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Setting Boundaries On Family Yom Tov Visits

Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press continues to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.

 

Setting Boundaries On Family Yom Tov Visits

 

In the weeks since the recent Yom Tovim I’ve been hearing from quite a few mothers whose adult children came home for Yom Tov with their families. 

These mothers are especially frustrated with daughters and daughters-in-law who feel they are on vacation when they visit for Yom Tov. These young women act as if they are staying at a resort that offers maid, dining, and baby-sitting services.

To begin with, their complaint is not unique to their families. I do not mean this to be an expression of comfort, for I do not believe any decent person derives consolation from the knowledge that other people share their difficulties. My mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, of blessed memory, was always annoyed when people tried to offer comfort by pointing to those who had even greater tsoris. 

“Should it make me happy to know that someone else has even more trouble than I do?” she would ask.

I have never forgotten her words and I try not to resort to glib responses when people speak of their personal pain. So why am I mentioning this? Because parents have a way of flagellating themselves – “It must be my fault. I didn’t raise them properly.” This self-condemnation can be endless, so I would like to assure all those mothers and fathers who blame themselves for their childrens’ chutzpah that it is not necessarily they who are responsible, but that the root of the problem may be traced to cultural aberrations that are symptomatic of our times.

Nowadays, people (and there are always exceptions to every rule) have an attitude that in Yiddish is referred to as “es kumpt mir” – “it’s coming to me” or “I’m entitled.” Always entitled and never indebted. Appreciation is a foreign concept to this generation; a genuine, heartfelt “thank you” is rarely heard. And the colossal chutzpah of this generation is often manifested by a lack of kibbud av va’em (honoring father and mother).

Having said that, let us try to deal with the problem at hand. Some people would advise these mothers to remain silent and be grateful they have children who are willing to come home. “Keep your mouth closed and your pocketbook open,” they may recommend, quoting a Yiddish saying: “Years ago, parents taught children to speak. Today, children teach parents to be silent.”

I do not believe that we, the Jewish people, who heard G-d Himself proclaim “Honor your father and your mother,” should ever accept such perfidy or compromise our legacy in favor of a vacuous and decadent society. Rather than parents “zipping their lips,” they have a responsibility to talk and teach. Obviously, precautions must be taken that this be done in a positive, constructive manner rather than in a destructive and harmful way. 

When you invite your children or when they call and announce their intention to spend Yom Tov with you, speak with joyous enthusiasm: “Daddy and I will be so happy to have you with us for Yom Tov.” 

After expressing delight at the prospect of their visit, ask what you can do to make their stay more enjoyable. For example, is there any special dish they would like you to prepare? What would be a good toy to buy for the children? Admittedly, this can be somewhat tricky, for they might ask for something beyond your means. In that event, don’t be embarrassed to tell them that in these difficult economic times you have to be more cautious in your spending. 

Having assured them you are prepared to do whatever you can to make their stay a wonderful experience, you can proceed to inform them of the rules of the house.

You might say something to this effect: “I know you’ll understand that we’ll need you to pitch in with cleaning, cooking, baby-sitting, etc., because as much as I would like to, I can’t possibly do everything myself.”  

Should it happen that both your daughter and daughter-in-law are coming for the same days of Yom Tov, warn your daughter to refrain from criticizing her sister-in-law if she feels she in not doing her share. Such remarks can only lead to serious family disruptions that, G-d forbid, can split a family.

Should it happen that, despite making these guidelines clear, your daughter (or daughter-in-law) fails to abide by them, be careful not to criticize her in the presence of others or complain to one regarding the conduct of the other. That type of an exchange can only cause terrible damage, with long-lasting ramifications   

What you should do is take that individual aside and, in a warm voice and kind words, tell her you would really appreciate it if she would pick up after her children, not leave dirty diapers around, or go visiting friends and expect you to baby sit and prepare the seudah at the same time. The manner in which you couch your words, the body language you use, the love that emanates from you – these will make all the difference.

At the end of the day, grandparents have to realize it is up to them to set boundaries. If they are afraid to do so, they will have to accept the consequences.