I am facing a dilemma and I am turning to you for advice. I am, baruch Hashem, a mother of many boys, most of whom are married. When I married off my sons, I bought their kallas basic standard gifts and jewelry. Most of my daughters-in-law were thrilled with the gifts I bought them. Some were happy with the gifts as they were and some went so far as to ask me if I could just leave credit in the store because they want to add their own money to upgrade, which I was happy to do. My next son is about to get engaged to a girl from a very wealthy family. If she is going to get the same gifts my daughters-in-law got she will probably feel extremely unlucky and I'm afraid she might resent the shidduch. On the other end if I am going to buy bigger and greater gifts for her, my previous daughters-in-law are going to feel bad that they did not get such grand gifts. Do they deserve less because their families are not so wealthy? Does this one deserve greater gifts because of the standards she grew up with? Is it an option for her to get a lot less than what she is going to give?
I think that there are multiple levels to this question. On a simplistic level, I don’t know that your question is better directed toward a therapist than to a lawyer or a plumber. As you say, you are facing a dilemma in which there is a legitimate question as to how to proceed. From this perspective, your question should asked of Emily Post, or of someone who has been in a similar situation.
Digging slightly deeper, I wonder how well you know your future daughter-in-law. Does she not know that your family does not have the financial resources of hers? Has she given you (or anyone else) the sense that she expects more than what you have given to your other daughters-in-law? Perhaps she has simple tastes despite her background. In fact, might she be insulted or uncomfortable if you gave her more expensive gifts, feeling that you are judging her to be materialistic?
On yet a deeper level, what truly bothers you about not helping her to keep up with the Joneses? Is it actually that she might resent the shidduch, leading to a breakup or trouble in the marriage? If you think that she might be the type of person who truly is that materialistic and petty, I would think that your gifts should be the least of your concerns. If, however, your fear lies largely in being perceived in a negative way, this would be more about you than about her.
Are you concerned that, having been born into a “higher strata of society” your future daughter-in-law would look down on you? Is your concern over your gifts symbolic of more general feelings of inadequacy that are triggered by her family—and thereby by her?
Of course, the reasons for your concerns are not easily delineated; none of ours is. To the extent, however, that your feelings relate to yourself, it is important to acknowledge this. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to resolve these emotions by proxy (as by focusing on gifts as the problem). If there is an underlying insecurity, once this particular dilemma is resolved, others will constantly be waiting in the wings, ready to pounce when triggered.
Finally, to paraphrase Pirkei Avos, the truly wealthy are those who are happy with their lot. Once again, I can attribute multiple levels and meanings to this concept with regard to your situation. Obviously, if your future daughter-in-law is really “wealthy,” she will be happy with whatever she receives. On a deeper level, “their lot” can refer to intrinsic qualities rather than material objects. In fact, I could make the argument that appreciating ourselves is a prerequisite to being happy with our material possessions.
Our goal is for our children to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. From the perspective of Pirkei Avos, these three can mean the same thing. Likely the best way to promote this is by projecting these beliefs in our interactions with our children, and by modeling behavior that demonstrates these.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200
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