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In-Laws without Rivalry

October 24, 2012 | by Emuna Braverman

It's not only siblings who need to be on the lookout.

My daughter recently borrowed my old, battered copy of that Faber-Mazlish parenting classic, Siblings Without Rivalry. (As if!) Although most of the book has faded along with those early crazy days of constant diaper changing and sleepless nights (Wait! I still have those!), there is one part I remember vividly. (But I looked it up just to make sure).

In describing the feelings of the older child towards the newborn, they suggest the following:

Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and says, “Honey, I love you so much and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife just like you.”

Additionally, “when the new wife finally arrives, you see that she’s very young and kind of cute. When the three of you are out together, people say hello to you politely, but exclaim ecstatically over the newcomer.”

Being at a different phase in life, I found that the analogy can be adapted and applied.

How about In-Laws Without Rivalry? Or Grand-parenting Without Rivalry? Now that’s a challenge. One of my grandsons recently said to me, “I like my other grandmother’s house better.” I took a deep breath, remained calm, and resisted taking back the toy I had just given him. I didn’t even call my husband crying – yet.

“Why?” I asked, determined to continue this oh-so interesting conversation.

“Because my friend lives next door,” he said. “Can I have a lollipop now?”

“Sure, take as many as you like!” I responded, as I breathed a sigh of relief (“I bet your other grandmother only lets you have one…”)

Okay, I’m exaggerating – slightly. But rivalry between in-laws and grandparents for their children’s and grandchildren’s affection can be dangerous and destructive and we need to be on the alert.

As I sat morosely contemplating my jealousy and bad character, I happened to pick up my friend Miriam Hendeles’ new book, “Mazel Tov! It’s a Bubby!” subtitled (and here’s the part that really speaks to me and my situation) “The Joys and Oys of Being a Mother, Mother-in-Law…and Grandmother”. And I was comforted to know that I’m not alone. With wit, humor and insight, Miriam relates stories of her own struggles to be “perfect” at those roles.

We all know we weren’t perfect parents so we’re trying to get it right this time. And it’s so much more complicated. We’re frequently dealing with (almost) strangers, with distance, with financial issues – and with that most precious commodity of all – our children and grandchildren.

We need wisdom, patience – and good friends. I can’t speak to the first two but, thank God, I have the latter. We can share our concerns, our struggles and our valiant (and not so valiant) efforts to get it right. And when it’s too late to call anyone, I pick up the book which is like having another friend’s voice in my ear.

Of course I know it’s not really a competition. Of course, it gives me great pleasure that my children are close to their in-laws and my grandchildren close to their other grandparents (Of course I’m a big fat liar!). That’s the way it should be.

I always say that parenting is the real selfless kindness that we engage in without any expectation of return, where our goal is (or should be) only what’s good for our children.

And, as loving parents, we know that a warm relationship with their in-laws is healthy for our children, that the love (and spoiling) of two sets of grandparents is a privilege for our grandchildren (how many of us never even knew our grandparents?). They get warmth, security, a sense of tradition – and probably too much ice cream!

Sometimes I lose my focus. Sometimes I selfishly want all that love and attention just for me (and maybe my husband too). But not for long. Because I really do want what’s best for them.

As with everything in life, we tend to concentrate too much on the “oys” (Yes, the house is a mess and cookie crumbs and crayons are everywhere), and not enough on the joys (“Zaidy, did you just get back from China? I missed you.”) It’s that pesky yetzer hara trying to get in the way of my relationship with my children and grandchildren. But it’s a new year and I won’t let it interfere.

I’m going to be a parent and grandparent without rivalry. Just as soon as I make chocolate chip cookies for all the grandchildren and go online to order some toys…

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