Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Years ago I visited a friend, the mother of one of my son’s classmates, who had to go across the street to get something from her neighbor’s house and asked if I would mind going with her. I had already met the neighbor and was comfortable with that.

The neighbor had two children, both younger than our sons, who were, at the time, either in first or second grade in a Hebrew Day School. The neighbor’s father was in the living room playing with his grandchildren. He is a friendly, outgoing man, and we started a lively discussion. When he heard where our boys were going to school, this grandpa announced, “That’s what I’m doing with these two. I’m not going to make the same mistake I made with my own children.”

HUH? Where was this man coming from? Grandchildren are not a chance for a do-over! The children are the responsibility of their parents and the recipients of their own parents’ decisions.

When I was first married and living in a condominium, another couple, also newlyweds, gave the bride’s mother, who lived nearby, a key to their apartment as a convenience and safety measure. One day this young woman told me that she would often return to her apartment after having spent the day out and find all her furniture rearranged! WHAT?!!

In all honesty, she didn’t seem to mind, but I couldn’t believe it—and—I’m not really sure how her husband felt about it. Even thinking about it now, I feel enraged and violated. Where was the separation, the individuation? When the experts talk about separation anxiety, it doesn’t usually indicate anxiety at 25–35 years of age, but it does refer to infants and toddlers. And, when it does happen at that early stage, hopefully, whatever anxiety is felt is not on the parent’s part, but on the child’s!

I was working with a young rabbi who once came to me very distressed. He and his wife were expecting their third child and the rabbi’s father had already decreed what the baby’s name would be. The rabbi and his wife did not want that name—and/or didn’t want to name the child after the person the rabbi’s father had chosen. Finding it very difficult to defy his father, this young man felt quite torn; it was, after all, his and his wife’s child. I asked who had chosen the names for his parents’ children. The answer was immediate—his parents did. My question then was, “Aren’t you entitled to the same privilege?”

Another woman I know told me, “I love the name Zahava and when my daughter has a baby girl, I’m telling her that is what she has to name her.” I responded, “I think it would work better if you presented it as a suggestion.”

Names, in general, can be a great source of contention between the generations. What grandparents can do is make a request, make their desires known, but remember that the child “belongs” to the parents and it is their right and privilege to choose both the name and the person for whom the baby is to be named, if, indeed, that is even a tradition they wish to follow at all.

Another area I have found that often causes upset, raises hackles, and fuels anger and fury is that of religious observance. This is usually over the younger generation either changing the level of religious observance and/or the way a particular thing is observed. Ironically, the families in which I’ve seen the most distress over this is with those in which the older set of parents had become observant or at least more observant than their own parents had been.

Often, these people having become “Orthodox” and, with that, adopting the rituals and obligations of Orthodoxy, anticipate that their children will follow in what has become meaningful and important in their lives. And when the children either ignore or modify the levels of observance, the parents can feel insulted or rejected. In working with these parents, I always ask, “Were your parents Orthodox? Are you following your observance based on what went on in your home?” And, of course, the answer is “No.” So the next question is: “If you had the right to do what felt right and comfortable to you, don’t your children have the right to do the same?”

And, perhaps surprisingly, it can go in the other direction. Having become familiar with a woman who was in a “mixed” racial marriage (she was a black American, converted to Judaism, he a Jewish Caucasian), I further found out her husband had come from a very secular, liberal family, but together they had assumed a strictly observant Jewish life. Feeling comfortable enough in our relationship, I asked if her in-laws had attended the wedding. When she said “No,” I asked if they stayed away because she was black, or because the couple had become observant. She said it was because they had become observant.

While this might seem startling to some, it truly was the response I had anticipated. It is very difficult for many parents to acknowledge their children “rejecting” their way of life, their beliefs, their standards, and forming and living their own.

Yet, it is very possible to manage acceptance when mutual respect and understanding are involved.

While working at a major Jewish social agency, I had the privilege of meeting a young mom who shared with me the way she and her husband lived their Jewish lives. Both came from what would be considered very “right wing” families, and found their comfort level in a Modern Orthodox world (which we all know, offers a vast spectrum of definition). Thus, the woman would wear pants and didn’t cover her hair, and I guess there were other ways that differed from her parents and in-laws. I asked how she and her husband got along with their respective parents and didn’t this change in levels of observance cause problems. Her answer: “Not at all.”

She went on to explain that when she and her husband and their children visited with either set of parents in what were Orthodox neighborhoods, they wore only clothes that were customary for people to wear there and she did, indeed, cover her hair. On the other hand, when “bubbie and zaydie” visited the children, they respected her prerogative to wear pants, etc. Neither generation insisted the other be a reflection of their own ways of observance and, at the same time, each respected the others’ ways and did “what the Romans did” when in “Rome.”

The bottom line is ... the main objective of parenting is, or at least should be, to raise self-sufficient, decent people, who can fit into the society in which they live, who are able to make decisions and be responsible to themselves and to those for whom they take responsibility, usually and mainly, their spouses and their children. If a parent has been able to create that in his/her child, then they should feel proud of a job well done, appreciative of the gifts from Hashem, “shep nachas” from their children’s maturity, and know that, even when unhappy or dissatisfied with their child’s decision, it was made from a considered place.

In an article that focused on the life and career of Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, he said, “It is a challenge to parents to raise children, teach them what you think is important, and then let them become the people they need to become.”

Perfect!!! (Or, as they say in mama loshen, gut gezuckt!)

By Nancy Silverman Zweibach

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