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He is too devoted. What can I do?

I am the mother of a married son who is himself the father of a baby. I see that he devotes himself to his wife too much. Sometimes he doesn't sleep for whole nights. He is up with the baby, while his wife "has to get up for work in the morning."


He also devotes himself to the baby, who is constantly on my son's arms. That's the only way he falls asleep, I'm told. His brothers and sisters tried to make him aware but to no avail. I could talk to him about it myself, but I'm afraid that if he understands from me that his wife is not acting properly, it will be destructive to their relationship.


What should I do?


Answer:


I will try, with your permission, to challenge your presumption. It is possible that he tells you or his siblings only about the nights he got up, and not about those that his wife got up, which is less interesting to the listeners in your home.


It is also possible that most of the time the baby is not being held, just maybe during the occasions you're aware of when perhaps the baby was teething or had a stomachache, as babies do. It is also possible that the baby is crankier only in your home — because of the noise or the baby's unfamiliarity with the surroundings. We never know the whole picture. You can believe me on that one — I promise you — based on my long, personal experience.


When people refer me to a person who needs advice, that person's tendency is to tell me everything

they know about the situation. I treat this rendition with skepticism because, in the course of my meetings with the actual client, I almost always discover completely different issues. There are many additional reasons you shouldn't listen to someone else's diagnosis of the problem, but we won't expand on all those reasons here. Keep in mind that sometimes, or more than sometimes, even the people who are seeking counsel for themselves do not really know what's bothering them. In spite of all my disclaimers above, I will try to address the question as posed because this scenario does happen in many homes.


You said, "I'm afraid that if he understands from me that his wife is not acting properly, it will be destructive to their relationship." You are absolutely right! In countless cases, such parental interference is truly destructive. There have indeed been cases where an interfering parent completely destroyed the household, so your caution is commendable. Well done!


Next, you said, "His brothers and sisters tried to make him aware but to no avail." I'm guessing that your children commented without much thought, an offhand "Why are you with the baby all day?" Something like that, right?


Comments such as this usually achieve the completely opposite goal. They make the person "under attack" feel justified in arguing against what feels like an accusation. He will try to convince them of the rightness of his way, and this persuasion will work strongly — on himself. He will dig in to his position more and more. Why?


Because there is an important rule: a comment that conveys "you are not okay" offends. This attack on the person's honor makes him "scream out" for compensation, and the outcry will be stronger than the insult of the original comment! Repeat this rule to yourself as many times as necessary.


Third, from your caution, I understand that you don't share your opinions or criticize your son much, if at all. Apparently you also try to praise his wife to him and emphasize her good points. If this is all true, then in such a ratio of one comment against several dozen compliments, you can share your opinion, but you need to know how.


It seems that there is nothing really wrong here on your daughter-in-law's part. The one who is "wrong" here is your own son. Yes, he is giving, and he wants life to be good for his family, to be giving to the other. You want to see your son being good and giving, and it pleases you to see him so. It's also good for him because there is also a great mitzvah in such sacrifice.


Then there is giving that is not really giving but rather an attempt to placate someone. That is slavery, which is destructive and might one day implode. People should always ask themselves, do I have a choice? Am I really free to do as I please? Or am I only guided my desire to be make others happy? Am I afraid of their reaction, of what I will need to deal with if I don't do what they want?


If I have free choice, and I serve willingly, then I am truly giving. As we know, giving gives birth to love. On the other hand, if I don't have a choice, then the dynamic of the relationship is one of slavery and is destructive. Many times, the development of such a dynamic is not the fault of the other person. It is the giver himself who has created this situation and is also the one who can fix it.


So what I suggest is to invite your son over for a chat, i.e., tell him, "I would like to talk to you about something." If he says OK, let's talk right here, don't agree to it. Insist that you talk somewhere else. Even if you're already "somewhere else" with him, go to a different "somewhere else," just as an introduction to the conversation. Such an introduction to any conversation imbues it with a seriousness and will discourage him from approaching it as a tit-for-tat session. The message it broadcasts is that you won't be entertaining a ping-pong conversation that includes one side commenting, the other side returning a comment, and the other side lobbing another retort that includes justification and digging in.


Then ask your son if it's OK for you to tell him something about his behavior within his family and with his wife. He he doesn't agree, don't say anything. If he really refuses, certainly don't say a single word. Instead, invest all your energy in prayer, which will really help him.


If he wants to listen to you, then first of all, compliment him on his conduct and also compliment his wife on her conduct. Find something, anything on which to compliment them.


After the compliment, explain to him the difference between true giving and sacrifice versus placating and appeasing. Make it clear to him that such is often the behavior and the challenge of good-hearted people. Make him feel good! Emphasize that he cannot change his behavior suddenly or rebelliously. Nothing good will come of it. Rather, encourage him consult with his rabbi on how to refine his behavior and perspective. If he wants guidance from you specifically, then send me his question as he asks it, and I will address him in a different response, with G-d's help.


Good luck!

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