Thursday, April 19, 2007

When your Family dislikes your ("Cheap") Simcha

At the risk of outing myself to the other side of my family (my in-laws), all of which I love dearly, I am going to write about a real and personal incident that happened over Pesach (1st days) which hurt us very much. My husband encouraged me to write about this incident because of the unique perspective that it brings to the discussion of simcha craziness, even though it violates some of my own blogging rules. I held off writing about this incident to calm down and gather my thoughts. But, at this point I might as well put pen and paper, or fingers to the keyboard as the case might be.

I know we have discussed various external pressures when it comes to making smachot. What will the neighbors think? What will the mechutanim say if we don't agree to do x, y, or z? Will my son or daughter be treated differently if we deviate from the "standard" Bar or Bat Mitzvah format that their classmates are following? Will my son/daughter feel badly if we put on a lesser wedding for him/her than the standard?

What I have not discussed in great detail up until this point is internal pressures from family in regards to smachot. But that time has come.

Approximately six months ago we were blessed with a beautiful and loving baby girl. Making a simcha for a girl is much less involved than making a brit milah and accompanying Shalom Zachar/Brit Yitzchak for a boy. But when it comes to the festivities for babies of each gender, I appreciate the manner in which each simcha is celebrated (at least in every community I've lived in). Not only is there normally an open invitation to all who want to partake in the celebration(s), but the simcha is one of modesty and simplicity as is appropriate as well as practical, for the time of birth carries with it its own stresses.

For our recent simcha, we decided to sponsor the seudah shlishit at our synagogue. I wanted to make the event there so that all would be welcome and feel welcome. And, my husband didn't want it in our home. He was having a enough difficulty holding down a the home in my extended absence and this was just easier. Being that it was a winter simcha, we decided not to keep the seudah shlishit simple and just sponsor it without changing the regular fare. After all, who wants more and more food an hour or two after they finished eating lunch? In the summer, one might be hungry by the time of seudah shlishit. In the winter months, one has to just fulfill this obligation because it is an obligation.

During lunch of the 1st day of Pesach, I believe the "incident" started when we were explaining to our children that there is no seudah shlishit on yom tov and that eating this meal was an obligation only on Shabbat.

And then my mother-in-law flipped. Nearly six months later, and basically in tears, she started to yell at us about our simcha. How could we have been so cheap? The birth of a daughter is a simcha too and we should have added more food and fancier food. It wasn't nice enough. It was embarrassing! Where I [Sephardi Lady] grew up (a small town), it might be appropriate to make such a "cheap" simcha, but where they are from [one of the more ostentatious communities in the US] this was nothing but an embarrassment. And lastly, if we didn't want to pay for something nice, they would pay for it. But, they wanted something better and we can't do this again.

My husband was as shocked as I was. Primarily we were not sure what triggered such outraged over an event so long ago. My husband couldn't believe that his parents (or mother) could be so embarrassed when they didn't have any friends in attendance. And I couldn't figure out what was so "cheap" about the simcha because, I argued, we did what everyone else does (minhag hamakom).

I'm not sure where this event leaves us. We can't undo the past, nor do we want to (although we had a similar incident hours before our wedding which I wish could be undone because the fight over the centerpieces my mother brought hurt here as well as my husband-and it scared me since I overheard it). We were perfectly happy with our choice then and remain happy with it now. Baruch Hashem, we could have paid more for a simcha, but didn't see the need to do so just for the sake of doing so. [Note: at our son's brit milah we had to give away cakes because there was too much food and no place to freeze it].

But I have to wonder what the future holds for us. With G-d's help we will have more children. And of course there are the Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations, all of which my husband's parents will attend with G-d's help.

Will we just pay for more than is necessary for future smachot just because in-laws are insistent upon it? (I don't plan on accepting money, but it is nice they offered since they are the one's wanting more). Will we just continue to do what we want although it "embarrasses" them despite the fact that we are well within the standard in our community?

And despite my meanderings about the future. What really hurt most was the fact that not one other person who was present at the seudah and our simcha said something simple and nice like, "I enjoyed it."

Readers: Just how big of a factor is family when it comes to Simcha Craziness? We've all heard about parents who spend more to impress their friends/family. What about kids who feel the need to spend more to please their parents?

Yuck. Shabbat Shalom.


mother in israel said...

I could write a book on this, having made two bar mitzvahs and a bat mitzvah. Both my boys wanted more than I did, and ultimately we gave in. WIth the oldest it was me vs. my husband and father, who had to cancel his trip at the last minute. With the second my husband came around to my way of thinking, but it was hard to say no after the precedent we had set although we did learn to cut a few of the costs, and invited fewer of our friends.

I really think it's not too late to explain the factors behind your decision calmly to your inlaws, recognizing how important it was to them. I personally think that pleasing grandparents (within reason) is a good thing, and while I understand your principle, accepting money for this purpose is a wsy both of allowing them to share in the simcha and help you out (even though I'm sure you could think of better ways to spend the money).

mother in israel said...

By the way for the bat mitzvah (all were in a space of three years) I cooked a dinner for 60 people in our shul and my daughter happily wore a hand-me-down dress!

Anonymous said...

To be fair to your guests, they probably didn't want to intrude on a family discussion. I am not sure why the standards of either where you are from, or where your husband is from are relevant. it seems to me the standards of the community in which you live now are what matter.

Anonymous said...

What's a "sex month?" ;)

Orthonomics said...

MominIsrael-I would love it if you blogged about this subject.

In the case of a Simcha for a birth, we basically made no active decisions. . . . . we just did what is done in our current community.

In fact we went to a kiddush today for someone's baby daughter and it was just the standard fare, although a few families have been known to throw in a few cute pink ribbons and candies.

I think we will let them throw in something they want next time (when next time comes iy"h). I don't have a problem accepting extra cakes or salad, so long as it is within limits.

Of course, if whatever they might want (for a Bar Mitzvah let's imagine) isn't within the limits of propriety in our community, I will say no. We aren't making a Bar Mitzvah in the Sheraton because that is what they like to do. But if they want to serve extra appetizers, I can handle that.

Mike S-I agree with you that where we are from is irrelevant and said so. Unfortunately, they didn't care what the standard is in our community and were unfairly outraged.

And my husband agrees with you that his sister should not have been expected to say anything. My hurt is/was probably irrational. But it never hurts to say privately and later that you had a nice time. Oh well. . . .

Anonymous-BAD typo. I fixed once I found it. SIX months. :)

Anonymous said...


Don't give in! You will only perpetuate the general madness and outright chutzpah that your mother-in-law displayed. You are an adult and to give in is foolish. You run your home, it is your children, and even if they offer to pay they should have no say in it whatsoever - especially when you consider way she approached the subject. Be strong and stop making excuses. Tell her straight out, "We've thought about it and we are declining your offer. This is who we are and this is how we'd like to represent our family."

Lion of Zion said...

when we got married my mother-in-law wanted us to add a violinist to the band so he could play at the huppah. we refused, as we considered it an unecessary extravagance, and she still mentions to us that we should have had it. (note 1: she did offer to pay for it at the time. note 2: when she brings it up, it is not at all out of a sense of resentment or anger.)

"And lastly, if we didn't want to pay for something nice, they would pay for it."

next time they should offer before hand.

"I held off writing about this incident to calm down and gather my thoughts. "

don't wait next time. i want to read you when you are kicking and screaming.

Anonymous said...

On taking money from family--
I usually hate taking money from family, but my husband and I were happy to let our parents pay for our wedding almost a year and a half ago. If we'd made the wedding it would have been a potluck affair in the local shul with his friend on guitar. We would have been happy, our parents not as much. Their way, everyone was happy.

In retrospect I somewhat regret it. The wedding was wonderful and still relatively low-scale, and everyone had a great time. OTOH, I feel like we might have missed an opportunity to have an insanely low-cost wedding and show other couples that it can be done, so that they won't feel embarrassed.

In terms of community standards we were right on target--community standards here say that your parents pay for a medium/big wedding in a cheap place.

mother in israel said...

SL--The problem is that my teens read my blog, not your comments. We'll see how tactful I can be.

Jacob Da Jew said...

I'm blessed in the sense that my in-laws are extremely simple people.

They could not care less how fancy the kiddush for our daughter or our wedding was.

I feel bad for you but I agree with the above commentators. If she blows up like that, maybe next time tell her to pay for it-ALL. If she gives you any objections, just remind her that she wants it fancy and she should just her fat mouth.

Seriously, who the hell remembers how lavish a kiddush was, unless it was REALLY FANCY.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

>And despite my meanderings about the future. What really hurt most was the fact that not one other person who was present at the seudah and our simcha said something simple and nice like, "I enjoyed it."<

It almost sounds like the Kamtza/Bar-Kamtza story in the Gemara that led to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash: There, too, no one said anything to dispell the embarrassment Bar-Kamtza felt as he was being kicked out by the host of that party.

Frankly, I think you should do the Simchas as you see fit. You and your husband are adults and need to run your family as you see fit. If they don't like, tell them they are welcome to simply not show up to or join in the simcha. That ought to quiet them down, no?

Anonymous said...

Don't give in one inch. It is entirely inappropriate for any of us to waste so much money on junk nobody needs or wants. We have to live within our means, and I don't care who doesn't like it. You shouldn't care, either. Judaism isn't about who can put themselves farthest into debt or spend the most on a simcha. And if it is, then we are far, far away from what we are supposed to be. A birth, bar mitzvah, or wedding isn't a license for stupidity. We have to be responsible adults, even if our parents or friends aren't.

Looking Forward said...

well I can say that my barmitzvah was "insanely cheap". It was conducted on a monday morning, With only thirty people in atendance, and most of those regulars to the shul.

Imediate family, a couple of friends, that's it. No hadran, and a simple meal with fruit, cake and I think some bagels.

THAT is the way they did it in the old country.

G-d help my besheret if she ever tries to use the oft heard excuse "well you had a barmitzvah!" in terms of controling the wedding.

But seriously, other than weddings I see no reasons why we should do anything more. Last I checked tznius was one of the things that we're really supposed to excell in, and opulent simchos are deffininetly not persuant to that end.

But it scares me how personaly family and inlaws can take things like that, and the observation that regardless of who is resposible, its the child in law who gets blamed. (my little baby is perfect, its all that rotten others fault, I knew they shouldn't have married!!!)

Jack Steiner said...

I agree with the others. It is your decision, not your in-laws.

Ariella's blog said...

Sephardi Lady, I didn't know your in-law live in the 5 Towns (just kidding)! Anyway, I can certainly relate. Though my in-laws really don't care about girl affairs. Actually we didn't even sponsor a kiddush for our daughters, and they never brought it up. My first daughter sort of had a kiddush just because that year my father decided to sponsor a very big kiddush in his shul b/c each one of his 4 children had a child that year -- so it really was for all 4 granchildren -- boys and girl. And though my in-laws set up for my boy's bris, it actually was not much. It was disappointing actually b/c no one really organized anything other than having some food in the house and the mohel (it was a Shabbos bris in Flatbush, and we don't rely on the eruv there). But for the bar mitzvah, they made it clear that they were very disappointed in how low-key ours was -- mostly a Shabbos affair with a melave malka in a room in a local school. MIL said if I would have made a Sunday party then a certain relative of hers should have been able to come (in the end he was too incapacitated no matter when it was scheduled for) She was aghast at the absence of a photographer (though it turned out the weather would probably have prevented one from coming just as the music guy I had slated could not make it and had to be replaced at the very last minute with someone local.) But we have very different standards and really no intention of competing with 5 Towns level parties, for eyn ladavar sof.
We also didn't have to top anyone, for my son's bar mitzvah was the first one that the class was invited to. A few in the class made their bar mitvahs elsewhere. And some who made far fancier affair committed the social faux pas of just inviting a select few to a part of it. For my son, on the other hand, the whole class plus a boy who transferred were invited to everything. We included good food, a very beautiful fruit arrangement, and some fancy cakes. Still it was not ostentatious. Some of the more upscale, bigger affairs he's been to by now had food that was not very much enjoyed or very slow service. And we had divrei Torah, which should be at the core of such a celebration. I don't think every other guest was lying when complimenting us on the simcha -- especially as my mother -- who does not seek to flatter her children -- was among them. People get a simcha all wrong when they measure it by the number of courses or the creativity of the theme or decorations. It should reflect hoda'ah to Hashem done, as everything else, in the spirit of Hatzne Lechet, not in the spirit of keeping up with the Schwatzes.
It sounds crazy, but one advantage I find in living in the 5 Towns is resisting the lure of materialism and the mutation of luxuries into necessities. It is just impossible to outdo everyone else's house, car, and kiddush, so there is not point in bothering to do anything other than exactly what you feel is right.
But anyway, I'm very happy you blogged about this b/c I had been rather upset about the feeling I had about my situation.

Ariella's blog said...

I just want to clarify what I said above about my son's bris. I didn't mean that I fault it for a lack of food or decoration. But I was bothered b/c we didn't even have a minyan for the seudah. Everyone just drifted off after the kiddush except for the family members.

Joe Schick said...

Your mother-in-law's inappropriate comments illustrate a major problem in the frum world: Parents often forget that their adult children are adults who will make their own decision and run their own lives.

Even if the seudah you made was somehow "too simple", so what? The notion that your in-laws would be embarassed would, even then, reflect a lot more on them than your seudah.

Anonymous said...

Ari Kinsberg- on the contrary. You should have dumped the other instruments and only had violins.

Chaim B. said...

Parents who make comments like your MIL did never realize that they are setting themselves up for a no-win situation. Your husband obviously does not feel the same as his mother on these issues, which is why he married you and together you live within your means in a modest community. Some parents are never willing to accept that their son/daughter has chosen a different approach than the "good" example they have set, even going so far as to delude themselves into believing that their son/daughter would naturally agree with their POV if not for the intrusion of the "other" (i.e. the spouse) who has corrupted their thinking. I am nearly 100% convinced there is no way to "cure" a parent afflicted with this insanity (I have yet to succeed!) They will inevitably make dumb remarks or find other ways to show disapproval, which only will distance their children from them and create resentment. Your husband probably feels very bad about the whole thing because his mother has put him in a position where he must choose between the values he shares with you and her advice, and inevitably, if you have a good marriage, his mother is going to come out the loser. Take chizuk from the people you admire and others in your community (and who comment here) who share your values and appreciate how you live your life - if your parents or in-laws find fault, it is their loss for not seeing and appreciating the positives in your life, not your problem.

SaraK said...

Your life, you make the decisions. I commend you for following your community's modest standards.

Anonymous said...

Just to add a little balance to the conversation --

Let me say at the outset that I agree with the general consensus that you and your husband are entitled to decide how to celebrate your simcha, and it is inappropriate for others, including parents, to intervene.

Having said that, I want to applaud your sense of kibbud av v'em and mentschlichkeit that prompted you to count to 10 before posting. Your respect for parents (which some of the commenters can take a lesson from!) in a difficult situation is praiseworthy. It also implies an approach that combines staying true to your own standards while maintaining a healthy and respectful relationship with your parents.

You might want to start by taking your m-i-l aside at a quiet time (or better yet, your husband should do it) and politely explain to her in a non-judgmental way that this is the you have chosen to celebrate your simcha, and this is why (e.g., community practice, modesty, etc.). You can say that you appreciate her sensibilities, and you hope that she will respect yours as well.

Also say how much you appreciate her gracious offer to help out, and maybe suggest for a future simcha bs"d meeting her partway, e.g., with your own suggestion of adding a side dish, or adding ribbons, in a way that would make the simcha a little more special without being ostentatious.

This way you can preserve your own standards for how to celebrate, while also maintaining a healthy and respectful relationship with your parents.


Anonymous said...

I can't believe i am hearing this

Learn from the gerrer chasidim how to to make a simcha

Learn from all the laws in moed katan - how the coffin is plain and everyting plain in order not to embarress those that don't have

I don't care about anyone who cares about spending money on simchas - it is the biggest waste of money in the world and has no educational value - atleast yeshiva tuition has a redeeming value

Lion of Zion said...

anon (11:57)

"Ari Kinsberg- on the contrary. You should have dumped the other instruments and only had violins."

that's an interesting perspective. i like the way you think.

Anonymous said...

the biggest joke are these wedding bar/bat mitzva's - you must have a shmorgesbord so you don't starve once you sit down for the meal 10 minutes later - some speeches - some music - and then after four hours - you are $40,000 poorer

i will never fall for this trap

RaggedyMom said...

SL - Great post on a very thought-provoking topic. This is usually one of those situations that can lead to a lot of hurt feelings and resentment for years.

In the vein of what Mother in Israel posted, I would say that every interaction like this with someone gives you insight as to their personality, priorities, and needs. You emerged from this uncomfortable situation with hurt feelings, but also with a greater understanding of who your in-laws are, and what makes them tick, for better or for worse.

I get the impression that you are a person who is straightforward, yashar, and open, though it is not always easy in family situations or on emotional turf.

In the future, rather than succumb to the urge to bury the hurt, I would suggest politely laying out your plans and goals in advance - not as a way of asking for approval, but as a means to take into account some more peripheral family opinions (except where you fundamentally outright disagree). I think it will be very clear to your mother-in-law as to why you are discussing things in advance.

Ariella - I think my parents would have killed me if we hadn't at least co-sponsored a shul Shabbos mevorchim kiddush for when Ann was born ($70 versus $500 or so if we had made a special one on our own). Too many bubbe meises about girls having a hard time getting married later on (theoretically due to not having had a kiddush). LOL. If my parents were disappointed, they didn't let on.

Anonymous said...

Throw the simchas you like hon.
That is how my husband and i got away with making a 3,000$ wedding in brooklyn for 60 people. Do it as you want :). I think I mostly got away with it because i was known in my neck of the woods as an oddball, so of course my wedding would be a strange and delightful affair , and it was. do what pleases you, with some compromise for the in laws.

Orthonomics said...

Thank you everyone for all of the great comments. I think the subject matter begs for a follow up. I will try to oblige. Guest posts would also be welcome.

My husband says he does plan to change anything and thinks his parents were completely in the wrong. :) I knew I married a great guy (thanks Chaim B. for reminding me just how lucky I am).

Mom in Israel posted her own comments at her website. Check them out.

And lastly, it is fantastic to know you have a chevra out there. Who knew others had similiar issues? It is nice to know we are not alone.

Orthonomics said...

Another Ariella-I'd love to hear more about your wedding. A guest post?

Anonymous said...

Guest post? You bet i would be proud! Give me a week or two to gather everything i remember about throwing a 300$ wedding together in 3 months. Thanks! I wonder if any of your readers remember...or were at my big fat jewish wedding slash sorority mixer slash really awesome party at brooklyn college hillel in 02. Trust me This aint no Rose Castle.

Orthonomics said...

AnotherAriella-I can't wait for your guest post. Wish I could have been there. :)

Anonymous said...

Family - can't live with em, can't live without em!

When we made our Bar Mitzvahs - 3 in three years! "people" had very high expectations based soley on the fact that my husband is a professional of the sort that most people assume to have a very large income (read "rich"). Why is there the need to count other people's money and determine what is appropriate for them when it comes to a simcha? Anyway, what most people don't know is that b/c my husband is a professional we are obligated, and are happy, to pay full tuition for our children - last year's grand total was 60,000, this year we are up to 80+.
Basically, we stopped listening to "well meaning" family and friends years ago. We have enough expenses that carrying around that kind of debt, especially when my boys were not asking for extravagant affairs, is ridiculous!
Respectfully stand up for yourself and they will learn to respect your decision.

PS did I mention the laminated bentchers that were donated to yeshiva lunch rooms after the simcha?

Anonymous said...

So let's talk about machutanim! I have several married kids and, by far, one of my son's inlaws are just rotten! My dil's Mom is a bitch! Her father is a nebbish....I don't know how we got stuck with suck horrible machutanim....just the worst! I have a splitting headache now!