Are we only supposed to speak to him during bein hazmanim?
MY son just finished his second year of beis medrash. During high school he slept at home, but he dorms at beis medrash. His first year there, we spoke to him several times a week. It wasn’t the easiest adjustment, and we tried to give him chizuk and keep him updated on all the family happenings.
This year he barely called us — we considered ourselves lucky if he called once a week and remembered to wish us a good Shabbos. My husband says that’s a good sign, that he’s found his place in yeshivah and no longer needs constant encouragement and connection with his parents. But I feel like we’re losing our bond with our son.
Are we only supposed to speak to him during bein hazmanim? Is that really a healthy arrangement and a sign of successful integration?
AS usual, when two parents have different opinions, they are both right! When your son needed you, you were there for him, and now that he is more independent, you still want to keep a connection with him, even if he does not “need” it.
It is exhilarating to see our children move on and become independent. On the other hand, the connection we have with them is extremely important. All people go through fluctuations in their growth, and a young man in yeshivah is no different. That doesn’t mean we need to be on top of him all the time, “just in case” — but everyone could use a good word, a compliment, or even a visit from a loving parent. He may not call to tell you he had a bad day, and he doesn’t need to. However, if you call, and he tells you, it’s a chance for him to be heard, understood, and encouraged. The same can happen on a good day.
In chutz l’Aretz, it’s considered “normal” to send our sons away from home at age 14 to dormitory yeshivos. In Eretz Yisrael, that’s less common for high school, but very common from age 17.
My rebbi, Rav Wolbe z”l, in a conversation regarding a yeshivah high school dormitory I had opened, bemoaned the lack of family interaction for young people that he felt was imperative for the future of building a family. Young men and women need to learn the art of conversation, discussion, emotional support from a healthy place. Young people learn the value of family from the interaction, care, concern, and love they experience in their family. In today’s world, parents are very busy and often distracted — so much so that even time spent together with them is not always fully “together.”
One of my sons who was learning in a very good yeshivah for “top boys” told me of friends who had gone on a trip during the zeman without their parents’ knowledge. They did not have open communication with their parents, and to avoid the discomfort of a disagreement during bein hazmanim, they simply found another time to go that would not require “parental interference.”
I know some of these boys, and they really are very good boys. Masmidim, careful in halachah, and wonderful friends. I also know some of their very special families. No one would think of them as dysfunctional, but they were definitely non-communicative. The parents’ perceived lack of need to carry on a dialogue with their sons led them to an all-too-common oversight: My son is doing well, he’s happy, I don’t need him to be in touch regularly.
Usually nothing bad happened on those trips — but we will never forget when three of those very good boys went rappelling and one fell to his death and another was hospitalized for six months. The parents had no idea the boys were not in yeshivah.
I am not telling this story as a scare tactic, but rather to explain what can happen when parents do not cultivate dialogue and communication throughout their children’s development.
Your son will probably do okay without your attention, but the chances of him leaving you out of his decisions and interests will increase. We should not be surprised if we find him departing from your values and ideals as well. Here I am not speaking of going “off,” but of losing the sensitivities and particular nuances of your family’s mesorah.
Why should you not play a part in his continued growth through encouragement and nachas? Through his knowing that you are proud and sharing your lives? The same could be said for a boy who is the ultimate masmid and never leaves his shtender; his father needs to speak with him in learning and share his Torah. If he knows that you will call or even come to see him, it can be a great stimulus for continued growth.
I heard an incredible story about the great mekubal Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, author of Leshem Shevo V’achlamah (for which he was known as the “Baal HaLeshem”) and grandfather of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Late in his life, he was told that when the Ben Ish Chai received a copy of the sefer, he put on bigdei Shabbos, lit candles, and made the brachah shehecheyanu.
When the Baal HaLeshem heard this, he shook his head and said, “Had I known this earlier in my life, I would have written a second volume.”
Everyone needs and appreciates a good word and encouragement. Your husband is correct. Your son is doing well and has become less needy, which is wonderful. But you are also correct: If a boy or girl goes away for one year, leaving them be and not speaking with them daily can be beneficial. It is a healthy break that helps them learn to take care of themselves. But many boys go to yeshivah for several years, which makes it very important to keep the connection strong and to be a continuing part of his life.
If you call him once a week and at the end of the call tell him that you look forward to hearing from him Erev Shabbos, he will be more likely to remember. You are building a connection. If you have the ability to visit every so often, you can bring him something he likes or just give him a hug. You will not be taking away from his independence. You will be teaching him how family members are considerate of each other, help each other, and keep up connections with each other.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 971)
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