The Complicated Physics of Family Life


By Wendy Belzberg

Published October 03, 2003, issue of October 03, 2003.
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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

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