Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review / Nov. 8, 2000 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Rabbi v. therapist, grandparents bearing gifts, I want my son's teacher for a sister-in-law

By Wendy Belzberg -- My husband and I have hit a rough patch in our marriage and we both agree that we need help. I suggested we go see a couples' therapist. He insists we talk to our rabbi, instead. What would you recommend?

Congratulations. Not only have you discovered a brand new topic to fight about, you have avoided getting into counseling. Keep up the good work and you'll be sitting on opposite sides of a lawyer's conference table.

Accommodate each other by interviewing both the rabbi and the therapist. Rabbis are under-consulted; they have expert skills beyond their ability to manage capital campaigns. Consider the Rabbi's qualifications, his ability to make a long-term commitment (are sessions bumped for funerals, brisses and community emergencies) and his past success rates.

Then go into therapy with a couples' therapist. Would you go to a general practitioner if you were diagnosed with breast cancer? Therapists are specifically trained to treat couples in crisis. Your marriage is in trouble. Don't take any chances: seek help from the best. (The Queen of England didn't take chances when it came to Charles' circumcision. She hired a mohel.)

* * *

My in-laws are always giving our children extravagant gifts. My husband and I are worried that the children are being spoiled and will come to expect gifts on a regular basis. This goes against all of our values. Still, my husband is reluctant to say anything to his parents. Is it appropriate for me to say something or should I force him to do it?

My mother-in-law would argue that it is a grandparent's right to give their grandchildren everything their parents will not. (When my sons sleep over at her house they eat cake and ice cream for breakfast with several helpings of candy for snack. Definitely against all of my values.) But I have decided that the special relationship my children have with their grandparents far outweighs my dietary concerns. I know many people who land on therapists' couches discussing their parents' shortcomings; I don't know anyone who seeks help in resolving their grandparents' excesses.

That said, if you truly view your in-laws' behavior as excessive, not merely indulgent, it doesn't matter which one of you tells them so as long as it is clear that you are in agreement. Your in-laws may be offended or hurt, but your concerns for your children and what's best for them come first. Have a direct and honest conversation with them. You can't expect your in-laws to read your mind.

* * *

My ex-husband is getting remarried in a few weeks and he has asked our grown son to stand up for him at the wedding. I am extremely upset about this and I think he should have spoken to me before speaking to our son.

He is your ex-husband, but he is not your son's ex-father. Whatever goes on between your son and his father is no longer any of your business. The whole point of being divorced is that he never has to speak to you again. I don't know what part, if any, your wish to control your husband's actions and behavior may have played in the dissolution of your marriage. But I warn you, back off if you don't want to end up in the same situation with your son.

* * *

I think my son's teacher is a perfect match for my brother. If I fixed them up, would that violate the church and state rule?

If your track record for fix-ups was indeed perfect, I think I would have heard of you. But let's just suppose your brother and this teacher do happen to be perfectly suited. Your daily scrutiny as you drop your son at school, not to mention the treatment this teacher may receive from your son and his classmates, may be more pressure than any relationship could withstand. You're a thoughtful sister, but are you willing to endanger your son's GPA if the relationship ends badly?

I would wait to play matchmaker until the academic year is over. Both have been single this long. Another 7 or 8 months won't hurt.

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08/21/00: 'Fessing up to granny about abandoning one's people, non-kosher sis-in-law, and 'my niece is marrying a loser'
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07/07/00: Hypocrites, reality checks, and the 'real estate challenged'


© 2000, Wendy Belzberg