> Current Issues > Dear Emuna

Husband’s Dysfunctional Family

March 5, 2015 | by Emuna Braverman

My husband’s a gem, his family is not. We’re expecting our first baby and they want to be in our lives more often.

Dear Emuna,

My husband is a walking miracle. He is kind and thoughtful, a man with principles who is very serious about his commitments. I feel very blessed to have found him. The reason he is a miracle is because the rest of his family is so unlike him. His parents and siblings do not possess those character strengths and all very unhealthy emotionally. We get together for family celebrations but in general we don’t spend a lot of time with them. Now I am expecting my first child and I know they are all going to want to be in our lives more often. I really don’t want that and I especially don’t want them around the baby. What should I do?

New Mom to Be

New Mom in Waiting,

All parents and especially new moms are very protective of their children, especially the first. I know many women who wouldn’t even let their own mothers hold their first child that now thrust the second or third into her arms as soon as she walks in the door! Reality – and practicality – have taken over.

Without more details it’s hard for me to gauge the extent of your in-law’s lack of emotional health. In general the role of grandparents is just to love and spoil and if they can do that you are certainly fine – for many years. You can control the environment and prevent their being alone with your child (and possibly eventually children). In that situation as long as they aren’t dangerous, I can’t imagine any damage that will occur. When your children get old enough to spend time alone with their grandparents, you can re-evaluate. Children are pretty perceptive. They can usually ignore the foibles and accept the love. Unless there is actual physical danger, your children (and you too) will gain more from their presence than they will lose. And I’m willing to bet that, despite his potential ambivalence, your husband still wants his parents in his life and the life of his children. So think of it as a kindness you are doing for him.

Some people have parents who really step in and share the parenting burden or at least babysit frequently to give their children a break. This is not your situation but you can still build whatever relationship is available and give your children the sense of warmth, security and closeness that is provided by an extended family.

Nosy Co-Worker

Dear Emuna,

I have a great job with good benefits, creative challenges and opportunities to move up in the company. The only problem is my nosy co-worker. Every time I am on the phone she seems to pop her head up over the top of the cubicle or wander over to listen. I am a very private person and resent her presence. I don’t want to cause hard feelings or ruin the office atmosphere but it’s really making me nuts. What should I do?

Going Crazy

Dear Going Crazy,

Boy can I empathize! I am also a very private person and I would really go out of my mind in your situation. But, empathy aside, this is your income and a job you otherwise seem to enjoy so we need to find a coping strategy.

You don’t mention whether these are personal or business calls – or both. If they are personal, I have a simple solution. Don’t make personal calls from your office. It’s not really the appropriate place for them and your expectation of privacy is unwarranted and unrealistic. (There are many stories of revered Torah personalities who would never consider making a personal phone call during their work hours, considering it to be theft.)

But if you are referring to business calls, then I think you could politely tell her that you enjoy working with her and having her for a colleague (friend?), but it makes you self-conscious when she listens and that you would appreciate it if she would come “visit” when you aren’t on the phone. You may feel slightly awkward saying it but it’s worth the few moments of discomfort for the future benefits.

Rigid Friend

Dear Emuna,

There is a woman I work with who has been my close friend for many years. We have shared our joys and sorrows and confided in each other. She is compassionate and always there for me – and I like to think I am always there for her as well. I know that no one is perfect (myself included) but lately she has really been bothering me. She is very rigid and everything has to be her way. I usually go along so as not to make a fuss but I am feeling a little resentful about it. We’ve been friends for a long time and I don’t want to lose the relationship but I also feel that the relationship needs to be more equal. What should I do?

Going Crazy

Dear Going Crazy,

Wow! Two letters from women whose co-workers are making them nuts…It must be more common than I realized. I wish I knew a few more details. Is your friend married? Does her lack of flexibility impair her relationship with her husband? It seems that it must. Flexibility and the willing to compromise or see situations from someone else’s point of view or do what your spouse would prefer instead of yourself seem to be key components in a healthy marriage.

Perhaps that is your entry point. You mention that you share confidences. Has she mentioned to you any marital issues that seem due to her rigidity? Instead of just nodding in sympathy, perhaps you could gently suggest ways in which she could relax her attitude to her husband and open herself up to other ways of being. Once she does that in her marriage, it will hopefully generalize to her other relationships as well.

Alternatively you could discuss it directly with her, take a stand for your feelings and point of view and pray that she will hear and understand and that, if so, her changed behavior will you will generalize to her marriage. Since you have both behaved in these set ways for so many years, it will take time for change to occur and you need to approach her gently and lovingly, despite whatever built-up resentments you may harbor.

The third alternative ( and something I see many women of “middle age” – however that’s defined! – doing) is to take a step back and re-evaluate the relationship. Is it really a friendship? Is it just a habit or is it a relationship that is deeply important to you and that you want to continue? If, with serious reflection, you determine that it is in fact a friendship that you want to continue then reread paragraphs one and two. But if (which I think is at least just as likely) you discover that it is a relationship that has run its course and is no longer suited to who you are now, you can just subtly begin to pull back and avoid any confrontation (or gentle nudging) whatsoever. It’s up to you.


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