Published February 26, 2015, issue of February 26, 2015.
Q: All my children and grandchildren are gathering for a week at a beach house we rented in Florida. We all get along well, but I worry the differences in lifestyle will lead to tensions. One of my daughters keeps a strictly kosher home, the other is a vegetarian and allows no meat to touch her table, and the third eats anything in sight. Obviously, each set of grandchildren is brought up with very different dietary practices. My six grandchildren range in age from 3 months old to seven years. My fantasy is that we will have wonderful meals together as I believe that sharing a meal is a great bonding experience. For me, cooking for my family is a way to show them my love. I fear that our table will turn into a battlefield. We have not all been together in several years, so I have not had the opportunity to confront this situation before.
A: You will not be able to please everyone, so don’t try. Instead facilitate a conversation amongst your children, which will help you all figure out how to manage. Let all your children know that you desire to have some family time, and ask for their suggestions as to how this might be accomplished. Make it clear that you are trying to respect the needs of each of your daughters and their families. You are not trying to change anyone’s practices.
While all three families have agreed to spend their winter break with you despite their different culinary needs, the dining table is a most contentious place in your family and therefore not the best place for family bonding. You might need to forego your dream of meals together, but you enjoy your higher goal of unifying your family by bonding in other ways such as playing games, going for walks, or going on a trip to the beach.
In order to make sure this week is pleasant for all, you must raise your concerns in advance either with each child individually or with all of them by email or conference call/video chat. Ideally, your “all-you can eat” daughter and your “kosher” daughter might agree to be strictly vegetarian for the week so you could all sit down in the same room. However, this compromise may not be acceptable to your daughters and their husbands. You will not know unless you ask. The following are five essential questions that must be answered for this experiment to succeed:
Can we come to a compromise or do we need to have family times that do not involve food?
Who will buy the food and for whom?
Will your religious daughter come early and make the kitchen kosher?
Are the others willing to follow the religious daughter’s rules? If not, how will the kitchen be managed?
Are the carnivores willing to forego meat for a week?
Is your religious daughter comfortable eating in a room where there is non-kosher food? Likewise, are the vegetarians comfortable eating in the same space where others are eating meat?
You may find that your daughters come up with some innovative ideas just like they did when they were young. In any case, this is good practice for all of them and their families as they negotiate our complex society.
Sometimes we need to modify our dreams to achieve them.
This article was originally posted on the Boston Jewish Journal: http://boston.forward.com/articles/186858/intergenerational-beach-vacation-poses-lifestyle-i/#ixzz3TLRK0Uf1