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Family First Inbox: Issue 884

“Our post-seminary system is simply not set up for women to have other women to reach out to in the long term”

No One Has All the Answers [The Conversation Continues / Issue 883]

It was interesting (and heartening) to see the poll results showing how many women feel they have a “mentor” to turn to. At the same time, it was distressing to know that so many don’t have that experience.

I was lucky enough to graduate seminary with several rabbanim and teachers (some still from high school) who I felt I could turn to throughout my years in shidduchim. As time went on, and the stages of life shifted, some of those relationships slowly faded, but I still maintain a close relationship with one teacher in particular.

The relationship has shifted from the automatic imbalance of teen/teacher to something more like friends, although we are a generation apart (literally — her youngest child is the same age as my oldest). I turn to her for childrearing advice, and we talk through other stuff, too — but with a new understanding that sometimes I agree with her take, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes (gasp!) I might even know better.

I’ve learned that while the starry-eyed high school version of a mentor is someone who is everything, who is with-it and smart and wise and experienced and savvy and can advise/guide/suggest/direct you on just about everything, this doesn’t really exist. Not in the adult world, and not in high school either — though maybe back then it felt possible.

In real life, a mentor can be helpful in some areas and not others. In real life, you might need to turn to a rav for an incisive daas Torah approach to a thorny issue; to a therapist to work through a deep-set trauma or self-definition; or even to your own self, your inner wisdom, to find the answers you really knew all along.

Recently, I was grappling with a sticky situation involving an acquaintance, and I reached out to my mentor for her thoughts. She was sympathetic and offered some advice, but it didn’t quite resonate. I was itching for something more, someone to call, to just tell me what to do, when I realized — no one knows the intricacies of the question better than I do.

And so I did something harder than picking up the phone to follow someone else’s path. I sat down in a quiet room with no distractions and  thought for myself. I felt for the truth in my heart and quietly, slowly, answers that felt true, and right, and comforting, rose to the surface.

Maybe we’re doing it wrong. Maybe we’re seeking perfection when realistically, we’ll find someone who can listen a lot of the time, help us some of the time, and say that transformative, myth-shattering, life-changing statement once in a long while. And maybe, just maybe, when we let go of the dream of finding that golden someone who can solve every problem on our behalf, we’ll learn to dig deeper, and find the gems that lie inside our own hearts.

Sara K.


Someone to Talk to [The Conversation Continues / Issue 883]

I want to weigh in on the subject of women and mentors and share my experience. I’ve been involved in women’s education for almost 20 years in both a formal and informal setting, and I’ve seen countless women suffer from a lack of someone to talk to.

Our post-seminary system is simply not set up for women to have other women to reach out to in the long term. I realized this was a problem and started reaching out to all the kallahs I taught over the years. Every Rosh Chodesh, I send them a quick message saying hi and that I’m thinking about them. What started happening was that women married two, three, five, seven, eight years began responding to me and asked if I had some time to talk. I began making time to talk to these women, and the results have been mind-blowing.

Women with everyday, regular problems just needed someone to talk to. I was able to talk to these women before things turned bad. I became their address to vent, get some advice, or see if there really was an issue that required a therapist or rav. Former students call me, but most of the women I speak to on a regular basis are women who I’ve never met before.

I charge for my time. I find that because I charge women are more open; they really talk because they don’t feel like they are “bothering” me or catching me at a bad time. I have women who schedule with me weekly, other women who have a standing date with me every two to three weeks, and then I have a Rosh Chodesh club of women who schedule time every Rosh Chodesh to reflect, talk, and connect.

Recently I received a hefty donation from the husband of a woman I speak with. He sent me the money to thank me for simply talking to his wife and wanted to “sponsor” my time for other women as well as he felt that, in his words, “I gave him his wife back.”

We are super women, we have so much on our plates, and it’s so difficult to ask for help. When women are really suffering, we have countless organizations and addresses for help, but what about the women who are overwhelmed with having three kids in four years, or the woman with the difficult mother-in-law, or the woman caught between her married children and her mother? Where is the help for those of us who just need to know is this a normal problem, who wonder if this will ever go away, or are they dealing with something beyond their “paygrade”?

I would love for this discussion to be continued.

Name Withheld


The Rebbe’s Initiative [The Conversation Continues / Issue 883]

In connection with all the letters about wishing they or their children had mentors but not sure how to go about it, I wanted to share the following.

Many years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe addressed this very topic. He made a heartfelt request that everyone should have their own “mentor” or “mashpia.” It doesn’t have to be a big rav or rebbetzin. It can be anyone you respect. The Rebbe said that even if you can’t seem to find anyone fitting, choosing anyone other than yourself gives them the advantage that they are objective. This means that if a challenge comes your way, they can see things more clearly than we, who are biased toward ourselves, can see.

Ever since then, it has become the norm for many to ask and be asked, simply, “Can you be my mashpia?”

Every time there’s a challenging or doubtful situation, thanks to this directive, people have so much more clarity about what to do and how to go about it. I thank the Rebbe constantly for this timeless advice that provides a more peaceful, clearer path through life.

Chani Zirkind


Include the Older Sibling [Inbox / Issue 882]

I’ve been following the back and forth on the conversation about an older sibling being skipped in shidduchim by a younger sibling.

As someone who was once in this situation, I’d like to make a suggestion. Why don’t we ask the older sibling what she needs? There’s no blanket-statement way to treat a single, and I think that everyone needs something else.

The first thing to do is speak to the older sibling and tell her that her younger sibling is ready to start shidduchim, and ask if that's  okay.

Once that's established, ask her what she needs. Some singles might not want to know anything, and some might want to know more. Some might want to hear it from their parents, while others might appreciate hearing this from the younger sibling. Ask the older sibling how much she wants to know. Imagine how painful it might be for an older sibling to know that something may or may not be going on, and she wants to be in the know.

If the older sibling is informed that the younger sibling is going out with someone, I feel it’s important to keep her updated on a basic level. Imagine the feeling of wondering endlessly if that date was successful, and if there is an engagement coming. How much easier would it be to just tell her that it didn’t work out?

The older sibling is an adult, and presumably, so is the younger (dating) sibling, and so are the parents — talk it out. Communication is key. Don’t try and hide anything, ask questions, listen for answers, and a lot of pain and hurt can be avoided.

Been There


Readers Beware [Family Table / Issue 882]

I read the article in Family Table about oven mitts with interest. I just want to bring to your attention something I learned a few years back that many people are unaware of. The lining of many oven mitts contains shatnez, and as such are a problem to wear. I was told that all mitts that are made of cloth need to be checked. I’ve had all mine checked and most were found to be problematic.

I hope this information is helpful.

Name Withheld


Before You Take the Job... [This Doesn’t Work / Issue 882]

Thank you for Chaya Lieba Kobernick’s advice at the end of the feature “This Doesn’t Work,” which discussed women with mental health challenges managing in the workplace. Dr. Kobernick said that the majority of her clients with borderline personality disorder do well working in a preschool or special education setting.

Speaking from experience as the mother of a child attended to by someone who, in hindsight, shouldn’t have been alone with children, I’d like to add a plea to anyone with borderline personality disorder considering working in this setting.

Please, only take the job if...

You don’t have a tendency to take things a child does or says personally...

You know that any assumptions about the reasons for a child’s behavior are just that — assumptions which may or may not be true...

Children around you don’t feel the need to be your confidant or provide emotional support...

You can honestly admit to any mistake you might make, no matter which possible consequences you fear.

You can handle difficult situations in a calm, professional manner...

You’re aware that children who aren’t (yet) verbal still might understand your words, tone of voice, or facial expressions...

Jealousy isn’t a problem for you...

You know that you have a healthy amount of professional distance and won’t try to be the children’s mother, best friend or 24/6 helpline...

Working in a team with parents and other caregivers is something you’re good at...

Parting with the children when they go on to the next step in their lives isn’t a problem for you...

You know that you can be authentic without your borderline personality disorder showing itself in your interactions with other people...

If so, may the job be a win-win situation for the children and you.

If not, may you find a fulfilling job in another field.

Parent in Pain


It Doesn’t Have to be This Way [Words Unspoken / Issue 881]

To the baalas teshuvah who wrote that people often treat her like an outsider:

First of all, I admire your courage to go ahead and change your entire life and beliefs. It’s never an easy step to take, even if you thought that one day you’d completely fit into this new society.

I’m the child of two people just like you. Two people who, more than 20 years ago, completely abandoned their lives for a new life of meaning and truth. Unlike you, though, I don’t believe they feel so foreign, don’t think they need to weigh every word, action, and gesture, because it might not fit in.

You see, where I live, it’s completely normal to be a baal teshuvah. Were all my friends’ grandparents not religious? No. But I definitely wasn’t a novelty because of it. Many of my parents’ friends came from more modern, or completely secular, backgrounds. I didn’t feel judged that my parents weren’t always frum, didn’t feel the need to defend them, or myself, because of it, and I didn’t need to hide their background. Nor did I feel out of place that my parents were olim and couldn’t always communicate in Hebrew. In fact, I was surrounded by people who were both olim and who came from more modern backgrounds. People who, like you, might feel out of place in other communities.

I have no idea where you live or who your friends are. I know nothing about your background, your life, or your family. At the same time, I wonder if it has to be the way you describe. Maybe there’s a way to be a baal teshuvah and not stick out. Maybe there’s a way to be seen as “normal,” even if you make mistakes every now and then. Somewhere out there might exist a community that makes you feel confident in who you are, and where you came from, that doesn’t judge you, or dismiss you because of it.

I know Ramat Beit Shemesh was that place for my parents. I’m wondering if you could find a similar place for yourself and rewrite the ending to your story.

A daughter of baalei teshuvah


It Could Be a Perinatal Mood Disorder [Out of Control / Issue 881]

We wanted to extend our heartfelt appreciation for the recent article titled “Out of Control,” which shed light on the often-overlooked issue of maternal anger and rage. As an organization that assists women struggling with perinatal mood disorders, we found the article to be necessary and relevant. It’s refreshing to see such an important topic being addressed openly and candidly.

The stigma surrounding maternal anger is a significant barrier to seeking help and support for many mothers. Our society often expects a Yiddishe Mama to embody an image of unwavering patience and endless nurturing, leaving little room for acknowledging and addressing the complex emotions that can accompany motherhood. By bringing this issue to the forefront, your article has taken a crucial step in breaking down these harmful stereotypes and encouraging open dialogue about maternal mental health.

It behooves us to add that anger, irritability, and sometimes even rage are common symptoms of perinatal mood disorders (i.e., postpartum depression). Episodes of anger or extreme irritability are often overlooked when healthcare providers screen for perinatal mood disorders. That is because the “typical” symptoms like sadness, excessive crying, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts are more commonly associated with mood disorders during pregnancy or postpartum. But we have seen at Yad Rachel, and research backs this as well, that anger is a real symptom among new mothers who are experiencing clinical depression or anxiety.

It’s important to educate women about this because they either blame themselves for feeling this way (lack of middos), or attribute it to circumstances such as not enough sleep, instead of realizing it is a result of a chemical imbalance due to fluctuating hormones.

We’d like to send a message to your readers — if you or someone you know seems to be struggling with these particular feelings post-birth or during pregnancy, please reach out to a mental health care professional that is experienced in maternal mental health. This is not your fault, you are not alone, and you can get better.

Once diagnosed, the standard course of treatment for PPD and PPA, which involves therapy, medication, or a combination of the above, should alleviate these symptoms in a relatively short period of time.

It saddens us to know that so many women are in tremendous pain, suffering silently all while blaming themselves. Untreated perinatal anger can be damaging to interpersonal relationships, affect healthy attachment to their baby, and destroy a mother’s confidence.

Toby Tabak

Yad Rachel / Project I.M.A


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 884)

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