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The First Year

 What's a mother's role after her daughter has a home of their own? Mothers and newlyweds debate

Candles in hand, pride in their hearts, the parents escort their child to the chuppah... and then step back as their child begins to build a home of their own.
Or should they?
What's a mother's role after her daughter has a home of their own? Mothers and newlyweds debate



When I got married, I was terrified of making Shabbos, because I’d never been in the kitchen — I hate cooking. But I was so excited to be home, to spend time with my brand-new husband! Now, my sister just got married, my parents have since moved to Lakewood, and she’s there practically every other Shabbos. She tells me this is normal — that no shanah rishonah couple is making Shabbos on their own these days. Is that true?


It’s been like this in Israel for years. Personally, I didn’t do it. I lived close enough to my mother that I was able to walk over, but we only went once every three weeks for one meal. Friday nights were sacred, just the two of us, the entire shanah rishonah.

But I remember one week when we were married a month or two, and my husband ran into an Israeli neighbor an hour before Shabbos. The neighbor couldn’t believe we were staying home. He told my husband he’d been married for five years, he had two kids, and he’d never been home alone for Shabbos. It sounded like Gan Eden to him. I just felt so sad for him.

I think those meals alone built our marriage, and I’ve talked it about so often that when my daughter got married, she was excited to make her own Shabbos, even though in our circles it’s normal to go back to your mother all the time. I’d built up how amazing that time was for us, and she was very eager to do the same for herself.


I am a very vocal opponent of this whole not-making-Shabbos practice. My daughter knows how to make Shabbos, she did it before she got married, she did it the day shanah rishonah ended.

But it’s a societal thing; we breed dependence. “My mother will send me food. My mother will pay for my kids’ clothing. My mother will cook for me.” I think it’s because so many mothers want their daughters to be dependent on them! But they wouldn’t admit that, maybe not even to themselves.

I say it’s nice if I can help my daughter out. It’s nice if I can do her a favor. She’s my daughter, and I love her. But she’s an adult, she’s a mother. She is no longer my responsibility.


It’s funny. My daughter is also extremely capable and independent, and before she got married, she predicted she’d be making a full Shabbos within two months. Two years later, she still spends most Shabbosos with us or her in-laws. And honestly, I don’t think it is unhealthy at all.

Our young couples work very hard during the week. Many of them are expected to bring in a significant part of the money — most parents these days can’t cover it all, even those who are helping with support. Married life is demanding in a lot of ways, and if the husband is a serious learner, it can also be lonely for the wife. Why is it unhealthy to host your couple for Shabbos? Exactly what damage do you think it will do?


To me it sounds infantilizing. She’s an adult, she’s married. When will she take responsibility for her life choices? Are you telling me you don’t work as hard as she does? You probably work harder. And there’s danger in the system — you become resentful or something happens and it becomes too much; you can’t do this for everyone, all the time. Not to mention what Batsheva said — it’s so good for a couple to spend those precious alone years working through things. But they often can’t, because their parents keep swooping into the picture.

Societal Expectations

I agree with you, Perel. And most of my friends do, too. But we don’t have a choice. Every other person in my social milieu — and I mean really everyone, not the “everyone” your kids talk about — does this. If I didn’t do it, I’d be creating a situation where my child is not getting something that everybody else is getting.

This has nothing to do with infantilizing, or her middos, or capabilities, or how I raised her. She’s smart. She’s kind. She can make her own decisions. She’s capable. She can cook a whole Shabbos from A to Z. She can clean up the whole kitchen. She’s taken care of my household when I had a baby. But this is normal; she doesn’t know any other way. This is what happens. You get married and you go eat at your parents for a year.


I need to understand this. How did it start? Because sometimes I think these types of things originate with one superwoman, someone who is extraordinarily nice, or crazy creative, or whatever, and she pulls these amazing things together. But then the superpower becomes the norm, this thing you need to do.


Well, in the chassidish world, I think it originated because we marry off our kids very young. This isn’t so much the case anymore, but back in the day, your daughter could be getting married while she was still in school. There was no income; how was she supposed to buy chicken?


Really, Raizy? I recall a handful of high school kallahs in all my years. And we all value marrying young. So your daughter got married at 18 while mine got married at 20. How much more money do you think my daughter came into marriage with?


Is that how it started, Raizy? Or have we been doing this for millennia? I was once speaking to a very thoughtful therapist about this. I was concerned about what Perel said, that this practice breeds dependence. But she gave it a different spin. She said that the idea of young couples being “independent” might actually be the novel thing — something that only came to be the norm in the post-Holocaust generation. Before that, it was very normal for young couples to remain part of the core family for a few years. I know that when my great-grandparents got married, they lived in a room in the kallah’s parents’ home for the first year.

We keep kvetching about how our young couples are not fully independent, and how they’re still relying on us — but as this therapist put it, independence is not the highest value in our world. Connection is a bigger value for us. Deep at heart, we prefer for our children to be tightly connected to the extended family rather than for them to be fully independent. So it makes sense that we keep inviting our kids back home — we want to nurture that connection.


That’s all well and good, Sarala, but we are no longer living in those times. Would you have wanted to live in your parents’ home after you got married? Do you want your daughter living in yours? We do value a certain degree of independence, we just don’t follow it through.

And in the case of meals, it’s mostly an unfair expectation. We’re mothers running households, and we’re suddenly expected to provide extra meals for a young couple. In my community, it’s not just Shabbos, it’s every day. And it’s not chicken and rice, it’s what you made for your husband when you were in shanah rishonah: cut-up grapefruit, and soup and schnitzel and potatoes and salad.

I have one friend who is all, “I’m so happy, it’s so wonderful to be able to do it.”

And I asked her, “What about the week before Pesach?”

What about when you have Shabbos leftovers and it’s only enough for your family at home? If I’m hosting my young couple, it’s another two adult portions. I’m not always in the mood to defrost and make schnitzel if it could be my day off right now.


So you’re saying you don’t like making supper. That’s fair; I don’t always like making supper either. On the other hand, at what point does your responsibility end? Right now, my kids are young. I’m their mother, I have to give them food and laundry. Are you saying that the minute you marry off your kids, you’re done? Is it when they turn 18? Let’s say your married daughter had a really hard week. Do you feel like it’s your responsibility as her mother to make Shabbos for her? Is it pure chesed?


With younger kids, sure, it’s my responsibility. And I try to make sure there’s supper and laundry for everyone in the house, even my adult children. But they’re adults — they don’t want me to be asking them where they’re going at night — they’re old enough to be married and set their own schedules. Well, guess what? If you don’t like my supper at that point, you’re not breaking my heart if you buy yourself takeout.

Going back to what you said about the previous generations, Sarala, in those days, when married children lived in house, they were part of the house, part of the chores, part of everything. They pulled their own weight. Their hardworking mothers did not slave away in the kitchen to impress their 18-year-old son-in-law.

So to answer your question, Ayala, my daughter doesn’t need me to make her meals. But if she’s had a hard week and she wants to come for Shabbos? I’m her mother, I love her, I’m so happy to give her a treat. But it’s a treat.


I wonder if it’s like kallah jewelry. Imagine if kallahs got one piece of jewelry, a ring, a necklace, whatever. That’s it. And then you come along and gift your kallah something extra. How thankful is she? She would spend her whole life putting on this piece of jewelry and thinking about how nice you are. But we have a situation where you expect a bracelet and a ring and a necklace and machzorim and leichter, and you’re not thankful for any of it. On the contrary; if you don’t get it, you’re resentful.


Exactly, but it goes deeper. My friend’s daughter just got married, and she said when her oldest got married, it was like a stranger invaded her brain. Like, two weeks ago when you ate, you picked up the plate, took it to the sink, washed it, and left it to drain. Now, you’re sitting there with your husband having a meal, and then you just get up and walk out when you’re done. So she told the second daughter, I’m really sorry, but that can’t happen. When you’re here, you’re going to have to help me clear the table and wash the dishes. The second daughter helps her because she put her foot down and communicated that.


Ouch. See what I mean? Infantilizing. And say something to the older one, please!


Look, I want to establish that mostly, it’s good; the young couple is in this cute little shanah rishonah bubble that is healthy. You want to see them happy, and you want to see them in that little cloud. The question is how long you’re going to enable that.

Most of the people I’ve been polling about this are miserable with this situation and they’re still enabling it. They’re too scared to stand up and say, “Hey, this is not working for me.”

It goes back to the social milieu. They’d be a social pariah. There’s an expectation that this is what you do; from your couple’s perspective, this is what they expect. If I couldn’t host them for a Shabbos, I’d have to inform them two weeks beforehand that such and such a Shabbos is not going to work out for me.


So baruch Hashem, I don’t have this scenario playing out in my home. When my married couples come for Shabbos, they call before and ask what they can bring — a side dish, a dessert. And they absolutely help serve and clean up. They don’t expect to be waited on like guests. They are part of the family. They are nurtured just like the other kids, and they also pitch in just like the other kids.

On Growing Up

So let me ask you something else. At what point does the married daughter look up and say, “Well, I’m a big girl now. It’s time for me to stay home”?


In my circles, the couple usually comes to the parents for a year, sometimes until the first baby comes along. By then, the couple values independence.


I think that in a healthy marriage, the couple starts to want to have their own schedule, their own space, their own cooking, at some point. A healthy man will want to be the boss of his own Shabbos table. A healthy young woman will take pride in serving her own food and setting her own table.

Maybe it’s happening later for today’s generation than it happened for us, but it does happen. And honestly — for those of us who are proud that we toughed it out without help, in hindsight, maybe those years of hustling and juggling made us tougher people, and I don’t mean that in the positive sense of the word. Maybe it’s healthier and smarter to have a system where our young couples can at least cross Shabbos meals off their lists while working to master this major, major adjustment.


That’s an interesting perspective, Sarala, but I’m largely with Perel on this. It feels infantilizing. Going back to my sister, I think there’s this perpetuating her babyhood. You’re married, you have a job, you should be able to make Shabbos. Why are you still going to your parents to be fed?


It’s not about going to your parents to be fed. Marriage is very demanding, and this is a concrete way we can help ease our kids into a new stage. Plus, Shabbos is all about family, singing together, schmoozing together, catching up on everyone’s lives. It’s so much richer and fuller when we’re together. As a mother, I’m so grateful for that full table on Shabbos. And from the young couple’s perspective, they have the entire week to sit together, just the two of them, in their quiet little kitchen. It seems very justified to me that they want the full color and flavor and action of a big family Shabbos.


I don’t know if it’s infantilizing, what Perel said earlier about the mothers not wanting to let their kids go. From my informal surveys, the majority of my friends do think it’s crazy. But no one is brave enough to put an end to it.


The revolution will have to come from the children. I said earlier that I thought making my own Shabbos was the best thing for my marriage, and I’d passed that message along to my daughter. So yes, I’m with Sarala in that I love having my kids around the table, but I’m also so proud that my daughter looks at my marriage and wants to build her own in that image. But if I forced it on her, telling her that she’s now an adult and this will make it or break it for her, I think she would feel cheated. Especially because she looks around and almost no one else seems to share that sentiment.

On Independence

That brings me to another point. I’m thinking of my sister again — she’s my frame of reference for young couples. And she’s super independent, she’s a private person in general, but the way I see it, she’s not letting go of the apron strings. How do you balance giving your married children emotional support and privacy?


Oh, that’s a tough one. I think you’re the one who has to make the boundaries. I think that sometimes your kids are going to come to you and ask you questions or seek your advice. And as much as they think their parents should be the first people they come to, there are certain things you’re probably better off not knowing.

When the questions get to be too much, I think you have to say something like, “I’m probably not the right person for this.” And then offer, “I’m here for you. I love you. I understand whatever it is you’re going through or dealing with, whatever, but here’s the person you should be speaking to.”


So I’m the opposite — I let my young couples set the terms. They’re the ones who make the boundaries and who decide what they want to share and what they want to keep private.


One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a marriage and family counseling course I took. The instructor said that before her children got married, she gave them a list of four names and phone numbers, and she said, “Here’s a rav I trust, a kallah teacher, a gynecologist, a therapist. If there’s ever anything that you feel you can’t share with me for whatever reason because you feel it’s too personal, you should know these are the people I trust, and I feel that they would be a good address for you.”

I did that before my daughter got married. This way, the couple has their privacy, and I’m calm about knowing that if there’s anything that necessitates them going to any of these people, it’s someone I would trust.


Wow, you all seem to have the magic formula. In my experience, this goes back to today’s mothers being very involved in their kids’ lives, sometimes to the extreme. My daughter and I have a great relationship. She asks for my advice all the time. She definitely discusses with me when she’s frustrated and annoyed. But it wouldn’t even occur to her to bring up something where I’d feel the need to establish a boundary.


I think we’re talking about two different things, Perel. How do you enforce boundaries on the part of your young couple so that they don’t introduce topics that are uncomfortable for you? And how do you respect her boundaries by not mixing in?


When it comes to enforcing your own boundaries and staying away from uncomfortable topics, this is something you have to figure out long before they get married. When you have preteens or teenagers or children in shidduchim, you want to be the mother who is open to any question and concern, but also a woman who maintains privacy about personal or intimate issues. That doesn’t change after a child gets married.


In both directions, I don’t have to worry about violating her privacy. I wouldn’t ask, and she wouldn’t discuss it with me. It’s none of my business.


That’s going a little far, Perel. You’re still the mother, and you’re still concerned with your children’s well-being. I actually discussed this with my daughters long before they were engaged or married. I thought it would be less fraught if it was theoretical. I was like, “If I see one of your kids has something that looks like a delay to me, would you want me to point it out, suggest you get it checked out?” And they said that as long as I made it a suggestion, and I didn’t follow up and breathe down their necks, then they would appreciate it.


It’s how you parent. The majority of the work of parenting our married children is going to be in how we parent our two-year-old and eight-year-old and 15-year-old. There are certain core messages that I hope I’ve given over.

“You can do this. You have it. Whatever stage you’re going into, you have what you need. You’re capable, you’re confident, you’re competent. I believe in you, and I will always be here. If you ever need help, if you ever need advice, you ever want anything, there’s ever anything you’re worried about, there’s ever anything you want to talk about, here I am. But you can do this.”

And then you let go. And you let them do it. You may not love the choices they make. But they need to take ownership of their own lives in whatever stage they’re in, and I’m sorry, but your job is to let them.

Society Saved Me
Esther Adler

A few weeks before my wedding, I was hired for my very first tremendous graphic design project. When I say tremendous, I mean a project that should have been executed by a professional team. I would never undertake such a project today, five years later. It was an impossible scope for a single person to swing, especially someone with virtually no experience.

I had a full-time job and was only doing graphics on the side. Plus, I was getting married, so I was one very busy girl. But by the time I realized that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, it was too late to back out. I found myself working every spare minute of my life, and since I had very few of those, that meant regularly pulling all-nighters.

Then I got married.

Wedding shopping and apartment setup were over, but this new stage was no less overwhelming. I continued working full time, tried making progress with Project Impossible, all while learning how to run my cute little household.

I also wanted to spend time with my new husband.

My saving grace was my chassidishe blood, and our delightful system of parents hosting their newlywed couples. My mother and mother-in-law’s open invitations kept me from drowning.

“You’re coming for supper tonight?” my mother would confirm with me in the morning.

Of course I was coming. That’s what all my newly married friends did, so why wouldn’t I?

Besides, I was too relieved to protest.

Was I lazy and entitled? It really didn’t feel that way. The steady supper and Shabbos invitations were my lifeline during the months after my wedding. I would arrive home from work at five thirty every day, and my husband came home an hour later. I allowed myself a few minutes to catch my breath, put in 45 minutes of graphics work, then got ready to greet my husband.

When I made self-deprecating jokes to my mother about how incompetent I was and how I imposed on her, she would cut me off. “You’re way busier than I am. I don’t work!”

I also knew how much my mother loved cooking and hosting. I’d witnessed it all the years growing up in her home. She thrived on having company over and considered the challenge of whipping up delicious and creative dishes the greatest thrill. My in-laws, too, loved having us. We were their youngest couple, and they were genuinely happy to spend time with us. We usually went to each set of parents twice a week, staying home on Sundays, and occasionally other days as well. We also went to each of them for one of the Shabbos seudos most weeks.

At my mother’s house, even though I was used to eating her food, I made sure to compliment every dish with specific feedback, just as I did my mother-in-law. She would beam. My mother couldn’t be faking how much she enjoyed hosting us. The nights we chose to stay home, she sounded downright disappointed. It really felt like a win-win situation.

The arrangement worked out really nicely for me and my husband. My family made an effort to give us our space while we ate, so we enjoyed our meal in privacy. Then, when I got home, I was free to put in time on my graphics project, because there was no supper to clean up from. (I did clear the table in my mother’s house when we finished eating, but it’s not the same when it’s your own house and there are pots to wash.)

It took ten months for me to finish that crazy project. (And then my computer had a heart attack and took a chunk of my not-backed-up work along with it to its grave. I know, I know. I pay for the best backup plan now.)

If not for this system of mothers graciously hosting their couples, my shanah rishonah would have been an agonizing time in my life. Instead, I have the rosiest memories of my husband and I cultivating a relationship with our respective families as a couple.

On My Own
Simi Ackerman

Igrew up in a small Midwest town — think 35 girls in my entire high school — and moved to Lakewood after seminary, partly for shidduchim, but also for a job with a social life.

My job at a large medical billing company gave me that social life, and my life away from home brought me a lot of independence. Still, marriage was a huge adjustment. There is a difference between cleaning my room and shelf in the fridge, grabbing a lunch on my way to work, running to the supermarket for the snacks I like, and keeping house and making supper for the virtual stranger I’d pledged my allegiance to.

I’d speak to friends who made the move to Eretz Yisrael, and I was appreciative of the fact that I still go home for Shabbos Chanukah and any simchah. But then I’d see friends from work who were just running “back home” to pick up soup or supper or get an opinion on their cute new maternity tops. I was basically on my own; my husband and I are both the oldest, and none of our family was nearby. Shabbos was all mine from the week after sheva brachos, and I won’t deny it: It was hard.

My husband and I went through a minor medical crisis shortly after our wedding. I really wanted to call my mother as everything was happening, to give her a play-by-play and get her support and opinions. My father is also well connected, and he’d have jumped at the opportunity to help. But my parents were busy with a large family and my brother’s upcoming bar mitzvah, and I didn’t feel like it was right for me to ask them to drop everything and be here. Even at the time, I understood that this was minor, and communal organizations offer so much support. My husband spoke to various askanim and medical referral organizations, and we were, baruch Hashem, able to navigate it on our own.

It was this — watching my husband make these calls — that cemented our marriage. “Wow,” I thought more than once during this time, “this guy barely knows me, and look how much he cares about me, about us, about making us a family.” It was such a growing experience for us; when it was finally over, baruch Hashem, we’d learned and grown so much together, I felt like we’d been married forever.

If we were living next to my parents like most of my coworkers were, I know things would have been different; I’d have relied on them to guide us through this situation — and they would have, lovingly. But that would have denied my husband the chance to take care of me, and there’s no way our marriage would be as strong.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 897)

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