Contact Me

Any time - drop me an email
miriamhendeles@gmail.com
1-323-243-7116

Contact Me

Any time - drop me an email
miriamhendeles@gmail.com
1-323-243-7116

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In-Law Boundaries Then and Now

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When I was expecting my first child, I once overheard my mother-in-law sharing with a friend of hers that I was pregnant – in the early months. I was so upset; I thought she had violated my privacy. Looking back, I know what I was thinking, but I also know what I wasn’t thinking.

I wasn’t thinking about the other side of the picture. I wasn’t realizing that all in-laws want is to be a part of their children’s life. So she slipped and shared with her two friends about my upcoming event. Big deal.

Boundaries  with in-laws were always a thing, except we didn’t call them that in the old days.

If you crossed boundaries or were over-involved with your kids and in-law kids, you were a meddler, a doter, and interfering parent. If you talked too much, you were a yenta.

When I got married we had a particular preference with our parents and in-laws (which was hardly ever followed because we didn’t enforce it) was that they call before popping in. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t, and that’s the way it was.

Back in the 1980’s there were no cell phones, so by making that rule I was basically saying to my mil or fil that if they were driving down our block and wanted to stop by they’d have to go home and call us. Which was kind of ridiculous, I think now.

In fact, I look back at those days and I’m a little embarrassed at how unreasonably I acted. I mean, I know what feelings I had that motivated me to be kind of tough and strict in some ways. But still, I think I overdid things a bit.

Lucky for them, my in-laws weren’t pushovers.  And they were smart – they’d be just in the neighborhood and just had to stop by and why bother calling from a pay phone or their home phone? They’d just stop by in the evening for just a minute.

And I would be upset (understandably) and make a big deal (by venting ridiculously  to my husband).

Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t visit my children  without calling first. That goes for my kids who live locally and those who live faraway.

How many times have I driven by my children’s house and wanted to stop by? All I had to do was call or better yet, text and bingo. I would be told “not a good time,” or “Yes, that’s great, come on over.”

Calling or texting to ask for permission to move forward into their turf is really easy now.

It’s easier for us to resist barging in at any hour at our kids’ home. So who am I to criticize my in-laws who had a different set of tools to work with in those days? It’s all about seeing the other side of the picture.

But today, we have other challenges to deal with, things that our own parents, grandparents never even thought would be an issue.  We have social media and the personal computer, and smart-phones each of which lends to lots of sharing and posting. The truth is that our children hate dislike prefer that we don’t share indiscriminately.

And I confess that I don’t follow that rule very well. In the same way that my in-laws would “just” stop by for “just” a few minutes to visit when they had the time or were “in the neighborhood,” in the same way I post a picture “just” on Facebook for “just” this once when I “just” have a great photo to post.

It’s hard for me, and it must have been hard for my in-laws. We parents want to share the good stuff about our grandchildren. And the pulling out of the pictures from our little purse just doesn’t cut it anymore these days for some reason. (that’s what my grandmother did with her friends back in the day!)

Look, with in-law relationships as with any relationship, the key is to do our best. To try to place ourselves in their shoes and understand how they feel. To remain true to our own feelings and needs. And to keep the communication lines open.

With a good dose of understanding, communication, and perspective about the other person’s situation, things can usually work out very well.

 

 


Who’s the Boss Here Anyway? (and lessons I learn as a Grandma)

When my kids were little, my husband and I  faced many parenting stresses. Through it all, we felt that we were in control of our children’s lives and were the conductors on the train that our kids were traveling on.  Major and minor decisions – from what school to send them to, to where they would go to camp, to bringing them to play-dates, to dealing with negative issues that arose, to taking them on outings, travel, buying them new things, everything was our department.

As the children got older, we involved them in discussions according to their ages and developmental levels. We might have scoffed at times at the overwhelming reality of too much on our plates, but there was a constant sense of purpose, busy-ness, and important-ness in our daily lives.

And that position of control felt comfortable for us. It felt important. Smart. In charge. As if we were responsible parents.  And it’s a feeling that we got used to having.

Fast forward many years.

Our children grew up  and moved out and onto yeshiva and/or college out of town.  One by one, they married.

All that control and decision making power now fell from our laps right onto  our adult children’s shoulders. We were told – directly or indirectly; passively or aggressively – to back off. The only exception was when they wanted our advice and we happily gave that to them when asked (and at times when not asked).

We were no longer the bosses of our children’s destinies. We were dethroned.

chair-of-tutankhaman

Okay, it took some getting used to and I kicked, screamed and had a few tantrums (to my husband or anyone who would listen), but overall I accepted my new position.  I mean, I felt the hurt when things didn’t go my way, and was  annoyed when they did things differently than I thought was the “right” way.

When my oldest grandson was about five, I compiled a collection of magazine articles I had written since he and the others were born. The articles were  on empty stage syndrome and other middle-aged topics, so I added some fresh material and then wrote a book about being a grandmother. Within that year, I held book signings and other events and a friend of a friend asked me to lead a workshop at a well-known synagogue not far from my home. The audience was a group of synagogue members who were  vibrant and active seniors. After my presentation which included readings from my book and sharing some personal experiences as a new mother-in-law and grandmother,  someone raised her hand and asked the following question:

“What do we do when our grandchildren don’t thank us for the gifts that we give them? And why don’t their parents – our children – teach them the proper thing to do?”

I could hear others in the group mumbling comments in agreement with the questioner, and a few called out some other transgressions that their adult kids did with child rearing. Apparently, this was a hot topic, one that many in the group related.

It became immediately clear to me that this theme of non-grateful grandchildren was a topic I wasn’t at all prepared to discuss and advise about.

I wanted to relate to these women’s situations but I really couldn’t understand all the angst. At the time, I didn’t get the big deal if the child doesn’t say thank you. A thought occurred to me that many of these women were grandparents of older grandchildren than my pre-school aged grandsons. Some had grandchildren who were 8, 9 or 10 and others had teenage grandchildren.

I offered them empathy as best as I could. And then I gave some generic advice along the line of how we have to keep our mouths shut even if we think the adult kids are raising their kids with poor manners.

This led to some more sharing as the group offered some other examples of how poorly their adult kids were raising the little ones these days.

But I left the group feeling confused.  In my mind, this wasn’t the most successful event I had led. I felt I was not on the same page as these more mature grandmothers and I certainly didn’t feel that I had offered them concrete tips in the areas that were important to them.

Fast forward four more years. I now have (G-d Bless them) grandchildren who range in age from almost nine years old to almost six months. I’ve had countless experiences where I had to choose between expressing my opinion one time, several times or many times (one time wins!), arguing with their decisions or keeping my mouth shut (keeping mouth shut wins!)

But in the earlier days most of our interactions were with our adult children.

For example, where they sent the kids to school or what synagogue they chose to pray in, or where they lived, or how they spend their money or choices they make or friends they have —- all these issues have been between us and them.  I practiced the cardinal rule of zipping up my lips. The best thing to do (unless they ask for our input) is to keep quiet because it’s really up to them. Not us. Their business, not ours. A tough pill to swallow sometimes but the truth.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from one of my grandchildren and for a reason that I can no longer fathom, I found it to be lacking in appreciation.

What? Me, who four years ago couldn’t understand the need for kids to express appreciation, was having a problem with this? Yes. True.

And not only did I feel disappointed in the letter, I expressed it to him on the phone. Looking back now, I’m thinking, “What was I thinking? The kid wrote me a letter and I’m complaining?”

Well, needless to say he told his Dad who shared with me that the child was pretty insulted.

Gulp. I messed up.

After talking it over with the child the next day on the phone and patching things up,  I realized an entirely different – but related lesson.

Even our kids have don’t have control over other people – their growing kids! That’s right. While we think we can tell our kids what to do because we have control over them and they have control over their kids, it’s all just an illusion. The only ones we can change are ourselves. We knew that already, right? But

So for those senior grandmoms who complained that their adult kids didn’t teach their progeny how to show appreciation, my response would be (four years later in case any of them are reading this!):

We are not in control. Our kids  are not in control either. Everyone does his or her best to teach their kids how to act and be. At the end of the day, the kids eventually have minds and hearts of their own. Only we can influence our relationship with our grandchildren through our kindness and acceptance.

If you want to give gifts, give them. If you don’t want to give gifts, don’t give them. Nobody wants a gift with strings attached.

The key component in any relationship – including the grandmother/grandchild dynamic – is warmth, understanding and acceptance. No preaching and no expectations.

Letters, conversations, warmth. Those are worth more than formal thank you’s from young children and teenagers.

And that’s my lesson of dethronement – we’re no longer in control and we never were. Not even when we were young moms and dads raising our kids.

And as a grandmother, that realization is very freeing today.

 


A Humble Confession by an Ex-Non-MIL

You know those annoying non-moms who think they know everything about motherhood? For sure you do; everyone does. We’ve all come across them in our most insecure and shameful moments as parents. Just when we need the most encouragement — because one of our kids is having a tantrum, or talking back to us, or being unruly, or making a scene at a public place like a zoo or park — these know-it-all non-moms vow out loud to never be the kind of mom we are.

And then when these NM’s become moms, guess what happens?

Actually I don’t know what happens because I’ve never done a longitudinal study following  non-moms into their eventual mom-hood. But I’m willing to bet that if we tracked those woman and interviewed them years later, we’d find some pretty overwhelmed and possibly not-so-sure-of-herself types. Just my guess. Nothing scientific here…just some good-ol’ deductive thinking.

Well, I was a know-it-all and high-horse type of person but not about motherhood. I was that way about MIL (mother-in-law)-hood. When my kids were little and I’d see  MIL’s say or do things to their DIL’s, I’d wonder how they could ever be so insensitive. For example, when a MIL gave her adult children (gasp) advice, I’d think she was being intrusive and completely out of bounds.

When a MIL worried about her adult married kids’ financial situation, I thought to myself how it’s really none of her business.

And when a MIL called too often, I thought to myself that when I become a MIL to my sons’ wives, I will be really careful not to do any of those things.

And you know what? In the beginning of my MIL-hood, I was pretty careful. In fact, I became a pretty caring MIL. I probably did refrain from much of the behaviors that my own MIL and other normal people do when they become MIL’s.

And then something happened to me.

I grew up.

I grew into MIL-hood and relaxed my inhibitions. Maybe it was due to old(er) age or just plain lack of energy but my attitude became, what the heck? I’m the mother (and yes, mother-in-law) and I’m going to say what the heck I want to because I already wrote the book on being a mother-in-law and….

I relaxed my standards because I’m human. And I goof sometimes.  As my adult children grow into more mature adults….and to parents of not just babies or toddlers but of pre-school and elementary school children, I find that I’m becoming slightly more involved.

More outspoken. Entitled. Opinionated. Yup. All the horrible things I vowed I’d never say or do, I find myself saying and doing.

I mean – hello! We have opinions too. Right? Maybe that’s it – as we get older, we fear becoming invisible and so we assert ourselves and our opinions more.

When the grandkids were babies, it was easy to hold back from expressing the opinion of how to burp the baby, or whether the baby should be bottle-fed or nursed…or whatever the monumental decision was. I mean – who cared about that?

As the grandkids got older, (and we got older) we feel the need to compare and contrast how they do things with how we did things.

And sometimes we see things in different ways than we saw them when we were the parents. Maybe it’s that we kind of sort of “forget” what it was like being a new mom? Could it be that? Is it the old(ER) age factor? Like having those senior moments (I talk about them in my book) where we selectively forget how it was to be a young and busy mom and we just shoot our opinions from the hip.

In our old(ER) age, we say something, rather than put ourselves in their inexperienced shoes and just let them figure things out themselves.

Sometimes I have discussions with my husband about stuff and one of us says to the other “Nah, don’t make an issue. It’s none of our business.”

To which the other one promptly goes and makes an issue. Big time. Just because.

See? It’s hard. It’s tough. So never say never. You just never know when you’ll be in the exact situation as someone else and maybe – just maybe – you will react as they did or do.

So-  now I’m here to express that I  have sympathy for all those MIL’s – including my own — in how she raised me.

Yes – you read that right.

I know this is huge that I’m writing this after writing a book  all about my insights on being the perfect grandmother and mother-in-law.

I know this may even ruin my credibility as an author because, hey, how can I basically take back all I said about being conscientious and just change my mind with the click of a publish button on a bubby blog?

Well, bubbies and Omi’s, I’m doing it. I’m here to tell you that I now do all those annoying things I vowed never to do.

I ask too many questions.

I hate noise. I get upset when they play ball in the house.

I sometimes contradict the parents in front of their kids.

I tell them to bundle up the kids. I comment on their or their kids’ clothing (not always favorably).

I worry if I hear them arguing.

I post every last letter and drawing on my kitchen wall and Facebook page (even my own MIL didn’t do that last one! Yay her!).

All of it some of the time. And some of it all of the time.

Bottom line is I (and all my MIL friends) try our best. We really do and that’s what counts.

So – my message to all the future moms out there –

Never say never.

You just never know what kind of mother you will be. Don’t make promises about how you’ll be because even when you become that role, and follow your vows to the Tee, you will evolve over time into another role. Another stage. Another season.  And just what you thought worked for the previous stage, just doesn’t work anymore.

And then one day you may find yourself doing all the behaviors that you vowed never to do. And that will be pretty embarrassing.

Because all your ranting and raving about how you’ll never do or be this way or that way got turned on its head.

And aside from the embarrassment here’s the biggest problem: you may just have to confess on your blog or write a whole new book that contradicts your first book. Nope. Not worth it.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 


The Rope in the Swimming Pool

shallow-water-no-diving

Remember the rope in the camp swimming pool?  If you were only able to swim in the “shallow” water, you stayed on one side of that rope. The more skilled swimmers who were deemed able to swim in The Deep, ventured out to the other side of the  rope.

But everyone – all swimmers – knew the cardinal rule, that when the lifeguard blew the whistle and called “everybody out,”  we had to swim to the steps and get out of that pool. Fast. We stuck to that rule like our lives depended on it.

Restrictions can be a very good thing.

Boundaries. They’re important in raising children, following religious laws, enjoying friendships, keeping to a nutrition or diet program, and relationships.

I don’t always follow every single rule (that’s for another post!) but when I do,  they make me feel safe and in control. For example, I feel really great and at peace when my food is in order, and when I pretty much stick to the number of Weight Watcher points that I’m allotted per day.

Okay,  I have certain fantasies. Like sometimes I want to just End. My.  Day.  at 3 pm. Why?  Because I’ve basically used up all my points for that day by 2:30 pm. I want to call it a day and go to sleep. No more day. Points used up. Bye.

I’m working on that by spreading my points out over the day that I’m given.

But. And here’s the big but. When I’m in a leadership position such as teaching or some community service, there’s something in me that has a hard time setting limits for other people. And when I do set them, I feel guilty that maybe I am being too harsh.

It was like that for my husband and me (he’s the same!) when my kids were little and we had to be consistent and set rules.

Now, our kids are grown up and setting boundaries for their own kids (surprisingly doing a great job at it!), and I’m pretty darn good with the mother-in-law thing.  I have figured out when to intervene, when to keep my mouth shut (the latter is really the way to go most of the time).  I get it. I work at it. Because boundaries work both ways in adult-child relationships.

But there’s one area where I continue to struggle.

I run a Gemach out of my home in my spare time. A Gemach is the Hebrew acronym for “Gemilus Chesed” which loosely means doing kindness. Basically, the type of “kindness” that I do from my home is loan baby gear to people in and around our community.

Many people I know run Gemach’s. You can google the word and lots of “free loan” services will pop up, from loaning money interest free to loaning wheelchairs, baby clothing, diapers and anything that someone may need. It’s a common service.

People call me or text me to borrow an item, they arrange a time during my hours to pick up the item(s), use them for as long as they need, and then return the item. There are other details involved in the set-up, but that’s the gist of it. Some of them give an optional donation to a charity cause. It’s win-win. People really appreciate the service.

It works out great and I meet tons of people in the process. I love knowing that I’ve helped people who either have company coming from out-of-town and don’t want to buy and/or store a car seat or small crib. It’s much easier for them to borrow from me, since I do the storing and maintaining of items.  Many of the items are donated but some are bought by me using the funds that some people donate. Also, many who find the cost prohibitive (which it is) are able to benefit from borrowing.

My own sons and daughters-in-law borrow from the gemach!

So, what does this have to do with boundaries?

I think the fact that I work with soooo many people from many walks of life that is reason I run into problems with some people. And it all comes down to my not being clear about my boundaries.

You see, about 95 % of people I deal with, are amazing. They inquire about the item, set up a time to pick it up, pick it up, leave, and enjoy the item (hopefully!). Then several weeks or months later, they return it.

All is well. But the other 5 % is the reason I’m writing this post. I’m not complaining about them. I think they are doing the best they can. This is how they are. And this is my personal challenge so that work on my character trait of setting boundaries in a calm manner.

I used to think these people didn’t get it. That they were unappreciative. That they thought I ran a store and sat home all day waiting for people to borrow the items.

But now I know that they are just being who they are. And it’s my job to change. I can’t change others, just myself.

In the early days I had hours 24/6. (not Shabbat). Now I have hours certain days and certain hours set for the Gemach.

I have on my voice mail that people should text or email so that I can streamline the system and answer their questions in writing.

I have a website which I encourage people to go to. All the policies and other information is written clearly on that website.

But still.  I still struggle with some stuff – where I feel like I’m not being clear and then I have to make myself clear, and oh no, am I being mean? I don’t want to be mean. I want to do a mitzvah.

For example,  someone texts about an item, then forgets to come when they say they will come. In the meantime, another person wanted it, but I had to say no to Person #2.

Or someone texts about an item, with no commitment. Then a few days later, texts about another item. And then continues this serial texting, setting up time to come, cancelling, changing their mind, forgetting to come, their kid gets sick, they live too far to come during my hours….. without once committing to borrowing.

I call them the Serial Inquirers. Checkers. Requesters. And then back-outers. Change-their-minders. Over and over and over.

Or those who have constant “emergencies.” I need an item in 15 minutes. Can I come now? (9 pm at night?).

Of course, I try to be flexible. Emergencies happen, I try to accommodate if I can.

But my job with the ones who kinda-sorta take advantage (remember – they are only 5 % of the folks I deal with!) is to stay clear with my boundaries.

I set my hours, times, and mode of communication. I let them know that I prepare the item they asked for and hold it for X days within my hours, and if they don’t come (or let me know), I free it up for someone else.

Boundaries. Hard to set. Even harder to enforce.

But what’s the alternative? We drown in the pool of relationships. Not fun!

Always good to have those walls of protection — not for the safe swimmers, but for the ones who seem to push the limits.

Now, I think I’m going to have a piece of cake. Whoops.  Maybe not.

 

 

 

 


I’m Not Telling!

A few weeks ago, I took my grandson to visit someone, and the person asked him the typical questions that one asks a 4 year old: Who is your teacher? What is your favorite color? How old are you? etc.

Nothing unusual about the conversation; in fact it was a very charming conversation, one that both child and adult (and those watching) enjoyed.

Until my grandson decided to cut the interview short. His response to one particular question (a question which I don’t remember specifically), was “I’m not telling.”

That was it. Case closed. Dialogue ended. He didn’t want to “tell.” Was it a secret? Maybe, maybe not. But as far as he was concerned, the conversation was over. He wasn’t telling. Okay?

I have  a hard time saying the above words; I tend to be very open and honest. Someone could ask me a question that I find  inappropriate, but before I give myself a chance to process the question as “rude,” “NTB” (not their business), or just plain worthy of not answering, I blurt out something that satisfies them.

And later I regret it. Usually the question is not necessarily a personal one . In fact, it could be a very innocent question, but still one that produces that uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, signalling to me to keep quiet, and to change the subject.

And often, I don’t heed that signal.

Recently, I had a more satisfying experience with this issue; an acquaintance asked me a question regarding one of my  children. The truth was I didn’t even know the answer. All of my children are adults and make their own decisions about certain matters.  I tried telling the person that I don’t know the answer. But the person would not relent. I tried changing the subject. Didn’t work.

And then it hit me to say the following:

“Hey, good question – why don’t you ask him?” (referring to my son).

That worked. My questioner backed off. (Whew). She wasn’t interested in calling my son up and getting her answer. She just wanted to discuss it with me. And I was not interested in going there.

I guess I’m getting better at following the lessons of my grandson – I am learning to convey in one way or another that although I may be an open person to some extent, there is a limit (I hope!)

Whether I use what I heard termed as “non-talk” (basically information that doesn’t really answer the question, but is nevertheless polite), or whether I use simply the phrase, “Hey, I’m not comfortable talking about that,” discretion is always a good thing.

Just because I am part of what is called the “sandwich generation” – does not mean I have to be privy to every detail of the people around me. Thankfully, I am (usually!) aware of that.

I guess there is nothing more to say on this post. Shhhhhhh.


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