When I was dating my parents unfortunately didn’t have the wisdom and intelligence to help me figure out what I was looking for in a husband or to guide me over the bumps. At 19 I recognized the magnitude of the choices I needed to make and that they were way out of my league yet I had to make them nonetheless. I reached out to a principal from school but I could tell she didn’t have time to help me on a regular basis. I married someone who although healthy and grounded isn’t a great match for me. Through therapy daas Torah and a lot of hard work we manage to keep our marriage afloat but it’s not easy.
As my children grow up I recognize the need to give them space to make choices and sometimes to make mistakes. On the other hand no parent wants their child to mess up when it comes to marriage. I worry about the lack of involvement today’s parents have in their children’s marriage prospects — we rely on a résumé sugar-coated information from strangers and a one-time meeting with a prospective child-in-law to decide if we will hand over our child’s future to this individual. Although I do make sure to listen to my children on a daily basis and try to cultivate a relationship of trust between us I don’t know how much they will feel like sharing when they are in shidduchim.
What should a parent’s mindset be as their child enters shidduchim? What’s our role? And how much can we expect our children to share as they essentially make this decision on their own?
Looking for Direction
Your question contains so much wisdom that I feel you’ve almost answered it yourself.
I remember discussing this issue with one of my wise sisters-in-law and she said “Whenever my children discuss a life-altering decision with me such as relocation or a career change I always respond: ‘You do your best hishtadlus and if it doesn’t work you’re not married to it. ’ But that doesn’t work for marriage.” No other decision in life will have as many ramifications and no mistake can be as devastating particularly once children are involved.
As you yourself attest there’s a tremendous obligation on parents to get it right. But there’s tremendous pressure on parents to get every aspect of parenting right and the reality is that none of us get it all right. And yet Hashem is perfect and every child gets the perfect parents for him including their limitations and the imperfect decisions and guidance they will give. Whether parents are highly responsible in doing their research benignly neglectful or downright irresponsible children can end up with less than ideal marriage partners. Like every other aspect of life parents have to make maximal hishtadlus efforts — and then let go.
Let go of their agenda. Let go of their unfulfilled marital dreams and not impose them on their children. Let go of the unattainable wish for perfection. And sometimes just let go of their child and let him be who he is separate from them.
This is very pithy on paper and can be excruciating in real life.
Ideally and practically effective parental guidance begins long before a child starts dating.
I once again allude to your wise question where you ask about the amount of guidance/control parents should exert. To quote my friend Ruchi Koval “The only things we can truly give our children are love and information. Give up external control so you can influence lovingly with the power of your relationship.”
You’re right there’s no guarantee — even in the context of a loving trusting relationship — that children will be open about what goes on during their dates. But if that safety doesn’t exist they certainly won’t.
It’s one of the greatest parenting challenges to simultaneously hold the responsibility and the lack of power. But carry it we must. So practically speaking what is the parents’ role?
1. Listen to your child. Really listen. To what they say and to what they don’t say. Even if their priorities don’t completely align with yours. You should have a good sense of your child’s needs and wants — and the difference between them. Some of the most important guidance you’ll provide is helping them differentiate between the two.
2. Listen to the people you call for information. To what they say and to what they don’t say. If everyone rants about his middos and never once mentions what a masmid he is chances are he’s not much of a masmid. Even if when you ask directly they stammer “Yeah no of course he’s serious about his learning.” Listen with your third ear.
3. Go beyond the résumé. While this may seem obvious it bears stating. Try to speak to people who have your best interests at heart. Ask pointed questions. Prepare a list of questions before you get on the phone. Your first few calls will give you a feel for the person use the next few calls to clarify any confusion or concerns. Remember that everything is relative. Consider the source when assigning weight to their answer. A friend’s son told her how he was in a room when one bochur was called about another bochur and was asked if the boy was a smoker.”No he’s not ” he replied sitting across the boy in question who was puffing on a cigarette. Friends are great but they aren’t always your most accurate resource.
4. Be clear about your own priorities. So long as you plan to have your children marry humans they’ll never marry someone perfect. And if something seems 100 percent perfect you haven’t discovered the full story. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It needs to be right for your child. It seems to me the nonnegotiables are middos hashkafic alignment physical and mental health. Once you have determined that is in place allow the process to unfold.
5. Be humble. Be honest about whether you have the tools and are the person best suited to handle this holy task. Just like you’d take your child to an orthodontist to get braces you can go to a mentor or an experienced friend to have them make the inquiries. A parent is obligated to make sure his child’s needs are met; he isn’t obligated to personally provide every one. It sounds like your own experiences may be confusing you here and complicating things. You don’t have to handle everything alone.
6. Daven daven daven. Nothing like shidduchim to remind us of Who runs the world. We need His help every step of the way.
Wishing you and all parents the siyata d’Shmaya and binah yeseirah we need to guide our children.