Your letter gives us the impression that you have visited your in-laws on more than a handful of occasions in the past and enjoyed your stay – at least to the degree of looking forward to repeat visits. That is, until this last time when you were put off by a rather austere dressing down.
As in-law relationships go, consider yourself fortunate. By your own depiction, the “change of scenery” does you good, you feel rewarded by seeing your children interacting with their grandparents, and you recognize your in-laws’ devotion to their children by the loving way they accommodate you.
We all have our moments and say things we would love to be able to take back. Your father-in-law may have been short on sleep, had a stressful week, or perhaps wasn’t feeling well when he let loose with his harsh criticism.
Not least of all and a reality widely recognized by psychologists, children of Holocaust survivors are inevitably affected by the trauma and unimaginable pain their parents suffered. The emotional scars etched deep within the psyche of survivors never heal, the memories of deprivation and the mournfulness over the loss of their loved ones never dissipating.
They have subconsciously transmitted these remnants of eternal sadness to their offspring (your in-laws among them). Your father-in-law suddenly conjured up an image of his own parents’ starvation – a picture that has been ingrained in his mind since his childhood.
You needn’t have any second thoughts about your role during those tense few moments at the Shabbos table and certainly have nothing to be sorry for. You said and did the right thing. Had you chosen to insert yourself in the discussion, it might have heated up and subsequently you might have had reason to be regretful. As it happened, your husband handled the situation admirably by keeping his cool, and both you and your mother-in-law did just the right amount of damage control to defuse the tension.
Relax and enjoy … for nothing lasts forever.