Please Don’t Compare Us To the Mechutanim!

Q: I’m writing to get your take on what are considered realistic expectations in relation to married children and their spouses. I feel like some of my sons- and daughters-in-law are constantly comparing my husband and me to their parents. When it comes to how much money we give them or how many “favors” we do (be it to babysit or lend them a car), I can almost hear us (not in actual words, but I can sense it!) being compared to the mechutanim.

In some cases, when my sons- and daughters-in-law are embarrassed about some of their own family members, they focus on (and even verbalize about) the limitations of our family members to make themselves feel less “second class.” This competition seems so childish to me.

The fact that our mechutanim are so often in our children’s minds for comparison purposes is totally baffling, especially when the comparison is in areas that are not particularly important, such as “You don’t have to go to this simchah — my in-laws aren’t going.”

This type of thinking leads to undesirable practical results. When my children (or their spouses) feel uncomfortable, they visit less often. They used to come once a month to our home for Shabbos, but recently they’ve been staying away. I know that a daughter-in-law may not feel as comfortable in our home as she does in her mother’s house. However, I am seeing how easily my sons- and daughters-in-law become defensive, no matter how kind and accepting we try to be.

Your opinion on this would be most welcome.

A: Just as we have a vision of what a healthy child should look like, we have an idea of what healthy married children should look like. They should come for Shabbos once a month, call to wish good Shabbos every week, etc. Parents who live with specific expectations often find themselves holding on to erroneous assumptions. Those individuals with the most menuchas hanefesh are those with the least expectations of others — and the opposite holds true.

Parents do not always know what type of pressures their children and their spouses are presently experiencing. Considerate adult children do not want to burden their parents with their personal issues. For example, a young married woman might be in a delicate state of health, either physically or emotionally or both. At such a time, social niceties are relegated to the back burner and a couple prefers to be in their own home for Shabbos.

Some individuals (especially men) are brought up to thrive on competition and use it as fuel to motivate themselves. Any character trait can bring out the good in a person (as in “kinas sofrim”). Just as there are people who can’t relate to jealousy, you cannot relate to this competitive worldview.

In truth, comparisons can result in competition. It is for this reason that some parents choose two different schools for two very different siblings — to prevent teachers from unfairly expecting the same behavior and academic performance from each.

On a practical level, you cannot expect your “kind and accepting” nature alone to answer the emotional issues of your children’s spouses. You will not be the mother your daughter-in-law never had (and if you’re “too nice” she will feel sad that her mother is not this way). You can be sincerely complimentary of what you appreciate in your sons-/daughters-in-law, and that sincerity will shine through (and help decrease any “second-class” feelings).

The destructive results of competition are seen as the source of great conflicts — wars, fighting for kavod, etc. The last line of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Melachim 12,5) stresses this idea in terms of the time of Moshiach: “There will be no war, jealousy and competition.” This emphasizes the idea that competition is all-pervasive and not an issue of immaturity, as you mentioned.

As we approach the Three Weeks, may we be zocheh to experience the time of Moshiach, when the issue of competition will no longer exist!