Sephardi Lady posted about her in-laws’ disappointment at the most recent simcha honoring her baby daughter. Even though Sephardi Lady and Gentleman celebrated just as every other young couple in their community did, the in-laws felt it should have been fancier. Unfortunately they hadn’t discussed this in advance, and the incident left a lot of hurt feelings all around. I think that perhaps failed communication contributed more to this dispute than the standards in different communities.
S.L. asked me for my opinion on the subject. I’m happy to oblige.
While I agree that grandparents should not have a role in their children’s decisions regarding daycare, diet, and discipline, smachot (life-cycle celebrations) belong in a different category. The simcha belongs to the grandparents too! Also, they are one-time events. While the final decision ultimately lies with the parents making the simcha, if they can easily make the grandparents happy without compromising their principles I believe they should make the effort. For instance, if the grandparents want to hire a fancier caterer or invite more guests and they are willing to pay (or the parents can do so without a major financial sacrifice), the parents should consider going along with it for the sake of peace. The parents can make it clear that they are not setting a precedent for future events. If they decide not to, the son or daughter, not the son or daughter-in-law, should be the one to explain things. Anyway, as the grandparents get older they are less likely to be as involved in these types of details (unfortunately).
I’m not referring to cases where the demands are far removed from the standards of the community, nor unhealthy situations where the in-laws are trying to control the young couple, sabotage the marriage, or one-up the other grandparents.
These things can be explained to children old enough to understand. I told mine that most of the “material” preparations for the Bar Mitzvah were to make sure that the guests felt welcome and would want to come next time, and that they (the children) also needed to do what they could to achieve this by being extra cheerful and cooperative. When we take the tastes of grandparents into account we make them feel part of things, and we model respect for parents.
To a lesser degree we try to take the needs of other relatives into account too. When families fight, they often bring up examples of slights from family occasions. They put us in a cheap hotel, they sat us next to that couple we hate, they didn’t include us in the pictures. Are they being gracious guests? No. Do we want our children to have a relationship with such relatives and their children later on in life? Is it worth gritting our teeth and compromising some of the time? Can we go out of our way to be extra gracious hosts when we make a simcha, according to our means? Worth considering.