| Family Reflections |

“Family” Gathering

It’s beautiful when sisters-in-law become as close as sisters. But it doesn’t always happen


Family: We’re born into, and we marry into it. Same word, different world.

“When it comes to everyone chipping in to buy a gift or make a party, I’m suddenly ‘family.’ One of my sisters-in-law will call me to tell me how much we’re all donating. But when the bunch of them decide to book a weekend away, somehow I’m a stranger. They don’t include me in their social life at all.”

Danielle was thrilled to marry into the Silver family. Her husband, Binyamin, was the only boy in a family of five girls. Danielle was the only girl in a family of three boys. This was her chance to have sisters at last! Or so she thought.

“They decide everything between themselves and then let me know what my role will be, as if I’m the hired help instead of a real sister. This year before Purim I received a call from Etty — the oldest — that the Purim seudah will be at Ruchie’s house and that I should bring the green salads.

“No one included me in the discussion of where the seudah should be, and, as usual, I’m assigned the task none of them wants. Who wants to be making fresh salads on Purim? I just go along with everything because, after all, we’re ‘family,’ and I don’t want to create bad feelings. Except that I end up with bad feelings all the time.”

Good People, Bad Vibes

The Silver girls are lovely people. They’re a warm and loving group — amongst themselves. But they seem impervious to the pain they’re inflicting on their brother’s wife. For his part, Binyamin sees what’s going on and has even tried to encourage his sisters to be more sensitive and inclusive.

“It’s never made a difference,” he laments. “I’ve straight out asked them to please include Danielle, and they tell me they will, but then there are no invitations.

“I know Danielle is different from them — she dresses differently, and she’s got more education and a better job than any of them do. But Danielle is no snob — she’s been desperate to be included as a sister from the day we got married. I’ve been listening to her cry to me about the hurt she feels for almost 16 years now.”

Shoshy, Binyamin’s sister, is offended when she learns that Danielle has complaints. “We’re all very nice to her,” Shoshy explains. “She’s not exactly our type, but she’s our brother’s wife, and we’re all family. We all work well together, but I don’t think we have to force a friendship when the fit isn’t a natural one. We can’t just relax and be ourselves when she’s around — she doesn’t get us. It’s awkward for everyone.

“I think that when sisters-in-law become really close, it’s because they’re the kind of people who would’ve been good friends had they met in any circumstances. I think people need to understand that just because they marry into a family doesn’t mean that they now have a new circle of besties. Good family relationships can look very different.”

Coming to Terms

When family members make a concerted effort to be truly inclusive, they can often turn strangers (in-laws) into legitimate loved ones. Making frequent contact, engaging in full reciprocity (initiating and responding to invitations to get together, for example), giving the newcomer full voting rights (i.e., including her in planning family events as well as in participating in them), and waiting patiently for the merging process to occur over months and years, can bring outsiders in, helping them to become just as much — or even more — “family” than family.

Sometimes, it’s the wisdom of the parents that guides this merging, modeling for the adult children how one fully embraces a newcomer.

There are times, however, that due to personality differences, no amount of effort will result in closeness. In this situation, the permanent “outsider” can appreciate her place in a functional, rather than warm, in-law family and put her main social efforts into her nuclear family and personal friendships. Accepting her disappointment and loss, refraining from “trying” excessively, engaging in more appropriate reciprocity (instead of over-giving and constant one-way efforts), will help prevent unnecessary pain or resentment.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 784)

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