Question: My wife and I have a fairly good marriage, with the normal ups and downs of life. Our first (and only) newly married couple is coming for the first days of Pesach and I am dreading it. My wife is extremely stressed out every yom tov and I hate the tension of her frantic cleaning and endless attention to detail. She also insists on keeping the minhagim of her parents' home even though my parents are much more lax in their Pesach minhagim, as I am; and I would rather Pesach be less tense even if that means using, for example, oil instead of shmaltz, as her parents did. Our children are good kids, generally helpful and respectful. Any advice?
Yep, I have great advice. It is the advice that every woman wants to hear: Let's pack up to Eretz Yisroel and spend Pesach in a hotel!
Hmm. Not an option? Okay, let's move on with another solution.
There's lots of stuff you said in this little question that I am not sure about. Why is this a problem only now if your wife has always been like this? Because the married couple is coming? So, it was okay for twenty years for your wife to be tense and nervous, presumably making Pesach unpleasant for the single children but it's not okay for her to do the same to the married couple?
For anybody who is reading this, I want to say very strongly, “If yom tov is an unpleasant time because of stress and tension, it is the single children who are the most negatively affected!” So take of it for them, not the newcomer in your family.
So now I am curious about some other stuff. That your wife is stressed out every yom tov, not just Pesach; so we can't blame it on cleaning necessarily. Also, that your wife keeps the minhagim of her parents and not yours.
Let's identify the issues and figure out what may make a difference.
Why is your wife stressed out every yom tov? Does she need more cleaning or cooking help? Are finances tight during this season? Is it hard juggling all the extra demands of yom tov while still working and taking care of the regular duties she has as a mother and wife? I would imagine that if you would talk to her straight she may just answer you. She may tell you that she is upset that she can't move into her own mother and take a break from all her hard work. She may tell you that over the long bein hazmanim break, she goes nuts from all the boys home eating all day long, leaving hats and jackets strewn all over the place. She may say that you don't appreciate how hard she works. Sometimes yom tov stress has nothing to do with yom tov but everything to do with triggers of old losses. A death, a divorce, a memory of another yom tov when things were so unhappy. There may be a million and one reasons; and some may surprise you. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to simply ask her.
Often, what decreases the tension the most is not necessarily the extra cleaning help or work bonus, but a spouse's validation and appreciation demonstrated in words. Don't take for granted that she knows how wonderful you think your marriage is, how wonderful you think she is. Say it loud and clear. Validation of her hard work makes her work that much easier to do. I would think that if your children are, as you say, generally helpful and respectful, then her input into their chinuch may have a big part of what yielded such nachas'dikeh results.
Stress is part of life. Tension is when we fight the stress angrily. Find out what makes your wife angry and you can help alleviate the tension that permeates the house because of the stress.
Your comment about your wife following her parents' minhagim rather than yours makes me wonder. You used the word “lax” to describe your parents, rather than words indicating a different set of minhagim. Like, Sefardim eat rice, Askkenazim don't; or, some people eat gebrokst and others don't. This is simply a different set of minhagim, not a different level of observance. The word “lax” seems to imply a different level of religious observance between the two of you, namely about Pesach minhagim.
So does your wife seem more stressed out about Pesach because keeping more stringent minhagim are more time consuming, like making one's own potato starch, or not using oil to cook; or is she more stressed out because she knows you don't support, validate, or appreciate her efforts to maintain this kind of home?
And I always marvel, in these kinds of situations, that people who consider themselves religious Jews, don't automatically consider that as a religious Jew, a rav is there for a reason. And one of those reasons is to pasken shailos or give guidance for issues just as yours. Is this religious difference only about Pesach; or is it all pervasive in your marriage and parenting? Something to think about, no?
If these chumros and minhagim are creating stress and conflict, so much that you dread yom tov, it would seem a no-brainer that consulting with a rav about what constitutes Pesach cleaning, and what the parameters of minhagim are in the context of such a situation would be beneficial for both of you.
You don't mention how the stress manifests itself.
Through yelling? Snapping? Undercurrents of discontent that leaves everyone feeling on edge, nervous to rock the boat or cause an explosion?
If your wife is that good partner you describe, and we are not talking about personality disorders or anything; simply the stuff of a home that sometimes goes awry, then simply communicate.
Relationships are all about communication.
We say it, we ascribe to it, but when we are faced with some fuzziness, we don't think it applies to us. But it does.
Tell your wife about your dread. In nice words, of course; no attacking to put her on the defensive. Ask her how she feels. Ask her what is causing her stress and perhaps distress. Listen. Figure out solutions. And if a rav's guidance will help clarify and halachah, haskafah and minhag, then go for it.
It's never fair that children have to suffer a parent's tension. Even the single ones.
Got it? Great.
And enjoy the young couple!
THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BINAH MAGAZINE'S BIWEEKLY COLUMN "QUESTIONS YOU NEVER DARED ASKED BUT ASKED ANYWAY."
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