Pesach With My In-Laws

Q: I can greatly relate to the woman who has mixed feelings about being with extended family over Yom Tov. My issues are not the same, but the feelings are similar.

My in-laws always invite us to visit them with our children, but when we’re there they lose patience and become very critical of my husband and me (and, of course, our “chutzpadik” children). They are convinced that we are doing something wrong in our parenting to have children that can’t sit too long at a seudah or who have trouble giving over a dvar Torah that lasts more than two minutes. Some of our children say “please” and “thank you” more often and some say it less; this is true. But that has less to do with us than it does with their friends. They basically speak the way their friends do, not very polite.

When my children speak about topics my in-laws consider narishkeit (general foolishness), their grandparents have limited patience to listen and not make an unpleasant comment. If the kids leave a mess anywhere, we are notified in no time. My in-laws want their grandchildren to feel comfortable in their house (in theory), but they don’t make it easy for us. If they think we favor one child over another in a conflict, we’ll soon hear about it.

My husband has spoken to his parents about these issues from time to time, and sometimes they refrain from their negative comments and annoyed looks. However, we can’t expect the children’s behavior to be good all the time.

Pesach is right around the corner. What should we do?

A: The fact that your in-laws have made attempts to be less critical towards your children shows that they are not totally rigid in their thinking and actions. Many older adults have been taught that being critical towards others will help those others become aware of their shortcomings and make the appropriate changes to their behavior. Though this might be true in some cases, grandchildren want to view their grandparents’ home as a place of unconditional love, and criticism from such a source will usually be disappointing and unhelpful.

Although offering direct compliments might not be a form of communication with which your in-laws are at ease, your husband can suggest implementing such communication possibilities to help improve the quality of the grandparent/grandchild relationship.

Your children, on the other hand, need to realize that kibbud av va’eim extends to grandparents, and that some mitzvos require more effort than others. Understanding how your in-laws see criticism as a form of caring may allow your children to be less resentful towards such comments directed at them. A frank discussion about possible responses (or non-responses) to uncomfortable comments may lead to a form of preventive self-protection for your children. Preparing and utilizing affirmative thought patterns (positive self-talk) can help family members to better deal with this situation. A positive affirmation could be: “I am doing the best with the situation that is presented before me,” or “I am able to choose my reaction to this situation.” Sometimes humor can be used in response to your children’s “mishaps” (if your in-laws would not consider this disrespectful).

If, however, the point being made by your in-laws is important to focus on, you can stress the message behind their words — in a more comfortable way than how it was originally conveyed. In fact, if your in-laws’ request is to have your children be more compliant with rules, you can set up a reward system for the time you are all together to help motivate them. Being able to sit at a Yom Tov table and say a more complex dvar Torah is not an unreasonable request for grandparents to make.

Clearly, if your in-laws’ criticism is very severe, daas Torah should be consulted on how to deal with this situation.