"I find it offensive and untrue to suggest that the self-sacrifice and growth of baalei teshuvah is an escape from suffering"
No Need for Blame [Know This / Issue 750]
I would like to bring forth another side to the Know This article by a woman who wrote that she had two siblings who were off the derech. The writer’s circumstances are so like my own, it’s uncanny — and yet my experience is worlds apart.
My baal teshuvah parents are awesome. My three siblings who were and are struggling spiritually fully agree on this. I find it offensive and untrue to suggest that the self-sacrifice and growth of baalei teshuvah is an escape from suffering, and to blame children’s decisions on their parents’ journey is unfair. And never would I label my siblings or any of their friends “off the derech.” They are extremely troubled teens trying to find themselves and their way in life.
My parents’ home is a fully functional, loving place where every one of us is welcome no matter what. There is no “toxic atmosphere,” and we all love spending time together. If I choose not to bring my children over when my siblings’ friends are hanging out there, that is my choice, and my family respects that.
Finally, I would like to say that while these teens have acted out of pain, there is no need for blame. It is a pure combination of Hashem’s Master Plan and their bechirah.
May every story end happily, as with one of my siblings, who found a different derech in serving Hashem and today has a beautiful Yiddishe home that we are all so proud of.
Rules for References [Words Unspoken / Issue 749]
Your Words Unspoken suggesting a code of conduct for prospective mothers-in-law calling shidduch references was on the mark. As another one of my sons is now entering shidduchim, I’d like to suggest some rules that references should follow.
- References, please do not deliver a prepared speech every time a boy’s mother calls. I can repeat it verbatim: “Wow, she is soooo amaaazing, I’m so happy you called....” Each one of my sons was redt over 400 shidduchim. Out of respect for those who are trying to make a shidduch, I do my due diligence and call the references. Please don’t make my job harder than it has to be.
- When asked about a certain character or personality trait, saying, “She’s not too this, but not too that, she’s just the right mix” is so vague that it doesn’t help your friend, discredits the source, and makes the mother feel she is wasting her time. (And it’s not to your advantage to be evasive, either — you’d be surprised at how often a mother is impressed by a reference’s thoughtfulness and ends up redting her a shidduch!)
- Don’t guess at what the mother is looking for, and answer accordingly. Just tell the truth. We have a friend who was asked, “Is she very honest and straight?” The friend answered, “I wouldn’t call that her strong point.” After she hung up, she thought to herself, “Oh my, what have I done?!” She was shocked to receive an invitation to the chasunah. When she got there, the mother told her, “Mazel tov! We took the shidduch because of you. There are a lot of gray areas in our business, and we can’t have a daughter-in-law who is too much of a goody-goody.”
May we be zocheh to share simchahs!
Mother of Boys
When a Parent’s Insensitive [Family Connections / Issue 750]
I read with great interest the Family Connections question about how to respond when a spouse doesn’t parent optimally. While I appreciated the thrust of Mrs. Radcliffe’s response — that it is possible to be empathetic and acknowledge the child’s hurt without focusing on the offender — I was truly horrified by the examples she gave of appropriate ways to acknowledge error on behalf of your husband. Saying “Your father didn’t learn how to express himself properly... you’re lucky that when you grow up, you’ll do better” is hurtful and demeaning to one’s spouse, and is the exact opposite of the unified front that parenting experts always advocate.
I very much doubt Mrs. Radcliffe would enjoy overhearing her husband telling their child “Mommy has trouble with anger management, but she’s seeing someone for help with it.”
Discussing a spouse’s flaws with a child is degrading and condescending, and I can see no value in it. The only possible exception I can think of is if the parent has a specific mental or emotional disorder that the child needs to understand.
Instead, it is entirely possible to salvage the situation by focusing solely on the child’s experience. “That must hurt,” “No one likes being yelled at,” or even (maybe) “You didn’t deserve that.” There’s no need to criticize a spouse for the sake of soothing a child’s hurt.
Sarah Chana Radcliffe responds:
I really like the examples of emotional coaching that you gave at the end of your letter, and I recommend that such remarks of comfort and validation should be offered to children when a parent has been insensitive or hurtful in an occasional “bad parenting moment” (the kind we all have from time to time). However, when a parent routinely cuts a child down with diminishing and hurtful words — even when the parent is otherwise generous, helpful, and warm — the youngster is left feeling confused as well as wounded. To make sense of his situation, a child will often conclude that he himself is “bad” when he does something wrong — how else to explain the parent’s sudden loss of affection and outright rage? Unfortunately, this conclusion damages the child’s sense of self.
Alternatively, the child may come to see the parent as untrustworthy, able to turn, from one moment to the next, from loving to abusive. This damages the child’s sense of trust in people and relationships.
“He’s so mean! Why does he say those things?” requires an answer that doesn’t demonize the other parent and also doesn’t dismiss the child’s confusion and pain, leaving him on his own with his incorrect conclusions. We would never want to say, “He acts that way because he can’t control himself,” or worse, “He’s abusive.” We need an answer that makes sense, that’s the truth, and that the child can understand and even forgive. “He didn’t learn a better way when he was growing up” is usually the best answer to explain the insensitive behavior of otherwise good, normal people.
This answer helps the child grasp the importance of the parent’s ongoing demand for kind, respectful speech no matter how frustrated the child may be. Leaving the child unanswered does not hide the parent’s unacceptable behavior. It remains right there in the living room — and in the child’s memory and heart — but without explanation.
The following sidebar was inadvertently omitted from the tempo story “At a Loss” in issue 751.
When someone suggested I write a book for teens who’d lost a parent, I wasn’t sure I was the right one for the job; I’d only experienced loss as an adult. But there was something that spoke to me about this project. I felt that I’d experienced enough loss as a young adult to enable me to relate to these teens. I started interviewing girls and boys growing up without a parent. A whole new world opened up to me — a world where so many young children and teens were silently carrying very heavy loads. I found these people to be truly awe-inspiring, but I also found myself hurting with them. I so badly wanted to make it all okay.
This was how my book, I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me: A Book for Teens who Have Lost a Parent, came into being. By writing about mourning and grief, and by giving real-life examples of those who went through similar situations, I conveyed the message that it’s normal to feel this way.
Although the book is full of heavy topics, it isn’t a heavy read. Each topic is clearly explained so that the ideas can percolate in a teenager’s brain. Some topics that are covered are straightforward subjects such as Shabbos and Yom Tov meals, while others are more intense, such as struggling with jealousy or guilt. It also deals with issues such as handling do-gooders, morbid humor, and public mourning, as well as being too young to remember a parent, feeling anger at the parent who was niftar, or losing a parent after divorce.
We were almost ready to go to print when coronavirus hit. The pain of losing a loved one without a proper levayah or shivah is almost incomprehensible, so I added a whole new section on Loss during Covid.
The book will be available in stores later this summer. (To receive a copy sooner, contact Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah.)
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 752)
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