The recurring theme through In-Laws is R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but not exactly the way
Aretha Franklin meant it. For this renowned psychiatrist/ author, the loaded
acronym is a mnemonic that stands for restraint, effort, sensitivity, patience,
empathy, consideration and tolerance. It’s the magic formula he offers for
assuring the best possible in-law relationships.
first-person, the book presents relevant psychological principles and short case
studies illustrating their application in real life. Co-author Averick, a
Chicago-based therapist and author of a similarly titled 1989 book as well as
the 1996 Don’t Call Me Mom: How to Improve Your In-law Relationships, has
appeared with talk-show hosts ranging from Oprah to Geraldo.
conversational first person, the authors present relevant psychological
principles and short case studies illustrating their application in real
Parents and grown children alike can glean many helpful insights in
these pages. However, true to Twerski’s hassidic background and long clinical
experience with Orthodox patients, the authors position this book squarely in
the milieu of the haredi world. This approach does not detract from the
soundness of the advice, but limits it to a homogeneous
Readers who don’t fit this profile may have difficulty
relating to the characters in the case studies, whose names and lifestyle
details are drawn from a narrow segment of Jewish society.
practical advice to a married man whose mother demands unreasonable attention,
for example, includes the observation that the man “should have contacted his
rav for a ruling whether Halacha required him to frustrate his wife and children
to fulfill [his mother’s] relatively frivolous requests.”
of married children depending upon their parents for income, while not exclusive
to haredi families, is one of the sociological hallmarks of their way of life.
This factor figures into many of the book’s tense scenarios, suggesting that
such an arrangement may be less than ideal. Yet, while the authors acknowledge
its tendency to cause problems, they do not denounce the practice.
often necessary for parents to help support their children financially after
marriage,” they write, “and some parents may feel that providing the support
gives them the right to dictate to their children.
Using money as a
controlling device may result in resentment that thwarts the development of
On the other side of the coin, “The children should express
their gratitude toward the parents and not take their support for
A more universal conundrum is the problem of rationing time
among parents and parents-in-law.
Pointing out the obvious, that “your
offspring cannot be in two places at the same time,” they urge parents not to
“tug at your child with demands for holiday visits and phone calls, especially
during the first year of marriage.” And to newlyweds: “If you cannot accept your
parents’ invitations, don’t be evasive; be courteous and let them know as soon
Taken at face value, this commonsense guidance is
applicable to a broad audience, including not only parents- and children-in-law
but also siblings-in-law.
“Much intrafamily friction is the result of the
feeling that ‘there is not enough to go around,’ whether it be money, love, or
attention,” they write.
In addition to RESPECT, the authors frequently
repeat a phrase attributed to his mother: “the holy al tadin.”
refers to the Ethics of the Fathers dictum not to judge one’s fellow “until you
have reached his place.” In other words, give in-laws the benefit of the doubt,
particularly those new to the family whose actions or words cannot yet be
understood in context.
“Even when we are offended by someone, we need not
react by returning the offense,” they write. “Even if the pain is real, the
‘holy al tadin’ can mitigate our reaction.”
Not every presented scenario
has a happy ending and many that do are facilitated by professional
This keeps the book realistic and also provides a clear stamp
of approval for seeking outside help from a trained rabbi or therapist – an
The authors do not shy away from the topic of
divorce. A chapter entitled “Former in-laws” includes this quotable nugget: “It
is understandable that, following a divorce, there may be enough resentment to
go around. But just remember, failure to let go of resentments means that you
are allowing someone you don’t like to live inside your head without paying any
No matter how overbearing, meddlesome or unreasonable your mother-
or father-in-law may be, it would be wise to bear in mind this rule from the
authors: “Never, but never bad-mouth your spouse’s parents, even to validate his