Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin,
Do you have some wisdom for me? My mother-in-law has been a constant strain on our marriage. To give an example: This last weekend we made a special trip to an amusement park where we joined up with my in-laws. While we were there, my mother-in-law did everything she could to keep my husband from riding rides with my children or being around me.
It went so far, that my mother-in-law spun the old story: about how she used to carry my husband around everywhere and she made him promise that he would one day carry her around. After this retelling of the story, she got him to carry her around like a bride crossing a threshold for 5 minutes. 🙁 In the amusement park. 🙁 In front of everyone. 🙁
I don’t know what to do. I have so many in-law stories it is ridiculous. I keep making myself choose JOY because it is a choice. At the same time however, I would love to hear some teaching for me or me and my husband, on the topic of unhealthy in-laws and healthy in-laws. This way maybe I can be a good mother-in-law someday, and my husband and I can traverse this choppy ever recurring water.
We absolutely love the way you are using a problem in your life as a springboard for training yourself for the future. The Bible repeatedly tells the children of Israel to be kind to the stranger “because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Obviously, the Hebrews had little choice and didn’t want to be strangers in the land of Egypt but people still can choose how to react when they are treated badly. Tragically, some take the attitude of “payback time,” looking to mistreat others as they were mistreated. You have cleverly and bravely adopted the Biblical response of using your own mistreatment to make you more sensitive to others.
Nonetheless, you and your husband do have a problem. However, it may not be the one you are thinking of. Let’s focus on the phrase you used, “…she got him to carry her around…” As an adult, your husband made the decision to carry his mother around. Your mother-in-law may be difficult; she may be very difficult, but she probably did not whip out a pistol and force her son to do so. The problem is not your mother-in-law. The problem is that you and your husband haven’t yet got onto the same page dealing with this problem as you most likely have for so many other issues in your married life.