once the kids are sleeping. I don’t so much feel sorry for myself. It’s more about the memories they will have of their mother constantly yelling or shushing them or hurrying them up.
I don’t want to be that mother. I have nowhere to turn. I pray constantly. Every minute actually, as my days go on. The only time I get a break is when they are all sleeping, and even then, I am full of anxiety waiting for one of them to wake up.
I am overworked; usually I go through the week in the same clothes. I don’t have time to look decent, never mind to wear clean clothes. I need a break, and wouldn’t you think that a woman could at least turn to her mother for help? Not in my case. My mother is selfish. She never cares to baby-sit. She knows exactly how hard I work.
She herself raised four kids. I never complain to her. All I do is ask her to baby-sit. In the past, whenever I would ask her, before she answered, we would go through the usual questions: “Where are you going? When will you be home? Can’t so-and-so baby-sit? ” This was followed by, “Well, I don’t know…I’m really tired.”
I would get so angry and argue with her until she agreed, and when she finally did agree, I didn’t feel like having her baby-sit anymore. She made me feel so awful for asking. As the months went on I just got tired of asking her to baby-sit. If I asked and she said no, I just accepted it without pleading my case.
A few months ago my husband and I were invited to a wedding. We were so excited to finally get out. She agreed to baby-sit, but showed up late. We missed the chuppah, which upset us. When we told her that, she said, “Oh well.” Then we were invited to one of the sheva berachot. It was close to home. I told her that the groom noticed that we weren’t at the chuppah…hint, hint…and we wanted to make it up to him by going to the sheva berachot. She agreed after I told her it would only be a couple of hours.
Well, it ran late. Once the clock began ticking, I started to get anxiety. I couldn’t leave early because the Rabbi had just arrived. In the car, on the way home, I told my husband that we couldn’t go out anymore. It’s not worth the anxiety.
When we got home, she gave me an earful. I felt physically sick afterward. How dare she make me feel guilty? This has been my whole life. My mother constantly plays mind games. I asked her once to baby-sit early in the morning so that I could attend a bris. She didn’t want to, but instead of telling the truth, she went on and said that I didn’t need to go because they didn’t come to mine. UGH!
A few months ago I had it out with her. I told her “I am your daughter. You should want to help me out. You should want to see me have a night with my husband without the kids.” Before the wedding that my husband and I attended, I think the last time we went out was in 2006. She will never do anything that is too hard for her.
The part that gets me the angriest is that she started to become more observant, but she doesn’t know what it’s like to do mitzvot and chesed. Her reply to the above was that she baby-sat enough with the two older ones. That’s right. Punish me because I am giving you more grandchildren.
Rebbetzin, with the help of my husband, I have come to accept that this is my mother. She is not going to change. But now, I have come to the point where I can honestly say that I resent her.
The sad part is that my mother-in-law doesn’t care to help either, so we are totally alone. A while back, my husband and I and the kids spent Shabbat at a rabbi’s house. I got to talk with one of the other guests. We were talking about life and she told me how, when her kids were younger, she had such a great support system from her siblings. They were always willing to help out. I told my husband that that was a slap in my face. I need to accept that if Hashem wanted me to have a mother that cared, I would.
I pray every day for Hashem to send me help. Someone that I can turn to. Because I don’t have a baby-sitter, I miss out on many lectures and Rosh Chodesh events. I guess the world is no longer like it used to be…when it would take a village to raise a child. Grandmothers today are too absorbed in their own world of doing lunch, getting their nails put on or their hair blow-dried.
Rebbetzin, thank you for letting me vent. I would love to hear any advice you may have.
Letter # 2
A Mother-In-Law’s Perspective
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
They say that before Mashiach comes, daughters and daughters-in- law will go against their mothers. Sadly, I think I can testify to this.
I have been a mother-in-law for many years now. My daughter-in-law lives out of town, and even when they lived in town, my husband and I always helped in every way we could – and we both work. We did everything possible for them, whether it was money, taking the children for Shabbos so their parents could go on vacation, helping when the mother was sick, baby-sitting – the list goes on and on. There is no end to what we were asked to do or what we wanted to do and did. P.S. I also work, cook and take care of my house – and have part-time help.
As I read this letter, I hear the same words that I heard come out of my daughter-in-law’s mouth less than six months ago – how in-laws do not do enough and have to help more (by the way, I was wondering whether the two girls are friends).
When they come for a visit or a Yom Tov, they feel they are on vacation and need not help out at all. Recently, my daughter-in-law asked me to take the children for a few days. I told her that this time, I could not …for the first time in 20 years, I said no. Well, World War III broke out! Now, she doesn’t talk to me, and I was shocked at the words that came out of her mouth…by the way each time I did not or could not do something for her, she attacked me, and I have only said no twice.
Where does it say how much an in-law has to do? Where does it say that a daughter-in-law who is six months pregnant cannot help – being pregnant is not an illness? Where is it written that a husband can tell his wife, “If you go to my parents, you don’t need to help, they will understand?” My daughter-in-law has never been in my shoes – does she have the right to judge me?
No mother-in-law requires her daughter-in-law to wash her floors…but just to lend a hand, and if they resent helping, where are their husbands? Why don’t they do something?
I have another daughter-in-law whom I expect to help when they come – set the table, clear off, make sure diapers are not lying around, and they both work full-time and have small kids.
A mother-in-law doesn’t have to do a thing if she chooses not to, and daughters-in-law should help when they come. At the very least, they should ask their mothers-in-law what they could do to assist, or they should bring something for the Shabbos table, or ask their mother-in-law how their week went. Such a question would reflect some consideration and sensitivity. After all, mothers-in-law are people too!
From a mother-in-law who’s had it!
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis