Bookmark: Relative difficulties

A rabbi and a social worker have developed a magic formula for ensuring the best possible in-law relationships.

Wedding 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Wedding 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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.
In conversational 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.
Writing in conversational first person, the authors present relevant psychological principles and short case studies illustrating their application in real life.
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 readership.
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.
Their 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.”
The phenomenon 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.
“It is 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 affection.”
On the other side of the coin, “The children should express their gratitude toward the parents and not take their support for granted.”
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 as possible.”
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.”
This 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 counseling.
This keeps the book realistic and also provides a clear stamp of approval for seeking outside help from a trained rabbi or therapist – an important emphasis.
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 rent.”
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 own complaints.”