Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My sister- and brother-in- law just left after a ten-day visit with their
children (8 and 10). We had a good time locally, on day trips, and a
few nights at the beach). But I have a bloody mouth from biting my
tongue about the dysfunctionality I observes both in their relationship
and parenting. I also saw how the children withdrew when their
parents were “bantering.” What the adults see as “playful” criticism, or
“teasing,” the children respond to like a cat-o- nine-tails. They curl into
themselves and start to mumble. In a teenager I’d say this is age-
related, but these kids should be happily engaging. I didn’t say
anything because they were on vacation. We’ll be staying with them
for a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah this fall. Is it better to say something when
we’re on their turf? I’m a therapist btw, so this is not a snarky
buttinski relative but a legitimately concerned professional. Plus I love
the kids.

Dear Worried:
Trained professional of not, there are few good places to tell a relative
something they won’t want to hear. Ditto for how you choose to
deliver your insights, which you should note will always be heard as
buttinski regardless of how true they may be. I understand your
concern for your nephew/niece, but you’ll have as much of a chance of
helping them directly as indirectly. Model good adult behavior when
you are around them. Also be warm and accessible, and give them
signals that you are a safety zone for them to talk to and feed heard.


As for the adults, say something when you say good-bye at the Bar
Mitzvah. A parting salvo like, There’s something I’ve been wanting to
talk about, but didn’t want to do it on your vacation or at a family
occasion. I’ll send you an email next week and then maybe we can find
a time to talk. To whom you say this is an interesting problem. You
and your husband could double-team them, he to his sib and you to
sib’s partner. Be sure you have your messages clear before you start.


An email to both of them from both of you that says roughly: We see
signs in [names of children] that concern us. We think that what you
see as playful teasing may be harming their self-esteem, and possibly
their relationships with you and others. We’ll call you in the hope that
you’ll hear us out. Be prepared for a rough reception and lots of
denial. But don’t back away from starting this dialogue.