Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I am in a terrible situation and, at the risk of losing my sanity, my family and my marriage, I don’t see any way out. The onset of the pandemic has caused me no end of grief and aggravation and if the coronavirus doesn’t kill me, this surely will.
Right after Purim and just before New York City went into lockdown mode, my wife insisted we bring her elderly mother and my newly widowed father to live with us in our three bedroom apartment. This meant putting our two older boys, ages eight and ten, down in the basement to sleep and the two youngest children, ages three and six, into our bedroom so as to free up the two bedrooms for the grandparents. Under other circumstances this bizarre situation might have had a small chance of working, were it not for the fact that her mother and my father do not get along. In fact they don’t like each other at all! I tried to point this out to her, but she was determined to make it work, so in the end, I went along with it.
From the moment my mother-in-law set foot in the house and found my father settling into the larger of the two bedrooms, the trouble started. She insisted she be given the larger room because she had a walker and a wheelchair that required more room. My father, on the other hand, came with a box of his favorite seforim, his collection of chazzonishe tapes and CD’s that required special space. To solve this issue took the wisdom of Solomon and a coin toss to decide who got the larger room and my mother-in-law won out. This set off a war of wills that persists to this day and each day presents us with new challenges that force us to take sides and ultimately leaves us with one parent angry with us for choosing in the others favor. The fights seem never ending and the wear and tear of being in tight quarters with four lively and inquisitive children only exacerbates an already impossible situation.
My nerves are raw from their constant complaining, impossible demands and lack of understanding and consideration, not to mention gratitude for what we gave up to have them with us and give them the care and the security of having all their needs met. I find myself snapping at my wife for putting us in this situation and for orchestrating the intrusion of our privacy for these two undeserving and unappreciative people. I know I sound mean, harsh and unfeeling but you can’t imagine what it’s like living in a noisy, bickering and cramped chicken coop. I have reached the point where I just don’t want to be home, as it no longer has any semblance to the home I had before Covid-19.
I hope you will be able to provide some insight on how we can salvage what little is left of our respect, love and sanity, without doing any further damage.
“It is the best of times and the worst of times….” so begins the story of A Tale Of Two Cities, a saga that covers the hardships during the French Revolution. Whenever a misfortune befalls a nation, or in this case the entire world, everyone suffers individually or collectively in some way. One thing is for sure, and that is that everyone suffers.
What we, as individuals, suffer is the loss of control over our lives, the fear for our health and well-being of our spouses and children and the mortality and vulnerability of our elderly and ailing family members. So, we hunker down and isolate ourselves in the hopes that a vaccine will be created to kill the virus before it claims any more lives. This, in essence, means giving up everything we knew as normal living and adopt a way of life that will provide the most protection and security, so that we do not pass on or contract the decimating virus.
I greatly admire both you and your wife for undertaking the daunting task of integrating your two warring and disagreeable parents into your family and home to weather the pandemic in safety. This has caused hardships for your family and life. A situation that should have been a beautiful learning experience of kibbud av v’eim for your children, was completely obliterated by the poor behavior and bickering of their grandparents with each other, and their non-appreciative stance towards you and your wife for your thoughtful and loving efforts on their behalf. Such a great learning opportunity has been lost due to their selfish and childish behavior!
You ask if there is a way to rectify this situation? The only way I can see, is to sit both your mother-in-law and your father down and explain to them that unless there is a change in their behavior towards each other and towards your wife and yourself, you can see no other way but to take them back to their respective homes. Explain to them that this constant war zone and tense environment is having a terrible effect on your children and on your marriage, and it is having a destructive impact on the family unit. I strongly feel that once these two hear what damage they are doing to their children and grandchildren, who only wanted what was best for them, they will have a change of heart as well as a change of behavior. At least I’m hoping they will. If not, follow through on your threat to send them home. Option #3, is to send them to other siblings if you and your wife have sisters or brothers who can take them until the pandemic is over.
I fully understand the hardships you are dealing with but respect and admire your intent to do the right thing. Just know that sometimes, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing, it may yield the wrong result. Wishing you health, safety and a pleasing outcome for everyone involved.