Dear Dr. Yael,
I love Pesach, but even though I am extremely grateful for my nine children, their spouses, and my grandchildren, Pesach has become incredibly stressful. Baruch Hashem, we own an exceptionally large home with a great deal of bedrooms and bathrooms, and I have full time help. However, the children arrive for Pesach, splitting the first and second days of yom tov, and the couples think they are in a hotel. They allow the children to roam around, and be wild and destructive (the children are definitely more wild because they have their cousins and are excited to be with them, but either way, their parents are not supervising them appropriately). My children expect babysitting help and to be served delectable food, but do not offer to help clean up or prepare for Pesach. I hire a lot of extra help, cater some of the food, and serve on fancy paper goods. However, with every shortcut that I take, I still end up feeling exhausted and resentful that my wonderful children and grandchildren are not behaving properly. I know it sounds like my children are spoiled and uncaring, but this is not true. I host my children during the year separately and it is a more pleasant experience.
Please Dr. Respler give me ideas on how to parent my grown children properly. I have wonderful hardworking, frum children. Some learn full time and some work. They were helpful when they were not married. What happened to them?! I am really upset that I resent yom tov. It takes me weeks to recuperate and get my house in order after Pesach and I often must repair things that my grandchildren break. The couples go to sleep in the afternoon, so I hire babysitters (usually non-Jewish) and I stay up to supervise these babysitters so that my grandchildren are properly supervised.
Please give me suggestions on how to parent my grown married children without making waves. Our policy as parents has always been to keep our mouths shut and our pocketbooks open. My children always are very thankful for all the care that we give them, but I feel resentful that they don’t help and see our home as a vacation spot. I don’t want to feel like a slave on Pesach. The Jews were free from slavery in Mitzraim on Pesach. Please help me deal with this situation.
A Loyal Reader
Dear Loyal Reader,
I know that Pesach is a stressful time for many women. It sounds like your children enjoy being together and at some point they got the message that they are on vacation. However, you must help them realize, in a loving manner, that this has become too overwhelming for you. The most important thing for you to do is to set boundaries with your grown children. Think of when you go on a plane and before takeoff, they give you instructions on what to do if there are any problems on the flight. One of the directions is that if the oxygen masks come down due to plane failure, you must first put the mask on yourself, and then you can put the mask on your young child. I always liked to use this as a mashal to teach people how important it is to take care of ourselves before we take care of our children. Similarly with adult children, we must take care of ourselves in order to take care of our adult children and grandchildren.
In order to take care of yourself, you have to set some ground rules. These do not have to be set with any strictness or anger; but you have to be clear and stick to your boundaries. You must make time for yourself to rest every day. If you want to help your children so they can rest, you must first take 1-2 hours for yourself. Having some quiet time for yourself will help you recharge and help you be the mother/grandmother that you want to be. You can suggest to your children that they can take turns supervising as you have hired babysitters to watch all of the children in the afternoon. Explain to your children that you love them and want them to enjoy yom tov, but you need to recharge your batteries.
You can also encourage your daughters/daughters-in-law to join you in the kitchen, so you can spend some time with them. Instead of complaining to your children that you need more help, you can just say when you get up to serve/clean up, “come girls, I’d love your help and your company in the kitchen.” It is likely that your daughters/daughters-in-law do not even realize that they are sitting and schmoozing while you do all of the work. You can also encourage the men (your husband and sons/sons-in-law) to help! Your sons/sons-in-law may get up if they see your husband doing so. If your children are just overwhelmed by their children and thus cannot be as helpful as they would like, perhaps you can consider hiring more help such as waitresses (as long as you are comfortable with this). It is also imperative that you get out of the house daily and a walk with your husband, a friend, or some of your children/grandchildren can be very good for your mental health as well. Make sure to also eat, so you do not feel angry because you are starving. Many mothers will make sure the the children are fed, but they forget to eat themselves, which is a recipe for disaster!
My favorite line in dealing with our children is “Bread [or Matzah], water, cleaning help and babysitting. When I spoke in Canada before COVID I had someone pick me up from the airport and they heard me speak over Pesach. I asked them what you gleaned from my four lectures thinking they would give me deep meaningful insights. Instead, he answered me “Well I hired full time help and it saved my marriage. I am remarkably busy at work and involved in my community. So now the help does a lot , and my wife is happy.”
I realize from your letter that you do try to get as much outside help as possible, so it seems like you need to help your children realize that you are not a hotel. I often speak to people, and they tell me that they benefit so much from my focus on self-care and how that makes you a healthier and happier parent/grandparent.
It would also be a good idea to tell your children, in a loving way, that this year you will expect them to supervise their children in your house. You want them to enjoy yom tov and to relax, but they cannot let their children be wild with their cousins and break stuff. You can assure them that you know that all of their children would never do this on their own, but that the lively atmosphere and all of the cousins together sometimes encourages them to do things they would never otherwise do. You do not want your children to feel bad or defensive, so it is important to make sure they do not feel you are targeting their children. Additionally, you’ll ultimately have to decide if you want to talk about their children breaking things or you’d rather just fix things quietly. Perhaps you can find a happy medium, but you cannot continue to host your children and feel resentful.
You as a grandparent are entitled to enjoy yom tov. Pesach should not cause you to become an indentured servant. Almost anything can be said, as long as it is said with love and care. Make sure you do a lot of self care before you talk to your children and before your children arrive and try to rest and get out for a walk daily to help maintain your sanity!
I wish you hatzlacha in dealing with your children and grandchildren. I hope that these ideas help you have a more enjoyable Pesach.