Nearly every week, young married couples make the Great Migration to their parents’ and in-laws’ houses. Your parents, who have raised you since infancy, suddenly forget how annoying it was to house you for eighteen-odd years, and clamor to have you return and spend Shabbat — And holidays, and maybe just dinner? Drop by whenever! — as soon as you threaten marital-induced independence. Thus, Jeremy and I, like all our married friends, are playing a constant game of rotating Shabbatot. A few at home, one at his parents’, one at my parents’, repeat cycle.
We just got back from Shabbat at my parents’ (preceded by a Shabbat at his) and the first thing I noticed was how quiet our apartment was. Getting there is never fun— two hours of driving, plus extra time spent in traffic — and being there means giving up the comforts of being in our own bed. But being there also means slipping back into the comforting hustle and bustle of a family. It means being fed home-cooked meals without having to be the one cooking them (or cleaning up after). It means, basically, that we trade in the easy luxury of our own quiet home for the cheerful noise of being with family. It’s a trade worth making.
There’s a certain stress involved with going to visit parents, and I say this knowing my own parents and in-laws will be among the first ones to read this. If you went away to college, you probably remember having to make an effort to leave weekends free to go home instead of spending time with friends. Being married doubles the pressure. We’ve found ourselves responding defensively to “We never see you,” from one set of parents with, “Well we never see the other set either!” as if it’s a competition. On a long holiday, we can spend the first two days with one family and the last two days with another so it’s an even split. But what if there’s a Shabbat in between? And what about holidays, like Shavuot, two days long without the option to travel? We want to maintain balance for our parents’ sakes, but also to be fair to one another. If we get to spend time with his family, it’s only fair that we spend time visiting mine.
Going home means becoming a child again. Suddenly we’re being asked to run errands, pick people up from train stations or buy groceries from the store. We fall back into the habit of fighting with our siblings. We stamp our feet and roll our eyes more; our childhood rooms apparently have a time-travel affect on us as soon as we step into them. But we also are surrounded by unconditional love from every angle, the entire house exuding the support and affection you didn’t even realize was a gift in childhood. In your parents’ house, you take refuge from the world, even if just for the weekend.
Being at our own home has a similar effect — I come home and my body expands and relaxes in joy. But it still doesn’t compare with having my sister and brother upstairs, my parents across the hall, my grandmother in the room downstairs, even my dogs in their own beds. It’s being surrounded by so many people you love who love you back with equal force that makes traveling two hours in weekend traffic worthwhile. It’s being home, in the house where I first applied that word, that makes leaving the home I’ve built on my own worth leaving for a weekend.
Simi Lichtman is a contributor to the Forward.
Playing Tug of War