Communication is essential

Encouraging bits of advice on how to deal with weddings and your new extended family

Wedding 521 (photo credit: JPOST.COM STAFF)
Wedding 521
(photo credit: JPOST.COM STAFF)
A while ago, as a friend ran past on the weekend of his daughter’s sheva brachot, looking somewhat exasperated, he half-jokingly suggested I write a column on weddings.
I’ve written no small amount about marriage and an entire book about relationships, but tackle the topic of weddings? No way – not until now, that is. Having had the experience of my own wedding, two very different weddings for our children and the weddings of countless of our friends’ children, I am now hesitantly prepared to discuss the topic that occupies so much time in my office with soon-to-be or recently married couples and/or their parents.
With marriage, one doesn’t just gain a son- or daughter-in-law; one gains an entire family and sometimes even more. This family may be a lot like yours and you may have them over for Shabbat, chat with them often or even go on trips together. But they might also be Sephardi, Ashkenazi, haredi, religious, secular, native Israeli, native Anglos, native something else, or even live abroad – and you may be the exact opposite. You might just discover that the least of your concerns is where (or with whom) the happy couple will spend their first Passover. If you haven’t yet experienced it, planning a wedding is very different from planning a bar or bat mitzva. In fact, about the only similarity may be that for both it would be nice to send thank-you notes afterwards – realizing, again, that your prospective daughteror son-in-law may not feel quite the same way you do about this, or about any other subject.
In reviewing all of the wise words I have heard over the years about how to be a successful mother-in-law, here’s a line my own mom, of blessed memory, used to say: “A daughter is a daughter all her life; a son is a son till he takes a wife.”
A friend says success is best achieved by “closing your mouth and opening your wallet.” Tell me, do these bits of advice sound encouraging? I am blessed, I think. I have two wonderful daughters-in-law and three sets of in-laws and we all seem to get along.
True, some don’t speak English and others don’t live here, but I believe the key to a successful wedding in part lies with your own children and the relationship they create with their partners. Here is just a bit of the wisdom I have to add to the growing list of advice I have received: This should be a happy time and there will be few other life experience that will match the wonderful moment when your child is under the huppa.
Enjoy it, as it goes by so quickly. Focus on what’s really important and let go of what doesn’t matter. Don’t get so caught up in the small details that you lose sight of the real goal – to have fun and make the day meaningful for the new couple. Remember whose wedding it is. You had your day. Put life into perspective. There will be stresses, challenges, conflicts and compromises along the way. A wedding is a one-day event that only lasts a few hours; a marriage should last an entire lifetime. Planning a wedding creates its own energy and, at some point, takes on a life of its own. With a ton of things to do at the beginning and even more as the big day approaches, there are many issues that need to be addressed by the couple and their families. The size, the cost and the feel of the wedding, while all very important, may pale in comparison to the actual blending of families with very different backgrounds, beliefs and values. Having a meaningful relationship with your own child and making room in your family to welcome his or her beloved and to build and grow within this relationship requires respect, warmth, honesty, support and acceptance. As a new family member it is never easy, but the more you can talk through these issues, the better everyone will be. Don’t ever make your child choose between his parents and his partner.
For your child to build a good marriage, he must first consider his partner’s feelings. That doesn’t mean he is invalidating yours. They may just be at odds, and this may feel very difficult for him. Try to refrain from giving unsolicited advice, or even giving your opinion, unless you are asked. This is difficult – hence the word “try.” Choose your issues carefully. On a scale of 0-10, with 10 being very serious, not everything can and should be a 10. Ask yourself if your response is proportional. Is this really important? For example, you may have in mind one thing for the wedding and they another. Are your expectations realistic? How can you be more flexible? Breathe, take a step back, just observe for a minute and try to see it from everyone else’s perspective, not just your own. How does your son feel? His new wife? Her parents? How would you like to be treated if the situation was reversed? Often we notice the negatives, but what are your son-in-law’s strengths? How does he make your daughter happy? Meet with your in-laws and decide how you can work together to best help your children. Ask your children what you can do to be helpful. Many couples are not nearly as prepared for the marriage as they are for the wedding. As someone who sees too many marriages that have already failed by the time a couple arrives at my doorstep, I am a strong believer in a few sessions of premarital counseling.
This helps couples focus on the real priorities in building a life together. Marriage is a huge adjustment for both children and parents. It is a time of wonderful new beginnings but also a time of loss and separation, misread cues, assumptions, jealousy and even sadness. Good communication is essential. If you or a loved one are not coping well, get professional help to better understand what the issues are and how they can best be resolved. Mazal tov! ■
Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. Send correspondence to or visit her website at Her book, Life’s Journey. Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts, was recently published by Devora Publishers.