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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Invite your in-laws to stay for a few months!

Daf Yomi Yevamos 95

Benjy and Sara had just had their first child when the request came from Benjy's parents, Riva and Jake.
“We’re doing some major renovations on our place.  Could we move in with you guys for a few months?”  The young couple didn’t know how they could say no to his parents and so they welcomed them into their home and day-to-day lives.

Jake and Riva got right into their new role as grandparents, trying to help out wherever possible.  But as time wore on, Sara began to resent their presence.  She felt like they were stepping on her parenting toes whenever they were around.  And that seemed to be always.  Something had to give.

Concerning the difference between the Torah’s transgressions of cohabitating with one’s mother-in-law and one’s sister-in-law, Rabbi Judah teaches:  The House of Shamai and the House of Hillel did not dispute the fact that one who cohabits with one’s mother-in-law invalidates his marriage to his wife.  When do they disagree?  In the matter of one who cohabits with one’s wife’s sister.   The House of Shamai says that this invalidates the marriage.  The House of Hillel says that it does not invalidate the marriage.

Rabbi Ami quoted Resh Lakish: What is Rabbi Judah’s reasoning?  Concerning cohabitation with one’s mother-in-law, the Torah states, “In fire, they shall burn him and them (his wife and her mother).”  But is the entire household liable to burning?  The wife was the innocent party!  Rather, since it is not meant to be understood literally that she is burned, let us derive that she is now prohibited to her husband.

I’m not sure how many young men are literally cohabiting with their mothers-in-law; but still, it goes without saying that certainly, first and foremost, we must take the Torah simply as stated.  But on a more figurative level, the Torah is warning us of the perils of ‘cohabitation’ – living together – with one’s in-laws.  Now, most people don’t have to deal with their in-laws asking to stay under their roof for extended periods of time.  But everyone deals with the transition of the new relationship, as one moves from one family unit with one’s parents to the new family unit with one’s spouse.

Change is not easy and the more you are aware of the challenges presented by the transition, the more you can guarantee that nobody is hurt in the process.   As a newlywed, you’ve spent the last couple of decades confiding in your parent and now you suddenly need to shut the door on a huge part of that relationship and start to confide in a person you’ve just met and hardly know.   And so when you have your first fight, you must figure it out with your spouse, as hard as that might be.  It’s not okay to go running back to your parents for their advice.   That causes everyone to burn.

And if you are the parents of a newlywed, you too need to know your boundaries.  It’s great to help out with the grandchildren but only if your kids want that help.  It’s wonderful to provide financial assistance, but only if your kids are both okay with it.  Otherwise it can cause serious imbalance in the relationship, especially if your child-in-law’s parents are not providing the same assistance.  Not all help is good help and you must tread so carefully in the life of your married child.  You may be acting completely innocently, but if anyone is hurting, all get burned in the process.  Cohabitation can sometimes mean just being in their home and lives way too often.

Family could be an acronym for ‘Father-And-Mother-In-Law, Yikes!’ Or it could mean ‘Father-And-Mother-In-Law-Yippee!’  That’s in your hands.  In-law relationships are, by their very nature, fraught with challenges.  You get to choose your spouse; you don’t get to choose your in-laws.  But they’re an integral part of family.  May you merit the ‘Yippee’ of your relationship with your children-in-law and parents-in-law, always knowing when and where to help out and when and where to draw the line!