By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA
Director: Jewish Professionals Institute. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dedicated to my Children
Part of a Series on Shalom Bayis
There is much that is written about the importance of Shalom Bayis for young children as they are growing up. There is lots of discussion about the correct chinuch for younger children so that they will grow up to be wholesome bnei and bnos Torah with Yiras Shomayim. Parenting experts and related literature guide us on how we should treat and educate our younger children. However, very little attention, if any, is spent on discussing the role of older children, who are often married with children of their own, in the maintenance and support of the shalom bayis of the older parents.
What happens, for example, when illness strikes the older parents? How do the older children react and deal with such unexpected crisis? An even more complicated question is what role do the sons-in-law and daughters-in-law play in the lives and successful Shalom Bayis of the older, or more senior, couples?
Let’s say a very strong-willed new spouse is married to a more compliant and deferential son or daughter of an ailing or struggling older couple. Perhaps the older couple may be having their own ways of disagreeing over various family issues that their own children are used to accepting because they know that the issues have somehow always been resolved in the past between their parents. But the new spouses of a younger married children they are not used to what is going on. They may be used to intervening openly in their own family-of-origin’s matters in a more direct assertive way and being heard, but this Derech of dealing with parents is alien to the family of their new spouse. So should that new daughter- or son-in-law “speak their mind” and “have their say” in the family they married into even though they have no clue about the family dynamics they are getting involved with?
Hopefully, they are smart enough not to get involved in situations where they will almost certainly cause more harm than any good because they are not in a position to understand and resolve complex problems and issues that are almost certainly none of their business and way over their level of competence to resolve the tough issues of health questions or of Shalom Bayis of an older couple they know very little about.
At all times, especially older children, usually learned Bnai Torah in their own right, need to be aware and practice the highest levels of Kibud Av Va’Em and Derech Eretz to their own parents. Most importantly, it is crucial for children never to “take sides” in the many questions and differences of point of view that arise between their older parents. There are so many issues that people over 50, and certainly over 60 or 70, have to face. Their their grown children now in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, should be very cautious about offering any advice or to get involved in situations where it may even be that the Shalom Bayis of their older parents is being tested even in their senior years. This does happen. People are human and just because a couple is older and has married off all their children it does not mean that they are always in agreement over every single thing in their lives.
An older couple may be facing questions where one of them is ready to “retire” or for the man who wishes to “go back to Kollel” while a wife may feel, or imagine, that she is still “young” or “young at heart” and even though she is, say about 60, she wants to keep up her routine as if she is a much younger woman and she wishes that her husband would still want to work like he was a young Yungerman just out of Kollel, and they are disagreeing over this point. It would be a great error for older children to get involved in this life-decision going one between their parents or parents-in-law.
Older parents expect lots of Derech Eretz and acceptance from their older children. It easy for older children to forget and ignore that they were raised with great Mesirus Nefesh by their older parents who although they me older and more frail as the years go by, but they are full of pride and await the rightful Nachas they are entitled to, and certainly not meddlesome and annoying interference in their lives from their own children, let alone from their daughters- or sons-in-law who are basically strangers or “Tzugekummers” (Yiddish for “newly arrived”) to the family.
Bottom line, older children should practice great caution and preferably not get involved when their older parents may be having legitimate differences of opinion in their lives. Certainly it is a huge mistake for older children to take sides when their parents disagree. To interfere means not just stepping out of line and hurting the feelings and dignity of their parents or parents-in-law, it may Chas VeSholom even lead to the divorce of an older couple, and no one would want to have the responsibility “Achar Mei’ah Ve’Esrim” (after 120 years, when one passes on from this world) and have to face HKB”H (G-d) on their Yom HaDin! (“Day of Judgment”) by having such a terrible personal disaster on their conscience for the rest of their lives.
To be continued…