This letter was received right before Pesach, too late for publication. However, we have chosen to print it now, as the challenges mentioned by the letter-writer are not unique to Pesach.
Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I am terrified of this Yom Tov. My in-laws are old school Europeans who are rigid and strict; the last time we spent Pesach with them was a nightmare. My two little boys were reduced to tears when my father-in-law sternly reprimanded them in front of their aunts, uncles, cousins and invited guests for making a few halting mistakes in their Mah Nishtanah presentation. When they ran away from the table in shame and in tears, he loudly announced that they would be forbidden to “steal” the Afikoman since they left the table. I went to get them, but there was no bringing them back and they refused to stay the next night, as well. This was their first such experience at my in-law’s home, as we always went to my parents for Pesach.
The contrast between my upbringing in a loving, tight knit and supportive home was hugely evident and my boys were not prepared for the stark changes they were made to endure, so when we were faced with having to go there again this year (my parents went to my sister in Eretz Yisroel), my children threw tantrums and begged to stay home or go anywhere else. My husband, who feels their pain as he keenly remembers the cold, sterile and often cruel home environment he grew up in and, Baruch Hashem, is the complete opposite of his own parents, was stuck between a rock and a hard place. As much as he would love to spare his children the pain and shame of being picked on by his cold and unforgiving father, there was no way he could say no to his parents!
Little did he know what kind of anxiety this visit poses for me as well. His mother and sisters are always critical of me – of the way I dress and the yeshiva we send our children to (and how little they know in comparison to their own children, who go to chassidishe yeshivos and have a truckload of divrei Torah and stories to tell at the table). I hate going there because it feels like I am in hostile territory, waiting to be ambushed at every turn by those stone cold and unfriendly people.
My husband is a wonderful man and a super father, and it is a miracle that he came out of that home as he did. That is the only reason I am gearing up mentally and emotionally to go through another horrible Pesach at his parents’ home. However, should they continue to mistreat my kids and me this year, it will be the last time we go there.
I was simply dumbfounded reading your letter. Pesach is a Yom Tov during where children play as great a role as the adults who impart to them the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim. There is joy at the miracles Hakodosh Boruch Hu performed, interwoven with mirth at the young ones who may, sometimes, make their presentations with a few unexpected twists due to a lapse in memory or sheer nervousness at being the center of attention. Being in the bosom of loving family and good company serves to round out the warmth and joy. It is a time to create memories that will last a lifetime. How very sad that your children will have such horrific memories of Pesach with their grandparents.
It is no credit to your in-laws that your husband turned out to be such a loving and caring individual; it is in spite of them that he became so. This is not always the case with those who grow up in such a cold and sterile environment; more often than not they grow up to repeat this treatment with their own offspring because they have normalized it.
My question to you is why do you allow yourself and your children to sit through this abuse without at least voicing your feelings? I think that as long as you remain silent about this mistreatment, you enable it to continue. Meekness never changed anything, in fact, it propagates its continuity. Should any one of your tactless in-laws do or say anything offensive to you or your children, speak up! Don’t sit there quietly and swallow it, because then you become part of the problem. This might cause a change in those who abuse you; more importantly, your children will see that they have a champion in their mother who will not allow them to be belittled or shamed and who has the courage to stand up and protect them.
And should this Pesach be a repetition of Pesach past, don’t go there for Yomim Tovim. I know this is extreme, however my thoughts lie with your children and how such cruel and abusive treatment will impact them growing up.