Monday, May 11, 2009


I love twitter. I just asked there for tips on dealing with a situation we're having with family and someone there helped get to the bigger issue. Of course, I still don't know how to deal with the smaller symptom of the bigger issue. I'm open to any advice.

I need tips on dealing with my father-in-law. He seems bothered by the fact that we keep kosher. My mother-in-law actually called the Pesach restrictions, "Stupid," in front of my kids during Passover, but my father-in-law is more vocal and persistent about his distaste for keeping kosher. Yes, we do, but no, we don't beat anyone over the head about it. We've never asked my in-laws to do the same. The only thing we've ever asked is that they not bring treif in our house. We never discussed keeping kosher with them, but my FIL feels compelled to bring it up.

He often feels compelled to tell us, "You know, those rules only exist because pork wasn't safe to eat back then." This last time, he added, "If I told you not to eat something, you'd tell me to go to hell,' but if I say, 'G-d says you shouldn't eat something,' you do it." I replied, "Actually, no. You tell me G-d told me not to do it and I'm going to read up and consult with others who are more educated on the topic than me before I make a decision." Well, I started to say that, but he cut me off and talked over me.

When I asked for advice on twitter, someone suggested not discussing it and showing respect. My first reaction was to be slightly offended. "But we TRY to show respect. We don't want to discuss it. My FIL just won't stop." Then it occurred to me that we do show respect, but my in-laws often don't. Oh, the stories I could tell you. There have been SO many times when they have done rude things and we just quietly let it go rather than creating a scene. When it's necessary, we speak up, but for smaller things, we try to be respectful and let it go. Unfortunately, that respect is not mutual. From what I've been told (by dh AND his parents), that lack of respect has always existed.

How do you deal with a situation where there's no respect for your family? We've tried having discussions with them. We've tried asking politely. We've tried getting the point across jokingly. We've tried ignoring it (which isn't really an option once you have children who can understand). There was one point where, at a family seder (before we had kids), I got up and left the table (they were making racist jokes AGAIN and I absolutely refused to sit there through it). I much prefer to deal with things less dramatically, though.

We're in an even rougher position because of my FIL's health issues. I can't stand to deal with the lack of respect, but at the same time, I'm now reluctant to get into anything because we never know when it could be the last time we see my FIL.

Luckily, they don't live nearby, so we haven't had to deal with this often. Still, I'm open to ideas and suggestions. How do we deal with this in general? Any tips on what to say to make my FIL stop voicing his distaste for keeping kosher? I'd also appreciate any tips on what to say to stop them from saying rude things in general in front of our children.


Irim said...

Hon, this very much reminds me of the reactions that people have when they are *angry* at religion or a religious figure - perhaps one they've chosen to leave spiritually if not actually choosing something else - for some reason they felt betrayed by G-d; betrayed by the restrictions they felt it had placed on them via family; etc. They may have felt that they fought their way free only to find that their son and his family returned - and THAT may feel like a betrayal, which would explain their reaction. I have to say, if I ever had a daughter who chose to return to Islam, I'd be 100x worse that your ILs.
So...that's a long winded way of saying - it sounds like there's a ton of pain there masquerading as anger - do you know the backstory? xx

Reiza said...

I want to add that one of my tweet peeps (I'm such a geek) had a suggestion. She said that she explains her religious differences by saying, " I have to do what I am comfortable with and I am sorry if it makes them uncomfortable."

I wonder if that would work. I don't know, but I'm willing to try. Will file that away for the future. And a big thanks for the suggestion.

Reiza said...

Irim, I agree that I've seen some of that in my MIL. She seems annoyed that we're more observant than she is. My FIL, however, converted and only did so for marriage. He is not now nor was he ever interested in being Jewish. But my IL's don't consider themselves to have worked free of Judaism. The family still considers themselves Jewish.

I don't know my FIL's religious history (he was raised Lutheran and yeah, I know about Lutheranism and anti-Semitism). He's never struck me as a religious person, so I don't know if he feels betrayed by G-d or if he even believes in G-d. That's a good point.

So if that's the case, what in the world can I say to him? He seems to be offended by the thought of G-d. That's why I don't know what will happen if I use the idea I just mentioned. I wonder if he'll just call us stupid for being comfortable with G-d and religious observance. I'm willing to try, though and see if it helps.

Chaviva said...

What a tough situation. I live far enough away from my non-Jewish parents and family that it's never come up, but they're really open to explanation regarding these kinds of things. My boyfriend's family, some religious Jews, some not, often poke at us, however, but usually not regarding food since most of the family stuff happens at the home of grandparents who do, in fact, keep kosher.

In this case, however, it seems to me that there is no easy or practical answer to get your FIL to understand or accept how you live your lives. With people who have a retort to everything, there is nothing you can say that will seem logical or that can bring peace. It seems to me that the only thing you *can* do, is to just let it go. There is something there that your FIL is letting eat at him, and it will eat at him until he either learns to deal with it and apologizes for how he's treated you, but more likely than not, it will continue like this until he (g-d forbid) passes.

You'll have to simply respond, "This is how we live our lives, you do not have to agree with it, but it is necessary for you to accept that this is how we live." If he feels like arguing, let him have his words and let it roll off you, knowing that whatever his problems are with how you live, they probably have nothing to do with you.

I know this doesn't help, but I think we all have these kind of situations where someone chooses to ignore the reality of a situation in hopes of angering the other person into argument or action.

Reiza said...

Chaviva, you're absolutely right.

"With people who have a retort to everything, there is nothing you can say that will seem logical or that can bring peace."

I can't think of a way to explain that yes, there do seem to be historical reasons that are consistent with the laws of kashrut, but that's not all there is. I can't find a way of explaining that, though.

I think I am going to try something next time where we just say, "We know the history. We know the religious context. This is what we believe."

I need to find some way to make him stop it, though. I'm afraid he's going to put the kids on the spot and I don't think that's fair to them. We have yet to find a way to make him cut it out.

mother in israel said...

I don't know if this will work, but here's my suggestion.
First of all, it's your husband's parents so he should be the one to talk to them. It's his job to protect you from their criticism. (If it were your parents it would be your job.)
I suggest that he meet them in a neutral place at the beginning of their next visit. He can bring up the issue, "When you come over, you mention the fact that we keep kosher quite often." Then let them talk and get it all out. He needs to listen and rephrase--to show that he hears. At that point, he could say that both he and Reiza are committed to keeping kosher and he would like them to stop discussing it at family gatherings. He could say that the constant comment make their visits unpleasant. Both of you are so happy to have them, the kids enjoy it, etc., but you are not going to change your mind about keeping kosher and they need to stop bringing it up whenever they visit. And he needs to repeat that as many times as necessary.

Irim said...

I don't know your ILs, but how would, "You seem to find this very hard to accept, which makes it difficult for us and the kids, and ruins the precious time we have for you. This is our way of life, and we would appreciate the same respect we give yours, but it seems to be difficult for/upset you. How can we help you do that? And if we are to help you do that, we need to know what makes our way of life so hard for you."

That MIGHT get them to open up, might not. But it's worth a try. xx

Irim said...

"precious time we have WITH you." ARGH. Just saw that. Sorry. xx

KosherAcademic said...

I like mother in israel's approach; it allows for the possibility of bringing it into the open but on neutral terms. But I also think that Chavi is correct -- you may just have to ignore it.

I think both ladies have great suggestions. While I was reading your post, I wondered if taking G-d out of the discussion with your FIL would help. I don't know that it would, but you could (perhaps?) humor him and say something like, "You know, even if what you say is true, and it's all a crock, it's not hurting anyone for us to keep kosher. There's nothing unethical or immoral about it. So even if one can't accept that it is a mitzvah from G-d, you should be able to accept that this is our lifestyle."

One more thought -- and since I'm a new reader here I don't know the full relationship btwn your ILs and your family -- but you may want to address at least part of this more aggressively. If your FIL is saying inappropriate things to your kids, you (or your DH) have every right to pull them aside and speak to them (harshly?). You can state that they are welcome to their beliefs, and to their view of your beliefs, but they have NO RIGHT to subvert your parenting and lifestyle choices in front of the kids. If they have an issue, they can discuss it with you. But doing it with the kids is a no-go, a non-negotiable situation."

Krissy said...

During a La Leche League meeting, after several of us saying how we feel we have to hide certain parts of our parenting philosophies from people who judge us, one leader told us her tried and true phrase is, "We do what works for us." Simple, direct and doesn't allow room for much further dialogue. Not saying it would necessarily work for your situation, but it's a term I've come to love.

I'm in a similar situation with someone who doesn't respect my religion by continually saying things and using terminology that I find offensive. Thus far I've treated it with silence and complaints to my hubby :-)

Reiza said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for all the suggestions. What a great discussion! I really appreciate this.

I completely agree about dh being the one to deal with his family. We've always handled it where we each deal with our own parents. Problem is, after years of this, dh often just tunes them out. Also, I'm far more social than he is, so my in-laws come to me rather than him. My FIL cornered me in the office with that kosher remark when dh wasn't in here with me. They have a knack for making completely inappropriate comments when he's not around. If they're here for an hour and he's in the bathroom for 45 seconds, it will be in that time they say something inappropriate.

We won't see them again for a while, but I'm definitely tucking these suggestions under my hat. When we do see them again, we'll be able to have a plan of action.

Thanks again. This has been great.