Category Archives: Relationships

Had It

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband just had his third surgery to repair a hip operation gone
badly. This has been a year of intense trauma for the whole family,
and he is going somewhat nuts and getting very depressed with
enforced inactivity. He feels old and useless and is grumpy most of the
time. The doctors have said he needs to walk five minutes but no more
every waking hour. He is not to lift or carry heavy things, climb on
ladders, ride his bike, and on and on and on. I have to go back to work
but am terrified to leave him alone. Last time when he was not fully
recovered he actually climbed a ladder to get something off a high
shelf. When I went ballistic, he said “I forgot.” Forgot!!! His hip has
destroyed our life. Who can forget? How can I enforce caution?

Had It

 
Dear Had It:

Short of an armed guard, you will be unable to control his activities
when you are not around. You can threaten him with installing motion
sensor cameras and a baby monitor. You can lock up the ladders and
paper the place with dire warnings. You can spend each night having
him review what he did each day other than his walking. But honestly
not much can compel a person to take better care of themselves than
self-interest.

 
It’s always hard to think long run when you think you are more fit than
your body really is. But a positive approach would be to plan fun
outing for “after you are recovered,” a phrase that should resound
through your house like “Next year in Jerusalem” does at the end of a
Seder. Every day. Morning and night, promise him a better future.

Not Miser

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How do you suggest dealing with a significant inequity in
income in a dating situation? We are both middle-aged and
started out life with a similar middle-class trajectory: stable
home, college, even both taught (me math, her English)
though not on tenure track. Then I went into business and
made a good living after risking a significant part of my then
life savings in a tech firm that did well. I’m not a millionaire
but I have a nice home and can regularly eat in restaurants,
go to theatre, etc. But my love life was not successful and I
divorced twice, both non-acrimonious and each ex happily
remarried.

 

Now I have met a woman I think I could very
much enjoy. But she is poor as a proverbial church mouse.
She says she lost everything in the recession, but there are
big holes in the story she told me. I haven’t pressed. I don’t
mind treating her when we go out (my generational
training). But I am reluctant to set up a pattern of paying for
everything to keep her life afloat, though it is clear that she
would be less stressed with an infusion of cash. I don’t think
I am ready for marriage, but I she’s the most fascinating
person I have met in a decade. Is there a middle path I can
walk for a while?

Not Miser

 
Dear Not Miser:

You don’t say how long you have been dating, but short of
an actual proposal, engagement, and wedding, I’m cautious
about suggesting you undertake large financial
entanglements. Many people suffered in the recession and
lost a lot. Teachers were probably already more vulnerable
on the financial food chain. But you cannot rescue them all.
Financial inequity in a relationship almost always becomes a
source of stress between couples, dating and even married.
Some work it out with various cost-sharing plans. Others
ignore it. But biting your tongue now is not a good recipe for
a long term balance.

 
I would do two things. First have a serious conversation with
her about money. Say you’re concerned by her past but
want to hear her history and really understand. Then say
when you go out on a date you are happy to pick up the tab.
That means meals, tickets, and various treats. But that you
are drawing the line on actually lending money. If that’s a
deal breaker, she will search for a more generous date and
you will lose her. Only you will know if that is a bigger loss
than money.

Time Off

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was supposed to have a fabulous weekend away with my cousins.
We’d bought tickets to a great show and had reservations at a great
restaurant. Then Cousin A came down with the flu, as in H1N1 go to
the hospital flu. So the trip is off. It feels silly to rent a hotel room in
my own town, but I really did want a weekend without my hubby. I
have a writing studio it has taken me a year to set up, and it has a bed
too, I can’t be there 24/7. He is Mr. Clueless about personal space and
boundaries. I love him but I want:

Time Off

Dear Time Off:

One option is to send him away for the weekend and have the house
to yourself. But assuming that’s not a viable alternative, try explaining
that you are not home unless you say you are. Work out anything to
do with scheduling or joint meal planning (if any) or any contingency
details you can identify: Who’s walking the dog or feeding the pets?
When are you completely inaccessible and what signal will you give to
show you are conversational. When I worked with a herd of people all
day and had an ex who worked at home, hungry for conversation the
moment I walked in the door, the rule was “I’m not home until I say I
am.” You could have a pre-arranged signal like a cap you put on, to
signal contact is ok, or stick with the “Don’t talk to me unless I speak
first” rule.

 
I’m sure you don’t want to feel like a prisoner in your studio, but think
about stocking it with a teapot and snacks, your phone charger, a
great read for when you are feeling less productive. Plan to be there as
much of the time as you can, with a break for a lovely dinner with him
either Saturday or Sunday night. Short of a family emergency, he
should respect your privacy, and avoid knocking on your door just to
say hi. That holds true if you leave the house. No “Where are you
going?” or “When will you be home?” He should act like you are with
your cousins, which you should also do when she is recovered.

On Her Own

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband has long wanted to go on an archeological dig, something I have no
interest at all in doing. Insert many rants about heat, bugs, and many other forms
of discomfort. Now that he’s retired, we agreed to a nine-month period of self-
discovery. We are very close and the marriage is not in jeopardy, at least not that
I can tell or he professes. We have set up a schedule of times to talk, whenever
he has wifi access. The last time we did, he said the whole experience was
nothing like he was anticipating, and he might just want to jump ship as soon as
they can find a replacement. Honestly I am enjoying my freedom, though
perhaps because I know it is temporary. I’d like to salvage at least a three-month
window of independence. Is that unfair to ask?

On Her Own

 
Dear On Her Own:

I’m assuming there was a long period of discussion and perhaps even
negotiation before he went off on his adventure. And, though you don’t
specify what you’re doing with your own time, you seem to be
enjoying it more than you might have anticipated. So no, I don’t think
it’s wrong to re-negotiate the duration or terms.
Tell him that since he made a commitment to the dig, that he should
honor it for at least a month or two. Things may improve and he may
start to enjoy himself more once he is acclimated. Then say you
would like at least a three-month window of self-discovery for yourself.
It can be while he is still gone or after he returns. But that is your
commitment to yourself that you expect him to honor, as you have
respected his original decision. When next you speak, start talking
about timelines, and be sure to say you’d prefer to know in advance
when he is coming home so you can be ready to be his supportive wife
again. In the meantime, tell him you like flying solo knowing he will
return. Congrats to you both. Not enough couples leave room for both
halves to be a single whole.

Gone On Too Long

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a friend who’s married to a man 20 years her senior. He’s now
in his mid-80s. I think it was a love match 30 years ago, but now she
is a cook, caretaker, maid, and general servant for a guy who doesn’t
seem to appreciate how good he’s got it. He belittles her in front of her
friends, whom she cajoles to visit so she’s not alone with him, though
none of us can see why she puts up with him. I think she’s too loyal to
divorce him and secretly hopes his time is short. I’ve visited once a
month for years, but now she’s asking me to come weekly. I’m just
not comfortable around him or them. She won’t leave him alone for
more than two hours, and has taken to asking me every few days to
please come. Other friends say the same. What can I do or say?

Gone On Too Long

 
Dear Gone Too:

It sounds like she’s going to be hearing things she doesn’t want to
from several people, so you can decide if you want to be at the front
or back of the line of people telling her what she doesn’t acknowledge.
You shouldn’t tell her the brutal truth the way you experience it. But
you can say that you prefer her company one on one, and that (if she
presses) you have become less comfortable being around her husband
as he has aged, required more of her, and seemed to appreciate it
less. Say you’re happy to spend time with her, say once or twice a
month if your schedules align, but you are not available to help keep
him company very often. Create a list of activities you two can do
together, whether that’s signing up for an art or exercise class or just
going out for ladies lunch. Be willing to make it a fixed commitment
and suggest other friends do as well. Eventually she will make a life
without him, so this is like training wheels.

It’s always tempting to presume the worst about other people’s
relationships. But let me encourage you neither to gossip nor malign.
You can ask her if there’s things at home she wants to talk about. But
don’t tell her that your mutual friends feel the same way. It will only
shame her and diminish her fragile self-confidence. Keep the door
open and hope she walks away from him and towards you.

Craving Space

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m a teacher who is returning to work this week. My husband is recently retired,
and suffering from the lack of social contact that he got from his colleagues. In
summer, when he had me around all day, we did a great many things together.
But when I would go off and visit my girlfriends or do volunteer work, I could tell
he was restless and overly needy when I got home. When I walk in the door after
teaching I need some time to decompress before I am ready to be social or to
take care of him. I simply cannot absorb or fulfill all his emotional needs. Ideas?

Craving Space

 
Dear Craving Space:

Your hubby needs something to occupy not just his time but his
mental energy so that he has something to share with you when you
are together, so he’s not so needy that he pounces on you the second
you walk in the door. Consider: projects like things to do around the
house, a new hobby, volunteer work of his own, or to enroll in classes.
I always suggest having a signal (beyond Hi honey I’m home.) as a
cue that you are ready to interact. Even 10 minutes to put down your
purse, check the mail, make a cup of tea, and exhale can be enough to
reset your mood.

 
I suggest a family planning council where you sit down and talk about
a typical week. Map it out on the calendar, where you block out all
your commitments and obligations, as well as the things you would
like to do in your leisure time, both with and without him. Then ask
him to do the same. Hopefully the yawning void will inspire him. If not,
talk about things he “has always wanted to do,” whether it is learning
a foreign language (perhaps in preparation for a future trip) or a new
skill. Perhaps his former profession is useful to some non-profit in a
volunteer capacity. Help him get excited about possibilities, and
remember there’s always going to the gym. That alone should make
him look for alternatives, lol.

Stressed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a husband with a long-term disability that is healing but not yet healed.
There are two issues. The first, which is medical, is that he has to NOT DO
certain things that might push his healing backwards. We have had several fights
about this during his convalescence. He thinks he is more fit than the doctors do,
and has many times too often done what I consider risky behaviors. That usually
involves trying to fix things around the house and yard, things he would have
been able to do in his sleep before his injury, but that are on the list of forbidden
activities (for example climbing on ladders).

 

The second issue is that he feels emasculated by my attempts to set up boundaries,
even though they are fully in line with the doctor’s instructions. He doesn’t get that
if he goes down again, everything falls to me. I am a working professional and already stretched thin, especially after six months of caretaking. This has impacted not just our intimacy but emotional trust. Can you help?

Stressed

 
Dear Stressed:

The practical side is far easier than the emotional side. Write up a checklist of
activities and submit it to the doctor (or more likely to his nurse). It can be really
simple: two columns headed by “allowed to do” and “not yet.” When you get the
list back, put it on the frig with a magnet and extract a promise that he will not do
anything more physical than daily life without consulting the list; if an activity is
something he is not yet ready for, the two of you will agree on a plan to get it
accomplished.

 
As for the emotional stress, you need a marriage/couples counselor. Most
marriages would benefit from this kind of tune up on a regular basis, but usually
folks wait until they’re in deep trouble to get help. If they wait too long, the bonds
are too fragile to sustain the pressure. In your case, if his illness is the primary
culprit, and is time-limited, you probably have a great chance to recover
communication and trust. But someone who is skilled at helping people on an
ongoing basis would be a real asset to the two of you. Ask discretely among your
friends and you will get names. People don’t tend to advertise when they have
seen a counselor, but your situation is one they will be able to relate to, and you
will find referrals.

Momma Wife

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Everyone in my family relies on me and I am going a little nuts from
having zero time to myself. My husband is 20 years older and
medically dependant on me. My two adult children seem to be in
constant crisis with their own health, finances, jobs, and children. The
phone doesn’t stop with needy requests. I feel a little like I am being
eaten alive. I cannot remember the last time I sat with a book in my
garden and relaxed. The closest I get to quiet time is when I volunteer
to cook and serve at the senior brunches at the synagogue. Can you
help me find me again?

Momma Wife

 
Dear Momma Wife:

Bear with me on the math. There are 168 hours in a week, minus approximately
70 for sleep, showering, brushing your teeth etc. In the remaining 100 hours each
week, I am suggesting that you figure out a way to carve out 10% of them for
you. Just for you. No phone, email, caretaking, problem-solving, listening to
whining, or doing for anyone else but yourself. That comes to about one and a
half hours a day. For you. Repeat you.

 
For your own mental health, which everyone around you seems to rely on, you
are going to have to figure out how to do it. And I’m not talking snatches of time,
five minutes here or there. I’m talking about a solid chunk, a minimum of 30
minutes at a time. If you nap, nap. Meditate, do yoga, whatever rocks your boat.
Or just take whatever book you are longing to read to a coffee shop and have a
cappuccino while you sit there basking in the quiet or chatter or people who are
not depending on you to solve their problems. Start there, and then when you
have more fortitude write me again and we can talk about boundaries and more
levels of self-care.

Shocked and Scared

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m devastated and I don’t know how to start repairing my life, which I
may have to start over. This will be complicated but here goes: I’m 35.
I met David my first week of college. We married five years later when
we both headed to Boston for grad school. After grad school we
decided to put off a family until we had each gotten more established
in our careers. I’m a planner and he is a techno-communications
specialist. We got good jobs, bought a house, and casually started
family planning. A few years in, without even one miscarriage we
investigated our apparent non-fertility issues. The problem turned out
to be his low sperm count, and after much agonizing, planning, and
saving, we started a complicated program of in-vitro fertilization.
Amazingly both of the fetuses that we implanted were viable and two
plus years ago we had a pair of fabulous twins (one boy, one girl). Like
most couples with newborns we went through long periods of sleep
deprivation, exacerbated by not only the twin thing but the fact that
David and his best friend had decided to start their own business, a
decision the other wife (not a parent) and I agreed to.

 

The past five years have been a non-stop stress ride, punctuated by
occasional moments of bliss but mostly characterized by stress, tears,
arguments, and lack of sleep. Today David told me that rather than
going for the vasectomy we’d agreed might improve our absent
intimacy, that he’d decided he wasn’t ready, because he might want to
have more children, but not with me!! In the ensuing conversations he
said his “best friend” is a young woman from work whom he hired a
year ago, that he “hasn’t felt close” to me for a very long time, and
that he’s looked into how much alimony/spousal support I might have
to give him!!! Where do I start picking up these pieces????

Shocked and Scared

 
Dear Shocked and Scared:

Not every marriage lasts; far too many do not. That’s not the kiss of
death, but it is a reality you may need to confront. David sounds far
less mature than I’d want for the father of my children, and a much
worse communicator than I’d expect from someone you’ve been
relating to half of your life. Your summary doesn’t sound promising
from a stay-together point of view. But it also doesn’t ensure the
outcome is divorce.

 
The real question is whether both of you want to work on repairing the
marriage and trying to stay together. Even if both people enter
couples counseling with the intention of healing their relationship, the
process may not get them there. But if either or both are just going
through the motions, and secretly have a foot or more already out the
door, then the process is not good investment of time and money.
That said, you should begin by asking your friends for referrals to a
good couples counselor. Refrain from citing all the hurtful things he
has said. Hard but important. If your employer has an EAP (employee
assistance program), you might start ASAP to share aloud the
conversations David’s been having in his head. Listening will be hard
but educational and revealing.

 
In addition to actively trying to understand what he’s thinking, get
your own head and heart into individual counseling. That’ll help you
understand your own values and life priorities. It’s critical that you
don’t go through this next period of your life merely being reactive to
what he brings to the table and what he wants. Your vote counts too.
You should also, gulp, consult a good divorce attorney. That doesn’t
mean you’re going to file. But you do need a brisk and thorough
education on your rights and responsibilities from someone who’d be
prepared to be your advocate. Divorce attorneys have seen this horrid
drama before. They can protect you and reassure you that lives and
hearts torn asunder can also be kept ticking and be legally protected.
There’s potential spousal support at play as well as child support, not
to mention your common assets of a home, savings and/or debts.

 

Mostly you need to know that you haven’t been a blind fool to stay in a
relationship that may now be dying. If you could have anticipated your
current problems you’d have done things to keep them from erupting
as they now have. But you don’t need to feel like a victim of his anger
or unhappiness or your own confusion or shame. Focus on figuring out
what you most want, and then see how close you can get. Not just for
your own sake, but for the kids’. Give healing and reconciliation your
best shot. And know there are many ways in this world to be happy.

Leave Me Alone

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m single. I’m happy being single. Everyone I know is married and
thinks I should be too. They keep trying to fix me up on dates, inviting
me to dinner parties, tell me success stories about people who married
later in life and died happily ever, reunited with their lost true loves
from high school, etc etc etc etc etc ad nauseum. I did not have a true
love in high school that I have longed for over the years. Instead, I
supported two deadbeats for the better part of thirty years in two
marriages, thankfully both over, though at great cost. I’ve lived
happily alone for the past ten and travelled, gone on vacations, and
generally had a much happier and more fulfilling life. What my friends
do not know is that I have also been in a mutually consenting friends-
with-benefits relationship with a man whose wife is institutionalized
with Alzheimer’s. Because of our social standing we decided it was
nobody’s business but our own. When people say, with sincerity,
“You’d be sooo much happier with companionship….” and then wink at
me, I want to tell them, but I’ve been quiet. Other than saying “I love
my life,” what can I do?

Leave Me Alone

 
Dear Leave Me Alone:

You’re on the right track with re-inventing your life after two bad
marriages. Many women would crawl into bed and pull the covers over
their head and never go out again. The fact that you are both socially
and sexually active, and seem happy and content is a statement about
your good emotional health and ability to make good choices. That it’s
also good for your wallet is just an added bonus.

 
Tell your friends that you have taken a complete inventory of our life,
from fiscal to sexual. Say that you’re happy with every aspect of your
life, except perhaps needing to lose ten pounds, getting someone to do
your weeding, or finding a better brand of toothpaste. You can change
either of those latter two, but make them playful and distracting. Don’t
put the emphasis on sex, but if they come back with a quizzical inquiry
about you being sexually happy, say that while you’re not a prude you
don’t want to compare bedroom notes with anyone. Try to say that
with a straight face. You might practice this little speech in the
morrow, perhaps after a glass or two of wine. But no matter what,
keep smiling like the Mona Lisa. If they guess at why, you can still
keep mum about whom. And if life changes down the line, they can
dance at your next wedding or just be happy for you.

Second Life

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a relationship question that is long-run not short. I’ve been with
my new girlfriend and (I hope) eventual wife for two years. She
started dating me even though I wasn’t fully divorced. And slowly but
surely it has become a strong loving relationship. The problem is that
her 14-year old daughter still refuses to accept me. The ex is a pot-
smoking, guitar-playing, rock-star wanna be who doesn’t get that at
age 45 his chance for fame and glory is long past. But his daughter
adores him. I’m older than any of them and within three years of
retirement from a very high stress job I can’t wait to leave. The
daughter is smart but not get a scholarship brilliant. There has been
no discussion of adoption given her age. And I am happy to help out
with college costs in addition to my usual monthly household
contribution. But I am not eager to prolong my work life misery for a
young woman who treats me with scorn. I know it sounds early but
how can I explain my needs without further alienating her?

Second Life

 
Dear Second Life:

Relationships grow and change over time. It’s the rare parent, even a
bio parent, who has a great relationship with a teenager. And with my
advice I’m am in no way advocating that ant offer of support you make
be seen as a bribe to get her to appreciate you more or treat you
better. That said, be as honest and transparent as you can with both
mother and daughter.

 
Explain that your current level of financial support for the household
will go on even after you retire in three years. Say that you are willing
to contribute towards college costs in addition, but not to work longer
to contribute more. Say that when the daughter does apply to schools
she can count on a firm commitment from you of $x thousand per year
for a specified number of years. Explain that the only criteria are on
going civility and maintaining a specified grade level. Be clear that the
support will end if she drops out, does poorly, or treats her mother or
you with disrespect. Nothing may change or time and familiarity may
improve things. But you can proceed with a clear conscience.

Cat Woman

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m six months into a new relationship. It is friendly and compatible
and I think could last for a while. But the new honey just got a puppy,
right before he’s headed away to see his family (I’m not yet ready to
be introduced) and before he has a series of three-day workshop
trainings to conduct. Somehow he got the impression that I would be
just fine having an un-housebroken puppy stay at my house with my
aging cat, or, barring that, that I would be willing to sleep at his place
while he is away, so the puppy’s training and bonding process can
continue uninterrupted. My responses, in order, are No, Thanks.,
Thanks, No., and What are you kidding? Am I being selfish (his
charge) or reasonable (my response)?

Cat Woman

 
Dear Cat Woman:

I can understand his reluctance to take a sweet new puppy and pop
him/her in and out of a vet or boarding kennel, especially one that has
not yet had all the appropriate shots. But assuming that a girlfriend
would be willing to assume full care seems presumptuous. There are
professionals who provide these kinds of services, and that’s who he
should consult, or a different friend who is dog-oriented and willing.
Only you can decide if you are willing to put your relationship on the
line for this. But assuming without asking and respecting your
boundaries doesn’t signal a good long-term fit for domestic harmony
among the two, three, or four of you.

The Wife

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For years my husband has flirted with another woman. It started in
complete fun when we met socially (both friends of the same friend).
It was clear he and she had a lot in common: both from Philadelphia,
Penn grads, funny, smart, sexy, and great people who care a lot about
others. He and I have been together for twenty years, and to others it
may seem like a tumultuous relationship. We have survived
bankruptcy, house remodels, miscarriages, and job losses. We fight
and we make up. It is intense, but also very honest and loving. We
have been in counseling and always agreed we want to stay together.
She has been a good friend to both of us, helping with job shifts and
giving us free legal advice. But the flirting has finally gotten to me. I
know nothing will ever happen, because she is a happily married
lesbian, and he has never come close to cheating on me. Our sex life is
great and has helped us through the hard times. But after years of
double entendres, winks, and jokes no one else in the room seems to
get, I want to shift how they play together. Am I just being a jealous
wife or is it okay to say something? To whom, when, and how?

The Wife

 
Dear Wife:

You say it simply and as often as it takes. You say it when people are
drinking wine, and when they are drinking coffee. You say it when the
three of you are alone, and in front of other friends. You say it
seriously and you say it joking. No matter when, where, and how you
say it, you make clear that there’s they need to cross back over the
line. You can and should also say that to your husband in private,
explaining that it is both hurtful and embarrassing.

 
There’s a difference between teasing, playfulness, and outright flirting,
Your line may have to do with language or touching, but be prepared
to give some playful examples. You can say their “show” is too blatant,
even boring. Challenge them to be subtler rather than continue as
things are. What will be important is your clarity, and the fact that you
are simple, clear, and consistent, as opposed to shaming, nagging,
and hurt. That’s not to say it’s not okay to be hurt. But you’re more
likely to make your point and get your way if you engage them in new
behaviors rather than fighting off the old ones. You’re unlikely to turn
them into quiet prudes, so set your line closer to where you are likely
to succeed.

Compromiser, Not Fighter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was a single mother after my divorce for twenty years. I dated, I
hooked up, and then I decided I wanted to find the right guy. I am
mid-fifties though look younger, and a well-educated professional. I
didn’t want an old fuddy-duddy but rather someone to build a life with.
With Martin that mean relocation (I was happy to end my job and find
a new city) and adjusting to different politics and life decisions. But for
the most part we are happy. But he is a vet with PTSD and poor
communications skills. In decorating our new house, he says,
“Whatever you want.” But when I express a point of view that is not
what he has proposed, as in something as small as a different paint
color or tile pattern, he just turns on a dime and says “Never mind, do
whatever you want!” and walks out. I love this man and want to be
happy with him. How can we learn to disagree without it becoming a
major argument every time?

Compromiser, not Fighter

 
Dear Compromiser:

Every relationship has issues, and every relationship develops
patterns. Some can be good and healing. But others, especially in the
realm of communications, can lay an unsound foundation that will, in
the tough times that every life includes, make it much more difficult to
feel like you are on the same team in life. I am ignorant where PTSD
fits into the picture or pattern, and assume and suggest that he be
treated by whatever interventions are available and helpful. My advice
is limited to household and much smaller problems of daily living.
It’s important that you both acknowledge the interaction is fractious,
unpleasant, and not how you genuinely feel about one another.
Assuming that’s true, you don’t need to start at a marriage counselor.
But if you try some techniques that do not work, it’s worth considering
a couples’ counselor for even a few sessions. What seems big to you is
routine to them, and they may have fixes you can’t imagine. In the
interim, try starting with a conversation over a good meal. Say you
want to work on communication and have two ideas. First, whenever
you are making a decision, each of you should get 2-5 minutes to lay
out your case without interruption, with the other listening and not
interrupting. Then a discussion until you make a decision you can both
live with. Second, identify a code word, something unlikely to be part
of your normal conversation. Something silly like Pineapple! Tofu! Or a
word likely to elicit a laugh is good. Saying it translates to I think
we’re about to enter our bad communications place. Can we sit down
for fifteen minutes and talk things out (using method number one)?
Keep trying this until you learn to talk to one another or agree you
need external help.

Grrrrrrrr

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just visited my daughter, son-in- law, and grandkids. The kids are
great (two boys 7 and 10, and a girl 4). But I saw several things that
disturbed me. My son-in- law is a like a fourth child. He does cross-fit
every day. He comes home with bloody hands and exhausted and
plops in front of a screen of some sort, work or sports. I understand
that the kids are spoiled, but that nobody other than my daughter
even takes their dishes to the sink, let alone help empty the
dishwasher, and generally be more responsible is very hard for me to
watch. He is a high-powered corporate sales guy, but it’s hard to teach
kids good values when only one parent is role modeling responsible
household behavior. My daughter is constantly walking around the
house picking up after all four of them. I hate to bite my tongue when
my son-in- law complained that she had seemed peeved and had taken
away a beer he hadn’t been finished with. I pitched in where I could,
but she said having help that disappeared was almost worse. I don’t
want to be seen as the meddling other-in- law. But I see my daughter
struggling to keep up and perpetually tired. What can I say?

Grrrrrrrr

 
Dear Grrrrrrr:

Every household has its own dynamics around chores and perceived
responsibilities. I come from the “teach them young” school, because
otherwise we will end up raising generations of entitled young who
think the rest of the world are their servants. That’s more than an
issue of class and superiority; it’s a matter of politeness and
appreciation as well as creating a culture of mutual responsibility.
Tell your daughter that she has to be the messenger, unless she wants
you to do it via email or Skype. I’d counsel that it be her, but you can
role-play and work out the kinks with her before she talks to the
family.

 

The messages should be these: The world won’t always be your
servant. Everyone has to help. If you don’t, people won’t like and
respect you and then you’ll get a reputation for being a slacker instead
of a nice person, which you are. From now on everyone is responsible
for carrying all their plates and glasses to the sink. You boys will help
me unload the dishwasher and [girl] will have special ways to help
until she’s older. If you spill something, grab a sponge and clean it up.
If you take things out of the fridge or cupboards, put them away in the
place you found them when you are done. And for one hour each
weekend we’re going to have a family clean-up project, all working
together so we can sing and whistle while we work.

 
As for the husband, he needs to model good housekeeping for the kids.
And he needs to put his happy face on around them. If they see him
complaining, they won’t respect or listen to your daughter. So tired or
not, he too needs to pitch in before he gets screen time.