Q: I am the mother of a relatively large family, including several teenagers. When my children were younger, I hosted company almost every Shabbos. Now that they’ve grown, it has gotten harder for me to have guests at the meals, both because of the extra effort involved and because it makes it harder to focus on my kids when there are other people at the table. Is it better for children to grow up seeing an open home full of guests, particularly in a society where there is so much focus on that? Or is it okay for me to “close my doors” for a while?
A: Thank you for your question. In reading your question, I am wondering if this is solely your dilemma, or if you are being pressured by someone else to continue inviting guests over to your home. I would like to address both possibilities.
Assuming the question is solely your internal conflict, let’s look at the two reasons you are considering closing your doors for now. 1) It is difficult for you to put in the extra effort required. 2) Having company makes it harder to focus on your children and give them attention.
Your first point is significant, and I commend you for being honest in recognizing your limitation. There is a lot of responsibility in raising a family (I am not sure if you work in addition to that) and having to cater weekly meals for guests can add to that stress, making it quite overwhelming. When choosing to do any act of kindness, it’s important that the choice we make is true to ourselves. Many of us have a hard time saying “no” to others, and it can stem from a variety of reasons. Sometimes, our need to please and be liked by others causes us to take on more than we normally would.
Another possible angle is that we sometimes need to view ourselves in a certain light and maintain that image at all costs, regardless of the toll it takes on us. Decisions that come from either of these places aren’t real choices and typically lead to resentment and anger. For someone to have the ability to say “yes” to an act of kindness, they need to be capable of saying “no” as well, without fear of repercussion (whether internal or external). If there is fear or pressure which causes us to choose “yes,” it is no longer an act of kindness; rather, it is a pressured response that stems from the feeling that there is no way out.
The second point you brought up is really important as well. I don’t think anyone would argue with the notion that our primary responsibility is to our own family before others. Do your children feel left out and are they asking for more attention during the meals? They certainly need to feel that they are the priority for you over guests. Or do they benefit from the guests being there and seem to enjoy the company? Our kids need to come first when it comes to these decisions, perhaps even if it means sacrificing an important mitzvah. I remember when my wife was unable to go to shul at all on Yom Kippur as she was caring for a newborn and our Rav told her that her avodah for YK was to change diapers and feed the baby; this was just as meaningful to G-d. Life is full of instances where one value is pinned against another and we need to choose what is more important at the moment.
If in fact the question has been triggered by a family member wanting you to continue inviting others, then we need to consider why that may be. Perhaps it is coming from a healthy place of wanting to do the mitzvah of having guests, but there is the possibility of a family whose members have a hard time getting along with each other and invite guests to ensure that the table is peaceful. Guests can also distract the family or couple from having to sit together alone and make conversation.
An option that may help is to reduce the number and frequency of guests you host. Perhaps in the past, you hosted entire families, and maybe that can be changed to a single, divorced or widowed person. Or you can set up a schedule where you agree to host guests once a month, or once every three months or any other schedule that works for you.
In all, you sound logical and seem to have your priorities in order. I’m sure you will be successful in setting up a routine where your children’s needs are met and your passion for hachanasas orchim is fueled as well.