Is It Time To Let (Bigoted) Bygones Be Bygones?

By Wendy Belzberg

Published October 17, 2003, issue of October 17, 2003.
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When my (non-Jewish) husband and I were married, his mother objected with every variety of antisemitic slurs, up to and including the pronouncement that “doors would be closed to us.” Fifteen years have gone by, and I have not forgiven her. My husband insists that it is time to forgive — if not forget — and to make peace for the sake of our two children.

— Still stumped by slurs

Make peace? I think not. A truce, however, might be a consideration. That your marriage has defied your mother-in-law’s predictions does not change the fact that she is antisemitic. I assume that you would have mentioned it if she had thrown herself on your mercy and professed to have learned the error of her ways. If she has shown no remorse for her remarks, I see no reason for you to undertake any speedy repairs to the relationship. The only possible upside I see is the opportunity to bring things out into the open so that you might use the opportunity to teach your Jewish children a life lesson.

* * *

My 12-year-old recently allowed me to read an essay he’d written for school, which revealed that he has a life (clean, and perfectly laudatory) that I know nothing about. Am I a good mother or a bad mother to be living in ignorance?

— Discovering the child within

If the definition of a good parent is intimate knowledge of your child’s school interests, activities and friendships, then you may have failed the test. But join the club. There are probably fewer than a handful of parents who would pass. Many children — particularly in the 12-year-old set — are less than forthcoming about the details of their daily lives. Which is not to say you should fail to inquire or probe, only that you should not take it personally if you get nowhere. A better gauge of your parenting successes is whether your child will come to you if he or she has a serious problem. If you were living in ignorance about your son’s behavioral, drug or academic problems, I would suggest that your parenting skills could be improved. Ignorance about the clean and perfectly laudatory aspects of your son’s life may or may not be bliss — but it certainly does not make you a bad mother. And remember: He did hand over the essay.

* * *

Some time ago I lent an old friend a sizeable sum of money. Having been delighted to be able to help out someone I love, I don’t need to be repaid, and as the matter has never come up, I doubt it ever will be. Is the graceful thing at this point to give my friend — whose birthday is approaching — a debt forgiveness certificate? Or do I leave the unfinished business unfinished?

— Debt dues and don’ts

A failure to pay back a loan is one thing. A failure to acknowledge the debt is another. I find it distasteful that anyone could be the recipient of a sizeable sum of money and never again make mention of it — or discuss a payback structure, even if it’s only $5 each week. You can forgive the loan if you wish. But do so in writing — not in your own head without ever having had the conversation with your friend. This kind of unfinished business often turns into the elephant in the parlor that everybody pretends to ignore, while their feet are silently being crushed.

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