When our daughter Batya got engaged to a boy from a financially comfortable family, we were focused on her chassan’s wonderful qualities and didn’t give the financial aspect of this situation much thought. My husband and I were never the type of people to care about such things. We are both hardworking individuals, and we live a fine, though more on the modest side, lifestyle (at least for this neighborhood), and we feel that we and our children never wanted for anything necessary.
When we met our future son-in-law’s parents before the couple got engaged, we found them to be nice enough. They seemed to care deeply for our daughter, which is really all we cared about. We did not find them relatable at all, but, we weren’t concerned too much with that. After all, we weren’t marrying them, and as long as our daughter was happy—and she did seem very happy—we were fine.
Fast-forward a few years. Though we still feel close to Batya, gradually, I feel as though our position in her life is shifting and we are taking a backseat to her in-laws. For instance, when it comes to yomim tovim, her in-laws often travel to wonderful places and the entire family goes along. On Pesach for sure, but sometimes for other holidays as well. My husband and I are fair people and we always assumed that our children would share the yomim tovim equally with us and their in-law families (even though I’ve heard that often daughters spend more time with their own side). But what’s happening is that, little by little, it’s not so balanced anymore, and we are definitely getting the short end of the stick.
I don’t even blame Batya. Who would want to turn down such luxurious trips where she is living in the lap of luxury? It’s hard to resist. At our home, though I believe that we are there for her in many ways and always ready to help out with her little daughter, she’s still expected to help around the house like everyone else.
Also, Batya’s mother-in-law loves to shop. She’s always buying beautiful things for Batya’s home and daughter and even for Batya. For the first time in her life, Batya is enjoying high-end products. Suddenly, she has a designer pocketbook and plenty of other beautiful items with which to adorn herself. Again, I understand why she is tempted to buy into this lifestyle, though I want to believe that even if I could afford all of this stuff, it wouldn’t be my thing. I’m not judging Batya at all; it’s just that I’m realizing that we could never compete with her in-laws, and I don’t believe we necessarily come first in her life. I would be OK if we and her in-laws were equally appreciated, but it doesn’t feel equal anymore. It feels like she is joining their clan, becoming one of “them,” and my fear is that eventually we will be like distant relatives to her, while she begins to totally identify with her in-laws in so many ways.
How do we even begin to compare or keep up? Financially, I know that we have next to nothing to offer. I can’t afford to take them away for yomim tovim, I can’t afford to buy them expensive tickets to Broadway shows or even to pay for their babysitter. I always thought that loving my children to no end would be enough to keep them close. But now I’m realizing that maybe that’s not enough and in the end, Batya and her family will no longer be attached to us the way we always believed they would be.
Is there anything we can do to stop this shift? It feels so personal and painful.
Dear Second Place,
I often hear about the parents of young married couples competing for the attention and closeness of the newly married couple. When this happens, it’s truly unfortunate for everyone involved and not a healthy or kind way for people to behave. I often comment on the way things should be in a perfect world, followed closely with the fact that the world we live in is not perfect and we often don’t get what we want, despite heroic efforts.
When a child gets married—particularly a daughter, and even more so when the parents have a close and lovely relationship with such daughter—the expectation is that the child will still consider his or her home of origin to be a second home. A place so comfortable and filled with love and support that it’s the natural go-to spot for holidays, Sundays, and a great big hug. Since you and your husband are not particularly materialistic people, it never occurred to you that you could be upstaged by “stuff.” But seeing what it looks like in real-time, you are realistic enough to understand why Batya is being tempted to align herself with the other side, and your own hands are tied in that regard since you can’t possibly begin to compete on a materialistic level. It’s hard to see even though—kudos to you—you don’t seem to be judging.
Frankly, all you can do is continue to stay as connected to Batya as possible through phone calls, Sunday invites, offers for babysitting when you can, and emotional support. The hope is that the excitement over all the “stuff” may wear off after a while and Batya will eventually be a little less dazzled by all of it. Or even if she has signed on for the more luxurious life forever more, don’t give up on providing the most important things in life. Don’t allow yourself to feel intimidated or less-than in any way, causing you to back away or, G-d forbid, give up on her on any level.
Nice things will always be nice things, but they will never come close in value to what really matters most in life—love, understanding, devotion—and those are the gifts that birth parents can give like no one else! There is no reason to believe that Batya’s in-laws are not wonderful people who enjoy giving out of love and kindness rather than because they are trying to woo away your daughter. Nevertheless, seeing the shift can hurt. But don’t forget that you raised Batya, that you’ve been there for her always, and that you and your family have created something precious together that will hopefully never go away.
So though it is tough for you right now to watch how the tide is changing in a certain way, and it must feel like you are experiencing a new and unexpected normal as far as what holidays and other situations look like, have faith in Batya that she is holding strong to the values you’ve given her. Inside, she knows that ultimately no one can ever take the place of you and your husband. Stay in the game, maintain the connection, try not to guilt her, and, hopefully, in the most important ways, Batya will always be near and dear to you.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295. Read more of Esther Mann’s articles at 5TJT.com.