"If you were uncomfortable with the story, instead of feeling threatened, you can feel thankful that this message isn’t a lifesaver to you"
The Power of a Story [Inbox / Issue 785]
I’m sure Alisa Avruch is speaking from professional experience when she says that stories such as “The Long Road Home” can make people think their problems are unsolvable and that divorce is the only option. She asks, quite legitimately, why share such a story?
When “Grab the Reins,” about my work as an addiction and codependency specialist, was published as a serial diary in Family First, I received many emails from people who hadn’t known addiction existed in the frum community. They thought their (or their loved one’s) out-of-control behaviors were happening because they were bad, crazy, or both. The serial was an eye-opener for many. Not only did it validate their experience, it gave them a direction in which to go, in order to get the tools they needed to live a normal life.
When the serial was published as a book, I added the stories of six women with whom I’d worked. Suddenly, I was receiving email after email from women who’d been struggling with codependency and simply had no idea. Email after email from women who opened with, “I think I’m Hadassah.”
There are many excellent nonfiction books that explain codependency; why had these women not simply read up on the topic? The answer is simple: You can’t learn more about a problem you don’t know you have. A story, whether fiction or nonfiction, is a very powerful medium. It gives us entry into others’ thoughts, intimate understanding of their feelings. Yes, a story has to be used responsibly. In the 12 years that I’ve been writing for Family First, I can attest that every story, every article I’ve written has been vetted by a chain of people to make sure it is purposeful and hashkafically sound.
Every relationship has issues, so it’s incredibly difficult to know when the particular issues you’re dealing with have crossed the line into those of a more serious nature. I applaud Family First in their continued efforts to illustrate with sensitivity those topics from which frum women can benefit on so many levels.
If a client of mine were to conclude that divorce is the only answer after reading one story, I’d suspect a lot more was going on than she, herself, was conscious of.
Addiction & Codependency Specialist
EFT Advanced Practitioner
Equine Assisted Therapist
Living the Struggle [Inbox / Issue 785]
I’m writing in response to the marriage coach who thought stories of divorce have no purpose in this magazine.
I’d like to disagree.
You see, I lived through such a marriage. I suffered in silence, accepting my pain as normal, thinking that there was no better way to live, and I tried just being a good wife and praying things would get better.
Even when I reached out for help, I was dismissed. People told me it was nothing. That it’s all normal. That if only I ignored it, my husband would improve. That if I changed my own reaction, the dynamic would change. So, I did. I said nothing when all I wanted to do was scream. I went along with what my husband wanted, trying to be a good wife. I worked on internalizing that he was acting like a normal guy and only I had to improve.
And eventually, I broke.
Because it wasn’t normal. And no amount of dismissal could change that fact.
No amount of covering up such stories can change the fact that they’re real. And reading them can help others in similar situations understand that they can have a better life. Sometimes getting help for themselves isn’t enough. In such cases, I believe they deserve to know that they don’t have to continue suffering. They too can escape their torturous marriage.
We need to teach our children that it may be okay. That no matter how many others advise them to ignore things, they have to find someone who believes them, if that advice doesn’t sound right to them. That there are some things that are not acceptable. There are situations where no amount of working on oneself will “transform the relationship” or change a spouse’s behavior.
It’s not fair to keep young girls and boys imprisoned in their suffering only because it’s easier for you to pretend such pain doesn’t exist.
Don’t our children deserve to have their struggles acknowledged instead of dismissed? If you were uncomfortable with the story, instead of feeling threatened, you can feel thankful that this message isn’t a lifesaver to you. Thankful that you know nothing about a life in the shadow of constant fear, abuse and control.
When I reached out for help, I was told it was nothing. I was advised to ignore it. And now that I left my marriage, I hear others advising people to stay imprisoned in their marriages.
I hope the ones who need the message will read such stories and understand that there is a better way to live. They don’t have be captives in their own lives. And, despite what others might tell them, not everything can be cured.
Even worse than reading about struggles and knowing that they exist is living through them.
I hope no one ever has to know.
I do know. I’ve been there. And somehow — despite being dismissed time and again, despite being told to stick through it, and that it’s all my fault — somehow, I found people who did believe me. Who helped me realize that my marriage couldn’t be fixed.
And I got out alive — despite everything I was told.
A Woman on the Other End Who Suffered for Far Too Long
Beautifying Shabbos [Tastes Like Shabbos / Issue 785]
I wish to take issue with Rebbetzin Esther Levin’s article in last week’s Family First. I wholeheartedly agree that Shabbos foods should be simple and traditional. I also agree that a Shabbos seudah doesn’t need three salads and four dips.
Here is where we disagree. A Shabbos table should be set with a gorgeous tablecloth, your nicest china and cutlery, crystal glasses, chargers (if you have them) and anything else that enhances a Shabbos tish. We chassidish women consider setting a malchusdige Shabbos table our melachas hakodesh. Some clarification is in order. Chassidim serve the Eibeshter with every worldly possession we have.
Clarifying Selective Mutism Misinformation [Inbox / Issue 785]
As a sibling of someone who is actually selectively mute, I was taken aback by the way selective mutism was portrayed in an Inbox letter written by someone who wrote that she had four children who had selective mutism.
It is apparent that none of the children described have this disorder. Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder. And as the letter writer noted, all the experts she consulted advised her that there was no need to worry since none of her children displayed any anxiety at all. This is not selective mutism.
The letter writer kept referring to their so-called selective mutism in the past tense — that they “had” the disorder. Selective mutism is not a condition that goes away. It may be worked on and improved with intensive therapy and early intervention, but it does not ever disappear. Ignoring the issue is dangerous, and not advisable.
Furthermore, I was shocked when I read the letter writer’s explanation for her children’s “mutism.” She writes: “Years later, when one of my other children was not talking in nursery, this daughter commented that she also did not speak until first grade, and she explained that this was because the school we sent her to had a different dialect of Yiddish, which she didn’t know how to speak. This was definitely the case with another two of my children. With no intervention, by the end of nursery, they were talking.”
These children did not need intervention for selective mutism, because they were not selectively mute. Referring to them as such is akin to calling new immigrants to this country selectively mute because they don’t respond when you speak to them in English.
I’m concerned that the misinformation in this letter could lead to people following the dated and ill-advised path of ignoring a problem in the hopes of it going away. I can tell you from experience that it does not.
When my brother was young, this information was not as readily available, and this disorder was highly misunderstood. Though he eventually received the help he needed, he still struggles until today. Had we had access to the resources that we have today, things could have been very different.
We do not see a tumor and ignore it, hoping it will go away if we leave it alone. The same is true here. Parents: Early intervention is key. When it comes to your children’s health, being proactive and staying informed is the way to go.
Building a Beautiful Life [Message on a Bottle / Issue 784]
I keep thinking about the artist you profiled, Matti Dushinsky. Her courage to speak about her childhood struggles is not common, and she’ll never know how many people gained strength and hope.
There were a few points that touched me. One was the open relationship with her father, which was mentioned in the Editor’s Letter — how her father, a Yerushalmi, was able to support her and listen to her, even when she was sharing the notes boys had sent her. It was astounding. I hope and pray for such open communication and love between myself and my children.
Another thing that hit me emotionally was how she was much more affected by her learning disabilities than by the abuse that she endured. From personal experience, I know that traumas that may not seem so major, but that occur day in and day out, leave a lasting impression in a person’s psyche, and can leave self-esteem shattered, even while escaping from acute suffering with scars far less painful.
I am so happy that Matty built a beautiful family, had so many children, and built a business out of art!
Is It Enough to Be Good Enough? [A Better You / Issue 784]
I am a young mother of three toddlers, and Abby Delouya’s article about being a “good-enough parent” did not sit well with me. I’m not sure that being a good parent 60 percent of the time is enough; I would draw a parallel from the 4:1 rule that applies to positive and negative interactions with our children and say that you probably need to be a good parent 80 percent of the time. I actually discussed this with the rebbetzin whose chinuch classes I attend, and she agreed that 60 percent seemed too low and serves to let people off the hook for their bad parenting. Can Abby explain what she had in mind?
S. M. Teichman
Abby Delouya responds:
Thank you for your valuable question that perhaps many people had.
“Good enough parenting” does not mean that we only have to be a good parent 60 percent of the time. We aim to be a good parent 100 percent of the time. This in no way gives permission to have four out of ten interactions be negative ones. Every interaction we have with our children should be positive, loving and sensitive.
If you read what a good enough parent is, it’s actually a beautiful ideal of parenting. It’s being an amazing parent 60 percent of the time — empathetic, child centered, responsive and responsible, but in a way that fosters individuality and independence. It’s nuanced and challenging; consider it our best parenting selves.
However, when the baby is throwing spaghetti and two kids are fighting and another one is complaining that dinner is yucky and your toddler has been home for days with a stomach virus, it’s hard to maintain the most perfect standards. This is not permission to be a bad parent, but rather permission to be gentle with ourselves when we don’t always have all of our tools at our disposal. This is evidence-based research that says we don’t have to panic if once in a while:
- we didn’t allow our children to make a decision they could have made — it doesn’t mean they will be incapable of decision-making;
- we told our kids the answer instead of letting them problem-solve;
- we gave them more than they needed or wanted — they won’t be spoiled;
- we didn’t remember to focus on the big picture that we are raising future adults, and not harping on childhood foibles;
- we were annoyed at our child for forgetting his lunch for the fourth time that week.
The list goes on. In this article, there was no mention of it ever being okay to be a bad parent. Parenting is the hardest, most demanding, and most rewarding job in the world, and sometimes we can’t always do it perfectly.
Being aware of our limitations and blind spots and working on them is essential.
We try our best, every day, to do a 10/10 job. If we are amazing 6/10, and good enough 4/10, our kids can still shine, and grow into happy and healthy adults.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 787)
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