I have many blessings in my life and feel immensely grateful. I have a loving husband and two terrific children, a daughter and son, both of whom are married and are doing a great job raising their own children.
My daughter and son-in-law both work as accountants and they are employed full time. Thankfully, they are very devoted to each other and the children, so their time is accounted for (pun intended). My son is a lawyer, and because of the generous salary he brings in, my daughter-in-law, Liz, never had to work. She was able to be a full-time mommy when the kids were little, and now that they’re in school, she has the luxury of being able to focus on her own goals and dreams, which brings me to my dilemma.
Liz is a good person. She is even-tempered and I’m grateful that Jim has her as his wife and the mother of his children. As a bonus, the two of us get along, too! But, seeing the way she spends her time rankles me. Her days seem incredibly self-centered. She goes to the gym, heads out to lunch with friends, shops, gets facials, manicures and massages. These are the activities that comprise her daily routine. To me, her schedule sounds more like a vacation, with each of the aforementioned activities ranking as a treat. I feel disturbed that this is the sum-total of her everyday itinerary.
Liz is so fortunate not to have to work. Shouldn’t she devote some of her time to the community? Let her volunteer in her shul, a hospital, nursing home, or in her kids’ schools. Shouldn’t she give back in some way as an expression of gratitude for the luxurious life she’s been gifted? Why doesn’t she want to? I’ve volunteered since I was a teenager, in all of the above places: hospitals, nursing homes and my shul. Every moment has been a labor of love. I’d like my grandchildren to grow up seeing role models of giving so that they devote their lives to others. This, I feel, is the road to a meaningful life. Is there any way for me to bring up this sensitive topic with Liz?
A Frustrated and Concerned Mother-In-Law
You sound like a very giving person, a persona to be admired. To you, it is unequivocal that if a person has spare time, they should utilize it to help others. After all, you seem to imply, if you don’t try to leave the world a better place, then what purpose have you served?
In Judaism, we believe that G-d loves every person, manifested by the fact that they have been gifted with life. If our omnipotent and omniscient Creator has decided that a person is worthy of existence, then they must be incredibly special!
However, since every individual is unique, then each person surely has their own path to forge. Perhaps Jill at Starbucks makes people happy by serving them coffee with a smile, while Jack Smith fulfills his raison d’etre by earning a respectable living and treating his family with love and caring. Is it possible that Liz is utilizing her potential at this point in her life to provide a loving wife and mother to her family? That by catering to herself during the day, she can be more present for the family when they come home and need her attention? And perhaps, if she focuses her talents more externally, it will come at the cost of her good cheer and equilibrium?
Or is she simply self-centered? That really, she could and should be doing so much more, but she is not stirred by that inclination. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle. But which of us can judge accurately?
Parents have invested a lifetime into their biological children. Therefore, the relationship can usually tolerate some interference or an occasional disagreement and remain viable. Yet, with the in-law dynamic, there is a great deal more sensitivity involved. Therefore, my recommendation is that in-law children should NEVER be criticized and must always be the recipients of love and warmth. This much more fragile relationship should be handled with delicacy and care. And of course, you should never speak negatively to your son about Liz. Certainly, you wouldn’t want your son to view her through a negative lens, thereby causing harm to their marriage.
With that said, my feeling is that your only recourse is to try and broach the topic in an offhanded way. Perhaps you and Liz will be sitting together one day, and you can segue into experiences of your volunteer work and how much it enhances your life. Liz will either catch the bait or it will get tossed overboard.
But your relationship will remain whole, and that is vital – for you, your son, your daughter-in-law, and your grandchildren.
May you always continue to count your blessings. And thank you for everything you do for the community!