I have two sisters who are causing big dilemmas in raising our 2-1/2 year old daughter. One sister is living with her boyfriend and their new baby and doesn’t attend church. She consistently dresses very provocatively, when she comes to our house.
The other sister is an angry atheist who swears and takes God’s name in vain constantly. She talks freely of getting drunk, premarital sex and other inappropriate topics in front of our daughter and my eight-year-old niece. My practice so far has been to ignore the immodest dress from the one sister, and to say in a hushed tone to the other sister, “Oh, we probably shouldn’t talk about that stuff in front of [the niece]”
My husband and I are committed Christians and both volunteer in our church regularly. When I was a kid and a high schooler, I erred on the side of being ungracious and judgmental, and in college I tried very hard to change that. Now I fear I’ve swung too far the other way and important boundaries are being crossed. I feel like I’m making huge efforts to be respectful and loving of my sisters while they are disrespectful of me and my family. What would you advise?
Thank you so much for your wisdom!
The question you ask hits close to home for so many people. We think you are being astute in recognizing that you leaned too far in one direction when you were younger and that this might have encouraged you to lean too far in the other direction now.
Family relationships are important and we don’t think people should be quick to terminate or minimize them. At the same time, your primary responsibility is to be your daughter’s protector and to maintain the spiritual integrity of your family.
We would recommend taking each of your sisters out individually for coffee or lunch for a private talk. Let them know how much you love them and value your connection with them. Tell them that you want them to be involved in your daughter’s life. However, that can only happen if they respect you and your husband’s position as parents. You aren’t asking them to say a grace before meals or pretend they are something they aren’t, but you reserve the right to choose that your daughter not be exposed to certain language and behavior until the age you deem it appropriate. If they are willing to respect you, you will welcome them in your home. If not, you will understand and make arrangements to get together with them away from your family.
We don’t see a reason to cut off contact with your sister and her boyfriend and child, though you and your husband might feel differently. When your daughter is old enough to understand that they are not married and asks about it, you can then explain why you believe in and appreciate marriage. You can say that you think the way they are living is not ideal or Godly while still recognizing the family relationship. As long as visits do not include sleepovers, we’re not sure you need to go further than that.
It’s not quite clear to us who your eight year old niece is or why her own parents don’t have the responsibility for her. As such, we are focusing only on your own family.
Enjoy the wonderful years ahead raising a child in a mixed-up society,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin