Q: I sometimes think it is more difficult to be a parent to my married children than to my teenagers. Maybe because my teenage children live in the same house with my husband and me, they can see how we worry, and how what they do affects us. They see that, for better or worse, there are consequences to their actions. They listen to what we say (but whether they’ll do as we say is another story…).
I’ve been told that I can’t talk directly to my married daughter anymore (forget about my son-in-law!), as that is mother-in-law meddling. My husband just quotes the famous quip: “We have to open our wallets and close our mouths.”
I can’t help but worry when I notice that my 34-year-old daughter seems worn out and constantly overwhelmed. She is working full-time while managing a house — bli ayin hara with lively children. I feel like I could give her helpful suggestions, but I might be seen as being judgmental or criticizing my son-in-law’s involvement (or lack of it). My daughter is always concerned about him being taken care of and having time to learn. Sometimes I feel like saying that slavery was abolished by Abraham Lincoln, but that is obviously not helpful. She’s just not the same as when she lived in our home. How can we help?
A: What is going on in your daughter’s marriage may seem apparent to you, yet you still are “on the outside looking in.” I am not questioning your perception of your daughter as unhappy, but there can be several causes for a problematic state of affairs. Her unhappiness may be due to a challenging marital situation or even to her being too much of martyr — by choice.
If the marital relationship itself is problematic, both sides often help exacerbate conflict. (This is not accurate in situations that involve spouses with addictive personalities, personality disorders or other serious psychological impairments.) Most relationships are cyclical; one person begins being verbally negative, the other responds — and the cycle continues.
There is a reason the term mother-in-law elicits sneers in many cultures: spouses often feel that mothers- and fathers-in-law never consider anyone as being good enough for their children. They feel that in-laws can be overbearing.
As in all situations, the first thing you need to do is speak to someone with daas Torah who can help guide you. You can then clarify whether you need to be more direct and to express your concerns openly to your son-in-law at that point.
He may recommend that it may be preferable not to directly involve yourself. However, if your daughter has personally approached you, you cannot ignore her words. (You did not mention whether or not she did.) Even though you may have many years of life experience and therefore feel able to offer good advice, Hashem can find others to help your daughter. For example, it is preferable that a sibling or close friend speak to her in an attempt to be of assistance.
If you speak to your daughter of your concern about her being overwhelmed (without questioning her husband’s role in the situation), you can help her problem-solve, possibly by involving outside help or time-management ideas. If time away is needed to help your daughter re-evaluate how she is managing her life, you can offer to take your grandchildren for a few days.