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Family First Inbox: Issue 893

I think one of the hardest nisyonos is watching your child struggle
Doing a Disservice [To Be Honest / Issue 890]

I’d like to add another point to the discussion about whether the age of a therapist matters. One issue that was somewhat glossed over is that many of these young therapists work in schools where the supervision (in my experience in New York/New Jersey) is poor. They’re given vague instructions, weekly supervision that is often with those less sought after, and a case load far too big.

I know because I was a young therapist in Boro Park schools. I was considered “good” and worked in a few schools. I eventually moved to an excellent clinic with excellent supervision, and I realized how much my friends and I had missed out on. We kept the schools happy, parents at bay, but did we really help the girls? I wish I could say that I did what needed to be done….

I’m now looking at this from the other side because I was offered a supervisor position. The job description was more about paperwork and making sure the school was happy and kept the contract with the agency than it was about the type of work we should/shouldn’t be doing.

The schools love hiring young therapists because girls open up, connect, and don’t see them as a threat, but I think we’re doing our girls and our therapists a disservice.

Name Withheld


Age Matters [To Be Honest / Issue 890]

I think the article questioning whether our young adults should be going for degrees in social work was superbly and sensitively written. I agree that it’s an issue that needs to be explored.

By the time I went to college, I was married for five years and had two kids. I’d had the opportunity to love in the way only a mother can. I’d overcome regular marriage hurdles.

Sure, there are people who enter college with way more life experiences than I did, and I owned that. The fresh-out-of-high-school crowd and those who don’t have youngsters anymore have the same very big advantage: more brain space. What I mean by this is that if I wanted to be a mom first and foremost (non-negotiable to me), I can’t save the world if I’m messing up my own kids in the process. I didn’t have the time like so many others did for things like enrichment training, etc.

Because my pace was automatically slower, I gained something really valuable: humility. I really got, and am still getting, up close and personal with my deficits in the therapy room.

While it’s great for my clients, somehow it doesn’t look so great on my résumé because the question I’ll get is: “If you’re four years post grad, why don’t you have your LCSW/private practice yet?” It’s a bit demoralizing especially since I know so many LMSWs who opened up a private practice either right away or like two years after graduate school, and I’m left with my mouth agape wondering how they had the skills and guts to do that because it feels so far away for me.

The logical part of my brain knows I’m doing the right thing and that my family and I and my clients will be better off in the long run. But my inner critic thinks that I’m not pushing myself hard enough. Or maybe I’m working at the wrong place. Or maybe... the list goes on.

Yes, age matters. The hurdles you face before/during/right after school matter. Your own mental health in all this matters. And I’m pretty adept at sniffing out which of my colleagues are or aren’t also undergoing therapy, and boy does it show.

Everything takes a village. Even your therapist, who walks into session no matter what happened to her the night before or the minute before (try finding out your adored grandfather died seven minutes before walking into a session — I don’t wish it on anyone) has a village to support her, as she should.

This work isn’t for the faint of heart. I absolutely love it, but the warnings you speak of all resonate deeply, for I have lived them.

Name Withheld


Nothing is Set in Stone [Forever High School / Issue 891]

In my opinion, this article about the lasting impact our high school years has was missing an important Torah concept: Where do bechirah and teshuvah come in? As Jews, we believe that there is always room for change and growth. There is no such thing as “fate set in stone.”

There’s a lot of truth in the article, that a lot of our identity gets formed in adolescence, and a big chunk of that is within the high school walls. Some memories and scenarios leave a lasting imprint on us, and yes, are there forever. Triggers were created and affect us on a day-to-day basis.

But we can decide how these triggers will affect us. No, we don’t need to feel triggered when we bump into a former classmate at a simchah and revert back to feeling insecure and inferior. We can change that! We can work with those triggers to make them calm down and not affect us as much.

High school is a challenge for many teenagers, and many still suffer from the pain it created inside of them. But know that you can heal yourself, and you can become the greatest person you want to be, without being stopped by your experiences in high school.

Seven Years Out of High School


It’s Another World [Know This / Issue 891]

Dear Chaya Leah’s Mom,

I commend you for your bravery in sharing the inside view of what it’s like to raise a child who is struggling with their frumkeit. I wish you strength and nachas from all your children.

For those of us living this situation, or having made it to a more stable place, it sometimes feels like we’re living in a different world from the rest of society, especially when the pain and the challenges are acute.

You and your family may feel like you’ve been hit by a cyclone, especially the child in pain, who is dead center of it.

There are so many variations to each life experience, and even more so in this one. It doesn’t matter what the details are or why, but someone, or many “someones,” are suffering. There are also no one-size-fits-all answers, and that’s why it’s crucial to have support, whatever that looks like.

I think one of the hardest nisyonos is watching your child struggle. And there are so many struggles: Physical illness, mental illness, learning issues, social issues — the list goes on. Part of the beauty of our people is that when we see or hear “something,” we want to help.

However, there is an art to that. Your friend Shiffy meant well when she called to give you chizuk, promising that your daughter would come back, but she has no clue. To all the well-meaning people out there who have a genuine desire to help and not just to fill a voyeuristic need, tread carefully. Ask how or what you can do. Sometimes it’s a Danish. Sometimes it’s a note. Sometimes it’s a private tefillah. Sometimes it just means giving space.

I wish for all of us in this matzav to have the happily-ever-after ending that it seems you have. For many of us, it’s murky still, and as we desperately await the yeshuah, we learn to reframe the kaleidoscope of life a bit differently now. We cherish the relationship that we do have, even if said child (adult) isn’t doing what the rest of our society is.

And that’s okay. Hashem has a plan for each and every one of us. And that is the happily-ever-after ending we cling  to.

And to Chaya Leah… I wish you success in the future!



All Is Not Lost [Know This / Issue 891]

When my 17-year-old went off the derech, it was shocking. He’d loved learning, davened with intense kavanah, and was careful with his mitzvah observance. All that came crashing down over the course of just a few months. I saw this as a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened. For a boy so committed to Yiddishkeit to abandon everything was just unbearable. What a tragic loss of potential!

The writer of the piece maintained that in the end, her daughter became “a wonderful new version of the person she was meant to be.” There was growth and hope. All was not lost. This mother made me aware that my son could not only come back to who he was, but could actually grow from it. While hard and unbearable, I don’t have to view what is happening to my son as a tragedy, but as a vehicle for growth. I recently learned an idea from Rav Soloveichik that in order to have a relationship with Hashem, He sometimes has to distance Himself so that we can use our bitachon to fight our way back.

But this experience has forced me to see Hashem in the day-to-day and know that He is here, whatever happens. It’s so tempting to feel we’ve been abandoned by Him. But know: He didn’t leave us. We’re trying to hang on and pull closer to Hashem when we feel He’s drifting away. We’re reminding ourselves that there is tachlis to everything that happens to us. We just have to have bitachon....

Another Nother of a Struggling Child


Money Conversations [Inbox / 891]

I’d like to respond to the Inbox letter requesting suggestions on how to depersonalize the tense money conversations she has with her spouse. I love the concept of de-stressing stressful conversations. If discussing how to pay the $500 eye doctor bill or the astronomical camp tuition would be as seamless as discussing missing food in the pantry, our lives would be a whole lot calmer!

However, of course, money conversations hold more weight than conversations about cereal, even between spouses who share the same values about money, which the letter writer describes is the case in her experience.

Money is a means to basic necessities, which is a means to survival, so there is part of us that reacts to issues of money as if we’re in danger, and our emotions become heightened. Although in today’s day and age, we have resources to turn to if a lack of money threatens our survival (e.g., tzedakah organizations, gemachs), our brains aren’t necessarily aware of this logic.

We can work on sapping the emotion from the conversation by reminding our brain that we will be okay, that we and our family aren’t in danger, and we can therefore relax.

Some ways to do this would be to have a code word that you can say when you notice the conversation escalating, which reminds you to take a deep breath and reset. Another idea could be to make a joke or change the conversation to something light and nonthreatening for a few minutes. These skills shift our brain from danger mode to regulation mode.

Remember that to do this requires consistency and perseverance because you’re teaching your brain a new way of thinking and responding. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t succeed right away. Focus on small, consistent changes, and reflect on how you can do better next time if you feel the conversation went awry.

This letter is geared toward a healthy enough couple with mostly shared values around money. If this isn’t the case the path to peaceful money conversations is more complicated.

Good luck!

Brocha Martin LCSW


Don’t Avoid Discomfort [The Vilification of Azi Stein / Issue 890]

I wanted to voice my opinion about this. In essence, the parents in the neighborhood weren’t wrong for wanting to protect their children from technology.

However, the way they went about it was wrong. If they had spoken to Azi’s mother instead of telling their children to avoid him, the entire problem most probably could have been resolved. Azi’s mother could have limited his use of devices to at home only, or set better boundaries for him.

It can be uncomfortable to be so upfront, but when the alternative comes at the expense of uprooting a life, a person really has to ask themself if avoiding discomfort is really more important.

Name Withheld


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 893)

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