Dear Dr. Yael,
Baruch Hashem, I am happily married with children. I cannot say that I am writing about a problem, but my husband and I wanted to reach out for some advice. My husband and I have opened our home to hosting many different guests for meals. Sometimes it’s for a kiruv or singles Shabbaton, and other times it’s just people who have stayed by us in the past and ask to come back. Baruch Hashem, we are known as people you can call for a meal. We often host on Shabbos and Yom Tov and we feel privileged to do this chesed, though sometimes it is overwhelming.
The issue is that some of these people need a lot of attention and lately I feel that it takes away from our children. Both my husband and I are outgoing people and our home is open to hosting events and helping others. We try to always have one meal alone with our children, so they can get our undivided attention at least for one meal every Shabbos. Sometimes people call Friday, just a few hours before Shabbos, asking to come for a meal. Lately we just can’t seem to enforce the rule that one meal is for our family only. How can we say no to an older single or a baal or baalas teshuva who has nowhere to eat on Shabbos or Yom Tov? On the one hand, we feel strongly that we need to preserve one meal for our children only, on the other hand, we feel torn or pressured if someone calls right before shabbos with nowhere else to go.
In general, we make an effort to spend time with our children. We take them out and on fun vacations. My husband is very active in learning every night and on Shabbos and Yom Tov with our sons. I also try to spend special time with all of our children. I want to continue being a house of chesed, but not at the expense of my own children’s needs. Sometimes people come and they end up dominating the meal by getting all the attention and not allowing others to speak. Our children get lost in all the drama, which is really upsetting to me. Please advise us how to put boundaries on our Shabbos and Yom Tov table, so our children will end up being the focus more on Shabbos and Yom Tov. During the week we are both very careful to focus on our children and limit our personal phone time. While we do have date night alone once in a while, we both try to make our children the focus of our lives. At the same time, I know so many people who struggle with children, their marriages, shidduchim, health and finances that we both feel we need to help lonely people. Please advise us how to balance these two very special priorities.
Dear A Reader,
Thank you for writing this important letter. Baruch Hashem you have many brochas. Hashem treats us the way we treat other people. I am sure that all the wonderful things you have are related to the chesed that you do.
Unfortunately people must envy your position in life and may not realize how much pressure they are putting on you due to their own issues. You must work on setting boundaries in your lives. You should strongly try to stick with your policy of having no strangers or guests one meal and guests the other meal on Shabbos and Yom Tov. If someone calls last minute, maybe you can have them join the meal already designated for guests. If you try hard to stick to this policy, word will get out that you have meals where guests are invited and meals that are just for family.
It is very hard, but you can respectfully tell people how you feel and limit guests to one meal. You are correct that your children need your undivided attention and that it is crucial to stick to your one meal per Shabbos policy. Perhaps if you have any friends that are also as gracious as you are you can switch off which meal is family time only and send those last minute guests to each other for the meals that are open to guests (e.g., if Friday night is a family meal for you, maybe your friend can make Shabbos day a family meal for her family, and you can each host guests for the opposite meal).
May Hashem continue to give you much bracha and koach to always do all of the amazing things that you do! I wish you hatzlacha in this challenging situation.