| Adviceline |

Adviceline: Issue 434

All children — adult children included — want one thing: their parent’s approval


I have three married daughters, all close in age. They did everything together when they were little, and even got married within the same year. However, they didn’t all get the same type of spouse.

One of my daughters — let’s call her Bracha — has a “star husband.” He has a good job and brings home an excellent income, while still putting in a few hours of learning daily. He’s a devoted husband, helping his wife each evening, and a fabulous father to his children. On top of that, he’s tall, charismatic, and has a great sense of humor. My daughter is thrilled — and I’m happy she’s so happy.

My other daughters married fine men. Both of their husbands are solid guys who try their best. But they’re a far cry from my other son-in-law. One can’t seem to hold down a job, the other rarely cracks open a sefer. They don’t help much around the house, and can get testy at times. My daughters have decent marriages, but it’s hard work.

We live out of town, while all three daughters are in the tristate area. They all want to visit at the same times: Yom Tov and the summer. I’ve always tried hard to ensure that Bracha comes at a different time than the other two. I feel like it wouldn’t be good for my other daughters to see their talented brother-in-law. Bracha figured out what I was doing, and though she’d love to hang out with her sisters, she knows her husband is head and shoulders above her brothers-in-law and agrees it’s not a good idea for him to spend too much time in close quarters with them.

However, as time goes on, it’s becoming less and less practical to keep the couples apart. There are lots of other factors that affect when the couples can visit, and all this bending over backward to keep Bracha and her family apart from the other two is becoming tiresome. And the cousins rarely see each other, aside from a few hours at family simchahs. Should I be keeping up this effort to avoid jealousy between my daughters, or just let everyone deal with the reality? And if I do have Bracha over with the others, is there anything I can do to minimize potential fallout on the other marriages?


Rebbetzin Lea Feldman

When our children are young we can sometimes hide things from them. But you’re trying to hide things from adults, and that rarely works.

I don’t think it’s your responsibility to keep your children apart and try to prevent your daughters from seeing their successful brother-in-law. You’re trying to hide something which is already revealed.

This is life. Not everyone gets a top husband; everyone gets the spouse they are meant to get. It may be painful for you to see the comparison between the different husbands, but the reality exists and trying to pretend it away won’t work.

It may be that, while together, it crosses one of your other’s daughter’s mind: I wish my husband took care of me the way Bracha’s husband takes care of her. Or they may wish their husband learned more or earned more. And that’s okay.

Perhaps this will even have positive results. Maybe those wishful feelings will push them to see if they can encourage their husband to learn more, or look for a better job. Of course, they need to be realistic. Pushing someone to do something that’s beyond their capabilities is unhealthy. But chochmas nashim bansah beisah, a woman’s wisdom can build her home. If the sisters can find ways to encourage their husband to stretch themselves, that can be beneficial. Perhaps the couples need outside help, and this may be a spur to go to therapy and work on maximizing their relationship.

But even if that’s not the result, their spending Yom Tov together will not bring anything new to their attention. Believe me, your other daughters are well-aware of their husband’s shortcomings. And they know about their sister’s husband’s talents.

There is a chance that this will lead to jealousy. Jealousy is a terrible middah. If someone else’s success makes me sad and upset, there’s something fundamentally wrong with my character. It shows a lack of bitachon; on some level I don’t believe that every person has exactly what he needs. We need to work on ourselves to get to the point that we can be truly happy for another Jew — and how much more so, for a relative — when he’s blessed with wealth or children or a wonderful spouse. Their blessings take nothing from us, and should leave us happy, not upset.

I know a young woman who was married for a number of years and had not yet been blessed with children. Her younger siblings were already parents, and when her younger sister found out that she was expecting yet again, she couldn’t bring herself to tell her childless sister. The older sister reacted with pain and astonishment. “What does she think?” she asked. “Does she think I don’t want her to have children? If she was also infertile, my pain would be doubled. Her having a child has no impact on my ability to bear a child. I’m so happy she has this brachah; why not let me share in the joy?”

This doesn’t mean all of us are on that level, or that it’s always easy. The Orchos Tzadakim tells us that when we go to another person’s house, we shouldn’t look around — it’s not good to focus on another’s possessions. It’s okay to see something beautiful and think I wish I had the same, but to wish that the other person didn’t have it, or that you didn’t have to see it, is kinah, an aveirah we have to work hard to avoid.

Since kinah is a challenge and you’re sensitive to that, you’ve tried to prevent your daughters from experiencing it. But you’re trying to solve a problem which isn’t solvable. And the solution you’ve been implementing, despite the love that’s fueling it, is a foolish solution. There’s a good chance that Bracha isn’t the only one who realizes what you’re trying to do, and that must be painful to the other girls. It shows them that you’ve judged their husbands and find them lacking. And that can only exacerbate their disappointment.

Don’t try so hard to manipulate things. Let the sisters enjoy each other’s company and the cousins get to know each other. Relax and enjoy your family and daven that each couple does their best with the tools they’ve been given.

Rebbetzin Lea Feldman is the wife of Harav Aharon Feldman, rosh yeshivah of Ner Israel Rabbinical College . She served as the resident shadchan of Neve Yerushalyim for close to 30 years, making more than 100 shidduchim. She continues to counsel many on the topics of shidduchim and marriage.

Rabbi Dr. Ivan Lerner

One of the challenges parents face is to know when to stop intervening in their children’s lives. When it comes to married children, we should not be interfering with their relationships. This includes their relationships with spouses, friends, and other family members.

It seems that you and Bracha agree that her husband is the star Alpha male among the husbands. Even if this is objectively true, it would have been far better not to ever have discussed this with Bracha. From the outset of the marriages of your three daughters it would have been good to simply invite everyone into your home without any agendas.

While attempting to hide the seeming success of one of your sons-in-law you’ve actually created a problem that should never have existed. You state that the other husbands are “fine men” and “solid guys who try their best.” You point out that your other daughters “have decent marriages.” Objectively, that sounds pretty good.

Unfortunately, by comparing these seemingly upstanding fellows to Bracha’s husband they've come up short in your eyes, which has reinforced this view with Bracha. I am concerned by your statement that “she [Bracha] knows that her husband is head and shoulders above” the others. If you — and by extension Bracha — reinforce that view, it will divide your family.

Your daughters were close. They could have remained close had you not been involved in “bending over backward to keep Bracha and her family apart” from the others. You say that doing so is tiresome. You bet it is — that’s why you shouldn’t be doing it! The cousins should be seeing each other and they should establish normal relationships with their uncles and aunts.

Finally, to answer your questions. “Should I be keeping up this effort to avoid jealousy between my daughters?” No, you should not. If anything your effort will create jealousy. “If I have Bracha over is there anything I can do to minimize fallout on the other marriages?” Yes! Stop comparing your sons-in-law. Embrace ALL of your daughters, their husbands, and their children unconditionally! Allow them to interact in a natural, unscripted social environment.

It is not uncommon for some of our children to outperform others in certain areas. In families we don’t segregate the high performers from the other children because we are one family! Therefore, we all learn to live with and respect each other for the good and unique qualities and characteristics that we each possess.

You love your family and want what is best for them. Accepting all your children unconditionally will, with G-d’s help, bring you brachah, hatzlachah, and mazel.

Rabbi Dr. Ivan Lerner is a well-known clinical and industrial psychologist. He has been a principal, a dynamic community rabbi, and personal therapist. Currently, Dr Lerner is a lecturer and consulting psychologist to schools, businesses, and Jewish organizations in the United States and Europe.

Dr. Shula Wittenstein

Your concerns are grounded in the reality that jealousy is something many people struggle with. Particularly when family is in close proximity, there can be a lot of competition and comparisons. Too many people spend Yom Tov analyzing other couples and noticing who has smarter kids, nicer clothing, a funnier husband, a newer minivan etc. and stewing in discontent. Perhaps you’ve even seen this dynamic at play in other families and want to avoid it at all cost.

But there are two things you need to keep in mind.

First, let’s explore if this is truly an issue in your family. All three of your sons-in-law seem like wonderful people. “Fine, solid men trying to do their best” are hard to come by; it sounds like all your daughters did well.

Marriage is for self-development, and it’s meant to be hard work. Perhaps one son-in-law is “head and shoulders above the rest,” but it’s does a disservice to everyone if you assume that that daughter’s marriage is wrinkle-free. Aside from the damage your comparisons can cause, idealizing her marriage to such a degree may stunt her ability to be open and honest with you in the future should the need arise. With your decades of life experience, I’m sure you’re well-aware that all good marriages take consistent effort, and even if all looks rosy now, it’s fair to assume that things will not always be so smooth.

The reality is that people have different social standings. There will always be people with a better marriage than yours and others with marriages that are worse than yours. Some will have more money, some more fame, some more scholarship. This is a reality we all come to accept. It does not need to cause jealousy or produce family feuds.

It seems you’ve encouraged your children towards achdus; they’ve been doing things together from the time they were little. When they all got married within the same year, I’m sure the diamond rings they were given were not necessarily the same size, nor was every other aspect of their engagement the same. But you don’t mention that there was any jealousy there. Don’t shortchange yourself or your children. Recognize their breadth of character, and their ability to appreciate their own assets in life and fargin their siblings the gifts they’ve been granted.

The second crucial realization is that, while you don’t want to contribute to a situation of jealousy, you also can’t control it. If an adult child struggles with jealousy, that struggle is hers. She needs to work on it — it’s not your responsibility to make sure that it never rears its ugly head. Clearly, we have to always be sensitive, but at the same time, we can’t deny or ignore reality.

All children — adult children included — want one thing: their parent’s approval. When each child feels special and accepted there’s less potential for jealousy. While your isolating tactics came from good intentions, by casting your son-in-law in a grandiose stance, you actually risk triggering a rift. Each couple has their personal tafkid and will have to face their own reality, embracing all the aspects of the package they were given. Compliment each child and child-in-law on their strengths and show them that you value them.

It seems like a shame to “bend over backward to keep your family apart” instead of bringing them together in a healthy way where each member feels valued. If you truly believe that each of your sons-in-law has intrinsic value and that their marriages can flourish, that belief will filter down to your daughters and will create a beautiful atmosphere that all your children will be able to enjoy together.

Dr. Shula Wittenstein Psy.D is psychologist specializing in couple therapy as well as work with trauma survivors, anxiety, and depression. She is an expert in CBT and EMDR. She has a private practice in Jerusalem.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 434)

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