Dear Rebbetzin Weinberg,
I have a wonderful daughter-in-law. Everybody says so, and actually, I also think she is wonderful. She is very warm and friendly and always willing to help anyone. She invites people for meals, cooks for the sick, and welcomes guests to sleep at her home. In fact, she extends herself to everyone – everyone, that is, who is not in her family.
I don’t want to sound like the mother-in-law who is complaining about a daughter-in-law. I have always treated all my daughters and daughters-in-law the same in every way. If my daughter were treating her husband this way, I would say something to her. But I don’t know how to go about it with a daughter-in-law.
So what’s the problem? It seems to me that whenever I see my son and his wife together she is on her cell phone. She talks to her mother, her siblings, her friends. She seems to talk to everyone except my son. When I was a young wife, I would never have ignored my husband in this way, even though there were no cell phones then.
My other children tell me not to mix in. They say my son is not complaining, so things must be okay. It’s true that he does not look unhappy, but they are never together. They don’t go out to eat alone or take a couple of days away from the children, as other young couples do. In daily life, they don’t seem to spend much time together at all. She is busy and running all over the place with her activities.
I fear that something must be wrong, and if it isn’t wrong now, it will be soon. I feel my son is a good person, and that’s why he would never say anything. Is there anything I can do at the beginning of what I see as an unhealthy and dangerous situation?
Not a Meddling Mother-in-Law
Dear Not a Meddling Mother-in-Law,
It was interesting to me to read your statement, “I have always treated all my daughters and daughters-in-law the same in every way.” Yet in the next sentence, you clearly admit that you can’t approach this question in the same way you would with a daughter.
Life is very different now than it was 25 years ago. In those days, it was not possible to communicate with others instantly, as it is today. As a result, our whole way of thinking was on a different sync.
I’ve seen so often how the cell phone has become a way of life for some people, who spread themselves thin trying to keep up with all their activities. In some cases, the cell phone has even replaced the one-on-one relationships within the family, which used to form simply by virtue of spending time together without the presence of outsiders. Perhaps some people are using the cell phone to find satisfaction they are not getting within their own family unit.
We need to step back and make a chesbon nefesh (spiritual accounting) – both as individuals and as a community – and analyze where we’re headed. The old saying about “smelling the roses” doesn’t sound like much, but with cell phones taking over, it takes on a lot of meaning. It’s so easy to pass through this world not noticing, and taking for granted, everything that Hakadosh Baruch Hu has prepared for our enjoyment.
Your concerns about your children’s home have validity, but without knowing more about the relationship, it’s very hard to give a definite answer. If you feel very strongly, and have had a close relationship with your son through the years, why not ease your mind by talking to him. Speak to him openly about how things are going in general, and in his relationship with his wife, in particular. If he would feel you are interfering, perhaps a sibling who is close to him could approach him.
It seems that your other children have a different view of the situation. Maybe your son and his wife have come to this way of life on a mutual note. Perhaps they are so comfortable with each other that they don’t need to go out to eat for relaxation! It could be that they talk to each other throughout the day on the cell phone. So, it might not be a problem at all.
Another option – if your daughter-in-law is really like a daughter to you, and you have the sensitivity to do so – is to talk to her directly. Don’t put it as a criticism of her for not taking care of her husband. Rather, you are having a conversation about not looking for stimulation on the outside but, instead, nurturing the internal and creating a home that is a haven from the world.