Thursday, April 24, 2014 | return to: columns, advice


the advice mensch |  My mother-in-law is making us meshuggah

by jonathan harris

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Advice_jonathan_harris_avatar_with_nameJonathan Harris has no fancy credential that would make you want to pay for his opinion, which is why it’s offered here for free. He has some training in clinical psychology and has counseled drug addicts. Once an aide to a U.S. senator, and now a synagogue administrator who lives in San Francisco, he is a perpetual student of the human condition. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you have a problem or moral quandary. What could it hurt?

Dear Mensch: My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for close to five years. We’ve seen specialists and had multiple disappointments. We haven’t given up hope, but for the sake of our marriage as well as our finances, we have decided to take a break from working so hard on this.

My problem is my mother-in-law. Whenever she calls, whenever we see her, she asks about treatments we’ve undergone and suggests new ones. At every meal, she seems compelled to proffer a cellphone picture of the latest grandchild born to a relative or friend, often with a tone of lament. She has no grandchildren. How can we politely but firmly tell her to stop? — Pestered in San Francisco

Dear Pestered: You are not alone. Women and men everywhere, and for all time, have wrestled with the frustration and sadness of infertility. Indeed Sarah, the wife of our patriarch Abraham, did not give birth until she was 90! I commend you and your husband for your decision to ease up on yourselves. According to the National Infertility Association, “while stress does not cause infertility, infertility most definitely causes stress.” Alas, they have no information on the possible correlation between mothers-in-law and stress.

The Torah commands us to honor our parents, and maybe that commandment is there because it is not always so easy to do. It may help you to realize that underneath this woman’s probing and pushing is genuine concern for your happiness, as well as difficult emotions surrounding her own mortality. Having said that, she’s being a nudge.

As often is the case, an honest reckoning may be a good place to start. Take her out, buy her a glass of wine and explain that, while you appreciate her concern, you and your husband would appreciate her moving this issue to the back burner until further notice. Maybe this discussion will deepen your understanding of one another and lead to a richer relationship.

If, on the other hand, the very next week finds her hakn a tshaynik (bugging you to death) about baby-making, you are within your rights to let her know politely but firmly that you will have to limit contact until she can control herself.


Dear Mensch: My husband smokes a lot of marijuana — nearly every day after work, he smokes or vaporizes weed. He’s been a pretty regular user since we met and it never used to bother me all that much. He’s a good husband and he has a good job as a video game designer. But now that we’re in our mid-30s and thinking about starting a family, I’d like him to stop smoking so much. He says it helps his creativity. The more he resists, the more of an issue it becomes for me. Is this his problem or mine? — Hazy in Berkeley

Dear Hazy: That’s an interesting question. I would say you have a problem to deal with together, but — take heart — not a very big one.

Mensch likes to start by researching Jewish opinion on the quandaries presented to him. Though pot is not mentioned specifically in the Torah, many rabbis believe it is important to not partake in activities that might affect one’s ability to concentrate on prayer or displease one’s parents. Fair enough. But Mensch once had a special brownie on Rosh Hashanah and, frankly, achieved some interesting insight during the service.

Your husband may have no problem with pot. But you do, and that’s OK. You mentioned wanting to start a family, so maybe you associate regular pot smoking with youthful frivolity and not fatherly comportment. Also, since you are frustrated with his resistance to cutting back, maybe you are concerned that his habit has become a dependency.

Tell him you’d like him to try cutting back before fatherhood and to stick with the vaporizer, or edibles, when he does use (much healthier than smoking). And while Jewish thought may be mixed on intoxicants, much has been written about shalom bayit, an important religious concept referring to harmony between husband and wife, or “peace at home.” If you and hubby can agree to meet halfway on this issue, you’ll be doing a mitzvah.


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