It’s Beginning to Feel Like a Burden

Q: Baruch Hashem, we had a lovely month of Yamim Tovim, and I know that I am fortunate to have a healthy and happy family. So I feel a little guilty to complain when so many others have so much less.

As you have discussed in the past, parents can be disappointed with their married children and their families. I look forward to seeing my children and grandchildren (who often come from a far distance). However, when they are here, nobody is very eager to help with serving meals or cleaning up. If I ask a grandchild directly, certain daughters (and daughters-in-law) get annoyed and insist that their children need a “vacation.” The grandchild might simply be reading a magazine and doesn’t want to leave it (lest a sibling take it and not give it back!).

It can be difficult for my grandchildren during Yom Tov, as my neighbor’s children are not eager to play with children they barely know. Kids become bored in a house that only has a certain amount of Lego. Mothers need to watch their toddlers, so I don’t expect much help from them. Sons-in-law would sometimes rather be in their own homes, and are doing their wives “a favor” by showing up at all for Yom Tov.

My children are no longer teenagers. Adult children want to speak to their relatives, whom they have not seen for a long while, in the sukkah, and are not keen to come inside and deal with the general kitchen frenzy. I’ve had cleaning help each day for a few hours, but it barely helps — the children leave things all over the floor and walk away. If I make an issue of it, the parents become defensive.

No matter how much I prepare in advance, it is the nature of how Hashem runs the world that unexpected things pop up that need to be taken care of. I appreciate the warmth that family members feel towards each other. I love to hear singing in the sukkah. But hosting the family is getting to be too much of a burden on me, as everyone else wants a “vacation.”

I’ve tried charts with the grandchildren, but they are short-lived. My children don’t want to give nosh as rewards. Cheap toys break quickly, and everything else is too expensive.

I have already taken your advice about ways to prevent stressful situations by having Jewish books available for my grandchildren to read and initiating advance discussions about issues that might possibly occur.

Any other suggestions?

A: The effort you put into making Yom Tov is admirable. Yet, one’s satisfaction in life is totally connected to one’s expectations.

With younger children who are not yet married, daily relationships exist and expectations are usually understood. Thus, receiving needed help before, during and after Yom Tov is usually a workable possibility.

When older children begin to marry, there are still younger siblings at home who can and do assist, feeling more connected to their original nuclear family. Young and energetic, they can help you and also help their married siblings by taking care of their nieces and nephews.

When children are older and out of the house (whether married or single), their loyalties shift, and they have their own adult obligations and stresses to contend with. Grown children often view their parents as being eternally 30 years old and never aging. Just as you expect a modicum of assistance from family members, children often unrealistically expect you to be eternally self-reliant and nurturing.

As you honestly point out, the truth about this situation probably lies somewhere between your version and that of your relatives. Thus, my response is limited. There may be other issues involved between family members that you may not be aware of. However, you need to make an honest assessment of what your expectations are and what you can comfortably live with for future Yom Tov hosting. Unfortunately, we cannot modify the behavior of others, especially when they are adults; rather, we need to see if we can modify our own expectations. If not, these same family members (you and your spouse included) can relocate to another sukkah and continue the family tradition in another location.