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Cousin's husband displays volatility

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I host a Passover seder for his family every year. One of his cousins was married several years ago to a non-Jew. At their first seder as a married couple, he was a no-show. Last year he came but decided he would stay in the basement (where we sent his meal) while the rest of the family ate together in the dining room. I was shocked and found this to be very rude, but said nothing because it was clear the cousin was upset as well.

As Passover approaches, I am stressed at the idea of this happening again. I have two young children whom I have taught tolerance and openness and they are witness to this behavior. How do I tell the cousin that dinner will not be served in the basement and that her husband is expected to sit with the rest of the family? I don't want to have a confrontation as the husband is very volatile.

-- Anonymous

A: I read this too late to answer by Passover, but I'm answering anyway because these are everyday issues.

The real problem isn't his rudeness, it's his volatility. You're afraid of him. Please read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker to educate yourself on predicting dangerous behavior in people.

Also, anyone close to this cousin needs to stay in regular, listening-heavy, low-key-but-attentive contact with her. She'll need someone she can trust to help her and not judge her if his volatility tips into rage. Or if she just grows weary of appeasing a jerk.

The easier problem to address is your children's exposure to the husband's odd behavior.

Anything that doesn't traumatize your children will help you educate them, and this is no exception. You're teaching them tolerance and openness? Swell. Use any rudeness as the start of a discussion with your kids afterward about what they witnessed. Let them speak, and see whether they even care; kids tend to prioritize with ruthless efficiency, and they may not care about this arm's-length relative. If they do care, listen for how they make sense of his actions. Guide them mainly to keep them from blaming themselves or vilifying him.

Meaning: Don't say, "He's in the basement because he disagrees with our religion" unless he said that himself; suspecting it isn't good enough. It is fine, though, to offer kids an age-appropriate opinion, when asked: "Grown-ups can choose where to eat, but I don't think his choice was polite. What do you think?"

As for how to deal with his rudeness in the future: He eats where he eats, but he needs to serve himself.

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