The Complicated Physics of Family Life


By Wendy Belzberg

Published October 03, 2003, issue of October 03, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I would like to give my future daughter-in-law something special on the day of her wedding. Do you have any suggestions?


On a wedding day I would opt for the value of sentiment over material goods. My first thought is that you hand down to your daughter-in-law something that came from your grandmother or mother — a charm, a locket, a piece of cherished linen. Something that ties one generation to the next and lets her know that you think your son made the right choice. Or why not make a gift of the curls you saved from your son’s first haircut or pass on a cherished letter he wrote one summer from camp?

Accompany the gift with a letter of good intention — a contract, if you will — promising to relinquish any remaining power you may have over your son and never to meddle in their marriage, and you will have come up with the perfect gift. No daughter-in-law could wish for more.

* * *

My brother, an even-tempered, fair-minded man, is having a terrible fight with our mother. My mother hasn’t mentioned this to me, but I know she is distraught over it (and probably at fault, too). Given the fact that my calendar tells me it’s the season to mend our wrongs, do I get involved?

— Sibling ambiguity

What an agile leap: It’s the season to mend wrongs so you should get involved in someone else’s conflict. Have you no unresolved issues of your own to attend to? Are you trying to create more conflict where none now exists? Neither party has asked you to get involved. In fact, your mother’s silence on the subject should signal loud and clear that this matter is none of your business. If you are indeed focused on mending your wrongs, perhaps you should make a new year’s resolution to try not to listen to lashon ha’ra — which includes your brother’s account of your mother’s wrongdoings.

* * *

Is there a law about whether grandparents visit grandchildren or grandchildren visit grandparents? My mother just informed me that it is up to grandchildren to call on grandparents and not the other way around (the irony is that I had called her to try to arrange to drop by with my 3-year-old). She is an able-bodied 70-year-old who lives in the same city we do. My husband and I are working parents of three.

— Too busy for bubbe’s house

To help me formulate my response I made a simple chart listing the pluses and minuses on both sides of the issue. In your column: family pressures, work, virtue, time constraints and justice. On her side: seniority. And, since this list dangerously tilted in your favor, I added ego to your mother’s column. After all of my analysis I yield to the bottom line: She is your mother, selfish and thoughtless though she may be. Hop on the bus. You and your three children are going to grandma’s house.

* * *

My daughter was married two months ago in a small ceremony in another town. I would like to host a reception in our hometown for friends and relatives who were not at the wedding. By the time I throw the party my daughter will already have been married for four months. Is that too late? Will it look as if we are fishing for gifts?

— Okay to share simcha?

It is never too late for a celebration, particularly if friends and family have not yet had the opportunity to meet the groom. And this would be their only wedding party, so they are entitled to enjoy their honeymoon status while it lasts. Ditto on the gifts. There is nothing wrong with letting your guests come to their own conclusions about whether gifts are appropriate. However, if you want to send a clear signal, why not write “no gifts please” at the bottom of the invitation? Be sure to consult with your daughter before doing so.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at

Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.