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"Why Won't My In-laws Support Us?"

*This was originally a column in the Five Towns Jewish Times*


Dear Elisheva,


My wife and I have been married for almost three years, and this issue has only gotten worse over that time. Baruch Hashem we get along really well when it comes to most things. But there’s one area where we disagree strongly, and I was hoping we could get your opinion.


Both of our parents are good people, and we have great relationships with them. But when it comes to supporting us, they are really not on the same page. My parents have been very generous. They give us money every month, no questions asked. And then on top of that, they’ll buy us things for our home, take us on vacations, and help us out with other expenses. If we want to go away on our own, they not only treat us to the trip, but also watch our baby for us.


My in-laws are a whole different story. They contribute nothing on a regular basis- maybe occasionally if my wife is out shopping with her mom, she’ll pay for what they buy, or she’ll send us a grocery delivery here and there. They also never offer to watch our kids- even when we go there for Shabbos or Yom Tov.


My parents buy lots of nice gifts and clothes for our baby; hers get us very little, and what they do get us is very simple. My family is pretty comfortable financially, but I don’t think that hers isn’t. Even if they can’t or don’t want to give exactly the same as my parents, the difference is very wide- they really give almost nothing.


We’re doing ok- my wife works part-time, I get a kollel check, and like I said, my parents cover a lot. But I’d love to start thinking about buying a house, or at least saving for one. And in general, I just think it’s not fair to my parents. I’m not really sure where it’s coming from. My wife is the first of her siblings to get married, while I have some married siblings already. So maybe my in-laws don’t realize that this is what people do?


Either way, I’ve asked my wife to speak to them about it, but she doesn’t want to. I’ve offered to speak to them with her, or even to speak to them on my own. But she says she doesn’t feel comfortable to ask them for more- that even if they are able to, they never promised that to us. The thing is, while they’re not complaining, that leaves my parents doing so much more than their fair share. I’ve been thinking about speaking to a Rav to help, but I also wanted to ask the opinion of a therapist. How do you think we should go about addressing this issue?


Thanks in advance,

Unsupported


Dear Unsupported,


It’s good to hear that you feel your relationships with your wife, parents, and in-laws are overall happy ones- that’s very fortunate. I’d like to first address a specific line in your query: “Maybe my in-l;aws don’t realize that this is what people do.” I think this thought is the crux of your dissatisfaction. It assumes that this in fact, is what people, as in most people, do. But the subject of parents financially supporting or subsidizing the lives of their adult children is one that is both sensitive and very subjective.


In families or communities where young adults marry before completing their full time formal education, whether in Yeshiva or graduate school, it can be incredibly helpful and magnanimous when one or both families offer to help the couple out until they are on their own professional footing.


In some families or communities, this phenomenon is so common that it’s almost seen as a given, a foregone conclusion: “Of course our parents will help us out.” In families like this, sometimes the help will come even if and when it’s not necessary; just parents upgrading their grown kids’ lifestyles because they can, and they want to.


In other families and communities, this is not at all assumed- some have parents who can and choose to do this, and some don’t.


Still in other families and communities, the assumption is that once young adults are old enough to date, get married, and start a family, it means that they are ready to take on the responsibilities of providing for and parenting that family, and there are no expectations of anyone else shouldering that work for them. Any help that is offered- financially or practically, is seen as an optional gift.


It sounds like you’re coming from a culture or a mindset which assumes young adults will receive significant parental financial support and childcare assistance well into their adult lives. But it also sounds like your wife and her family may subscribe more to the belief that this is not at all a given.


You may view their not offering these favors as “not right,” because of your own assumptions and expectations, while your wife might view making these requests of her parents as “not right” because she wasn’t raised to expect that level of ongoing largess. To her, and maybe to her parents, asking for this might feel entitled or inappropriate.


Even if your in-laws had made a commitment to support your family in this way, it could be perceived as a little presumptuous to follow up and ask for it, depending on the nature of the relationship. But it sounds like in this case, there was no specific arrangement agreed upon, and therefore no reason to believe that this was something they were or are supposed to do. We also don’t even know whether they’re in a position to do more, if they wanted to.


We all have our biases, and mine is to encourage healthy, competent adults to not expect free things. To assume that in general, no one owes us anything (with some exceptions, such as an employer with contracted employees.) If parents, siblings, friends, or neighbors offer us favors or gifts, that is very lovely, and it’s wonderful for us to try and do the same for others, in moderation and when we can. Being able to give to others is a blessing. Receiving kindness from loved ones is a blessing too. But taking from others… that can seem greedy and be a drain on the relationship, and so I believe it should ideally be avoided as much as possible. (Again- this is my bias, and also my professional opinion:)


It sounds like you are indeed quite fortunate – you have a happy marriage, a child, and good relationships with both families. You have the privilege of being able to learn Torah full time at the moment, and the luxury of doing so in what sounds like some modicum of material comfort. You have a wife who has a job and a child, and who respects her parents, appreciates whatever they are doing, and doesn’t want to impose on their time or wallet- these are virtues. You have parents who are generous in many ways, and in-laws who sound like they love and give to your family as well, even if they don’t demonstrate it the way your parents do.


I would recommend that you let go of the expectations, and try to honor the boundaries your wife seems to want to have with this topic and her parents. Let your parents know how much you appreciate what they do for you, and your in-laws as well; treating you to groceries and hosting you for Shabbos and Yom Tov is giving too. When the time comes to think about buying a home, if your parents or in-laws offer to help you, that’s lucky, but perhaps it would be wiser to assume that will probably be your responsibility. In the meantime, maybe try to focus on appreciating and enjoying the favorable situation that you’re in right now.




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