Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review June 18, 2003 / 18 Sivan, 5763


Sensitivity for non-mourners?; criticism sounds sour note; clichéd situation with very real problem


By Wendy Belzberg


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: A distant relative (the mother of my wife's elderly uncle) — whom I have never once met — recently died. My wife informs me that unless I travel to pay a shiva call, I will henceforth be looked at askance by her extended family. I have a very taxing job and have limited free time for my children and myself. Furthermore, I have no relationship with my wife's uncle; in fact, he virtually ignores me at every family simcha, family gathering. Should my wife be sensitive to my needs or should I be sensitive to hers?

A: My understanding of the shiva process is that the goal is to comfort the mourner(s). It doesn't sound to me as though your wife's uncle will take great comfort in your presence. And, given that you never met your uncle's mother, you will be hard-pressed to come up with fond memories of the deceased. In other words, you strike out on both counts in terms of a shiva call. I see no reason for you to attend and I am squarely on your side. Having said that, I don't come home to your wife at the end of every day or live with her family. If her wrath — and their displeasure — is that powerful, remember that you are right all the way to the shiva house.

Q: Last week my husband and I attended our 12 year-old son's year-end violin recital. He was the only student in his class who had not memorized his sheet music; everyone else played from memory. At the end of the concert I told my son that he had played beautifully. My husband told him he was disappointed that he had not memorized the music. He continued on with a full lecture about our family credo: don't cut corners, don't do things half way, always do your absolute best. The evening ended with my son in tears and my husband defending the way he handled the situation. What would you have done?

A: Your story takes me way back to times when women were the nurturers and men the warriors. Need I say more?

But you should coordinate your timing. It is important to praise your son for his effort, especially if he played well. (There are plenty of tone-deaf children performing at year-end concerts everywhere. Would your husband have their parents tell those children bluntly that they are talentless?) At the same time your husband's lesson is invaluable, particularly if his words convey the standards by which you live as a family and have chosen to raise your children. The time to lecture your son, however, is not immediately following the concert. He should choose a quiet father-son moment to communicate his expectations and his frank assessment of the performance. To those kinds of comments no child is tone deaf, and your husband needs to remember that he is composing the score by which your son is going to live the rest of his life.

Q: I am 21 years old and I just graduated from college. I took a job in my hometown and I am living with my parents until I find the right apartment and save some money. I have been living 3,000 miles away for the past 4 years, responsible for my own well-being and safety, and keeping my own hours. Now my parents grill me about where I'm going every time I leave the house and want me to tell them approximately what time I will be home. They are treating me like a child rather than recognizing that I am an adult.

A: There is a reason certain sayings become clichés. "If you're going to live in my house you'll live by my rules" comes immediately to mind. Your renewed lease is probably no easier on your parents than it is on you. Some parents lock the doors and change the keys after each child goes off to college to dissuade any birds from getting back in to their nest.

No one forced you to move back in with your parents--and no one is keeping you there against your will. The 3 of you are adults and with a little effort — and some conversation — should be able to work out a compromise all of you can live with. It is however your obligation to meet your parents a little more than half way. You may be fully grown, but you will always be your parents' baby, and it is asking them to go against human nature not to worry about you. (Which brings to mind another cliché: Just wait until you have children of your own.) If you can't bear to face that, it's time to start reading the classifieds.


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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg