By Esther Mann, LCSW
I’m writing about an issue I’m having that most of my friends would love to have! Many of them have the opposite problem.
Thank G-d, my children are married and lead busy lives. When they got married, they would come to us for Shabbos pretty often, but as the years went by and they started having children, they slowly stopped coming for Shabbos. They’ll come once in a while for a yom tov or some other special reason, but they became attached to their neighborhoods and prefer to stay home. This suits us just fine. But when they all had babies and young kids, I was welcoming and made their lives simple. My home was stocked with diapers, formula, baby food, and even clothing so that they could basically arrive just carrying their pocketbook and children.
My youngest daughter, Reva, however, who has two active children and lives in Queens, comes to us for just about every Shabbos. Her in-laws live out of town. She’s never made the transition that her siblings made of enjoying staying in their own neighborhood and going to their own shul. She doesn’t even ask if she can come; it’s just a given. On Friday afternoons, she shows up, kids in tow. Somehow, without fail, every Shabbos afternoon, my daughter, her husband, and my husband manage to slip away, and I’m left entertaining the children all afternoon. After they leave, it takes me a couple of days to get myself and my house back in order. It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of energy. I have a job, and Monday morning I’ve got to get right back into work mode.
I have friends whose children never come to them for a Shabbos; they envy me and tell me how lucky I am to have children who want to spend each Shabbos with us. I’m sure they do enjoy our company, but I also think a big part of it is that they are happy about not having to make Shabbos, and on Shabbos afternoon they can rest while I’m in charge.
I’m at the stage of my life now where I would love to spend my Shabbos reading and relaxing. The idea of getting into bed with a good book seems heavenly to me. Or having friends over for lunch and socializing with my peers whom I really love and miss (since I work) is also something I would love to spend my Shabbosos doing.
How do I tell my daughter that she is not welcome to join us every Shabbos? I feel like it would be so unmotherly of me and so unloving. By the way, I do feel very close to my children. We talk on the phone constantly and see each other frequently. It’s just that I want this time of my life to look different. I’ve devoted myself to my children for so many years and now I feel like maybe it’s time for me to be a little selfish and do what’s good for me—without guilt! And of course, my husband is making me feel guilty, even though he’s the one napping all Shabbos afternoon!
I guess I’m asking you two things. First, is it wrong of me to not want my daughter and her family coming to us every Shabbos, or even most Shabbosos? Does this make me a selfish person? And if that’s not selfish, what would be the best way for me to approach my daughter with this change so that I don’t insult her, or, even worse, alienate her?
A Conflicted Mother
Dear Conflicted Mother,
Jewish guilt! When does it ever end? From the sound of your e-mail, it seems to me as though you’ve been a marvelous mother for decades, and your desire to take time now for yourself and do what feels right is well-earned and should be your prerogative. It’s easy for your husband to guilt you since he is neither preparing Shabbos nor taking care of the children while you’re taking a nap or reading. So I’m not so sure his input is all that relevant.
It seems that your daughter Reva has gotten very comfortable taking advantage of your kindness, your hospitality, and your level of taking over. Why would she ever decide to make a potato kugel or watch her children on Shabbos afternoon if she knows that you are there to do it all? You’ve trained her well to enjoy the wonderful situation that you’ve created. As an aside, might you be enabling her to never step up to the duties that all Jewish women eventually learn how to manage? If you continue to make it so easy for her, when will Reva ever learn how to be her own balabusta? So by not having her every Shabbos, you may be doing her a service in forcing her to be more independent in this area. You’d actually be helping her, though in a very different way. So you can lose the guilt!
Regarding restructuring what you want your Shabbosos to look like, first you need to decide whether you want to completely stop hosting Reva and her family for Shabbos or whether you’d be happy just cutting back a bit. What kind of schedule sounds good for you? Having them every other week? Or maybe once a month? You don’t have to totally disinvite them. My guess is that you do enjoy having them and would probably miss what you have if you suddenly deleted their Shabbos sleepovers from your life. So think about what kind of arrangement leaves you time to socialize with your friends, and provides you with a Shabbos filled with rest and relaxation, as well the joy and nachas of family time.
The next issue you have to deal with is why everything lands on your shoulders when they are at your house. There is nothing wrong with (1) asking your daughter to bring something along to contribute to the meals; (2) telling your family that you’re going to break up the afternoon, so that each of the adults will be responsible for watching the children at some point; (3) addressing the mess that they leave and asking your daughter and son-in-law to please straighten up any messes their children created before going home, and so on. This way, when they leave after Shabbos, you can be filled with happy feelings rather than put-upon, negative ones.
Though I’m always one for honest dialogue, I don’t think you need to get too involved in a conversation with Reva about your feelings over this matter. Just let her know, early in the week, that unfortunately the following Shabbos you won’t be available to her because you’ve made other plans. Start off slowly, integrating Shabbosos that work for you, and eventually work up to the schedule that you think is just right. Hopefully, Reva will go with the flow and adapt to this new routine. If she does seem upset about your new behavior, you can reassure her that it’s nothing personal, it’s just that you’ve gotten into somewhat of a rut and feel it’s time to branch out a bit and enjoy your Shabbos in various ways.
Ultimately, it is a wonderful thing that your daughter and her family love coming to your home so often. It is a blessing and something to feel very good about. But, like most things in life, it boils down to creating a balance that respects the various parts of your being. Being a mother is probably number one on your list, but we are all so much more—and those areas shouldn’t be neglected.
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.