Preventing Yom Tov Conflicts

Q: We go to my parents every year for Pesach, and I greatly enjoy the time spent with them and the extended family. It’s a far distance to travel, but it’s worth the effort to reconnect with siblings and cousins — besides having Bubby and Zeide time, of course! My brother and his wife share a wealth of wisdom about life, and it’s a pleasure when my brother and my husband learn together. My father gets special nachas seeing that.

However, my brother’s children are quite spoiled (in my eyes, at least). Whenever there is a family fight, his children are never wrong; he feels that we make a big deal out of nothing if I complain about these matters. He says I am too rigid, and Yom Tov is a time to have a vacation and not make “issues.” It reminds me of the bully’s mother, who never gets involved with her child’s fights. Why should she? Her child is not the victim!

I don’t know what to say to my children when they complain about their cousins never being wrong and never being punished. If I tell the truth about this situation, it’s just a lot of lashon hara, and it will be the beginning of a big machlokes.

What are your suggestions?

A: Being compassionate in this situation is being empathetic towards all parties involved. If your children are already dreading the inevitable fighting, it is worth bringing up the subject in advance and discussing how you plan to deal with this challenge.

Children need to know that parenting styles are usually reflective of general personality. Parents who are typically easygoing will most likely not be very strict with their children, and probably overlook a lot of possibly annoying behaviors their children exhibit. Those parents are easier to understand — they pick their battles, and not too many of them, at that! It is easier to have compassion and patience with such parents, whose behavior reflects their non-confrontational style. They’re being consistent.

However, parents who think that their children can do no wrong bring out issues of competition and situations that seem unfair. Perhaps speaking to your brother in a non-confrontational manner before you meet on Pesach could be of help. You can use the “cushion method,” whereby you begin the conversation with positive (or neutral) words. “I know that it’s not Pesach yet, and I sometimes jump ahead, but I’m wondering…” Or, “I know there were times last Pesach when our children didn’t seem to work well together. It is hard; they don’t see each other all year, and now they’re put together and expected to know how to exist as a family. We know that even kids that live together, fight. This is just another challenge — two different sets of parents with two different sets of rules. Maybe we can establish some guidelines and rules of what seems fair and reasonable to both of us.”

There can be rules regarding game usage, how to deal with a “sore loser,” a rotation system of who sits next to whom — whatever issues affected last year’s Pesach get-together. Though this may seem too structured for vacation time, if your children suffered from what they feel to be unfair treatment, such a system will be welcomed by them. If and when these issues come up again, you can re-negotiate with your brother. Since you spoke about these problems before anything actually occurred, avoiding them becomes more of a joint effort, with less focus on the idea of bullies and victims.