The Parent Trap

Why are we always placating, mediating, even apologizing?

Why do we have to feel like we’re the ones mucking up family tradition?

Why do we always have to explain how it’s really not so hard or different to do things our way?

Why must we look the other way or come up with rationalizations for our kids when our relatives dress inappropriately/kvetch about how the mechitza demeans women/run to the bathroom to answer a cellphone on Shabbos/mix up the milchigs and fleishigs in the kitchen/ask for the billionth time what could possibly be wrong with taking the kids to the movies/insist that their level of Judaism is the “normal” way to be.

Why do we have to suffer the anguish of severing a relationship because it’s just impossible to attend the wedding of an intermarrying sibling. (Or the “Bar Mitzvah” of a nephew whose mother is not Jewish.)

Why do we have to always pretend everything is just great, for fear that complaining will disparage frumkeit? Uptight about a childrearing issue? “You wanted to have all of them–in my day three was the limit.” Exhausted from all the cooking? “Can’t you take a break from Shabbos just once?” Money worries? “Public schools were good enough for you.” Stressed out preparing for Pesach? Well, forget any sympathy from parents who store the matzoh in the cabinet next to the bread.

Most of us are just a generation removed from Yiddish speaking, kashrus keeping, semi-Shomer Shabbos grandparents. But our parents were urged to break free and become “American.” We don’t worship the material accomplishments, the country club membership that defines our parents’ generation. And by circling back, we’re negating our parents’ values.

We’ve been there. More than anyone, we see the two sides to the dilemma. The problem is: there’s no possible compromise because…we know we’re right.

Our solution can only be anticipating the heightened nachas we’ll feel as matriarch or patriarch for our children’s futures. And to bite our lips.

11 comments on “The Parent Trap

  1. I have heard a variety of the above comments. Yet, the same parents who utter such comments will always shep nachas when they see their grandchildren either on a neutral setting like a birthday, Thanksgiving, etc assuming that there are no halachic issues involved re the same such as Shabbos and Kashrus, etc or which can’t be discussed with your rav in advance. I would hazard a guess that many of us have this simultaneous and conflicting set of emotions-It is irrelevant to us whether our not yet frum parents “approve” of how we live, but there is an emotional drain that the absence of approval causes ( i.e.”well . if that’s the way you live, that’s fine”).

    I think that it is important to try to remember who you are talking to and about what things you can talk about, besides your respective ways of life. I would suggest avoiding discussing that because parents who don’t understand your way of life find the details even more bizarre in some ways than the concepts.

    Moreover , discussing the merits of Torah with parents or relatives whose comments can be characterized as Ortho-bashing is a no win for you and your parents. It is a type of rant that escalates too often until both sides realize that any further discussion might jeopardize the already difficult relationship.

    I might add that kids, who are far more aware of emotions and sensitivities than adults , will certainly pick up the vibes of negativity from a hostile relative that an adult has trained himself or herself to deal with over the years. Your kids will certainly realize that their grandparents might show display more interest in a non frum cousin because their grandparents just can’t understand why anyone would want to be frum. As one particularly sage adolescent once mentioned to me after a lecture by a family relative on “tolerance and pluralism”, sometimes those who are the least tolerant do the most talking about tolerance and pluralism. Unfortunately, a parent who has such an attitude winds up losing out on what should be the most wonderful experience-being a meaningful grandparent-and winds up being available and demanding that you show up with your family for an emotionally meaningless photo opportunity.

  2. BS”D

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head with the compromise issue. A mother of a baal teshuva once wrote to me through my website asking, “How many family gatherings have to be rescheduled to Sunday just because of him? Why do we have to always give in to his way, instead of him giving to us now and then?” I had no answer that could satisfy her.

  3. Boy do I know what you mean. This Thanksgiving my mother’s side of the family got together. I wasn’t able to go – but I did call in. One of my aunt’s said “We decided we’ll do this next year the week before Thanksgiving – and you can bring your own pots so you can eat too.”

    My thoughts included “Oh, I feel so included” and “Great, now that have very little vacation due to the Jewish holidays I can now take vacation for your moved Thanksgiving gathering?” Of course I said nothing – but sometimes it is so frustrating. I dream of being able to go home and just be taken care of and eating my mother’s food- which I know has very little likelihood of happening before Moshiach comes.

  4. A long long time ago, I can still remember, how I used to think that it was my job to promote Yiddishkeit as having all the answers. As such, it was hard to share my hardships with those who weren’t frum, out of fear that they would blame the problems on the path I had chosen. Over the decades I got a lot older and a little wiser (and my parents became frum again after over 20 years away – long story…). Here’s what I’ve come to understand: Don’t worry so much about being misunderstood. Be a child to your parents. Let them parent where it is still possible. It’s true, there will be all sorts of clashes, but try not to be overly defensive. And try not to feel too attacked. Half of the battle they are battling is because they scared that they are losing you. If you can still be as much of the “you” they remember as before, much of the smoke will pass. There’s more to write but I have to stop right now. Perhaps the blog’s moderators will consider writing more on this topic.

  5. We’ve got to be the good guys since, after all, they are our parents. At the same time, we need to be careful about not truly comprimising our values to placate others and not being trampled by others. My Rav (and he’s got an overflowing wealth of experience with BTs) once told me “You have to be a mentsch you DON’T have to be a shmattah!”

  6. I once heard from a Rebbe of mine, “that everyone wants to be seen as doing the right thing”. In this context we may better understand some of the reactions we get. The people we encounter (family or ortherwise) who grew up in a degree of observance (whether it was their parents, grandparents) are challenged by our stricter more complete observance. In part they may feel guilty and work very hard to justify their positions. Simply put they feel threatened by the BT.

    It has been my experience that those with little or no background have less problem with Baalei Teshuva. For the parents (with no background) who are so completely appalled by the lifestyle of their children it may be more a comment on the general relationship with their children than the particular decision to be frum.

  7. Lay low and avoid friction!

    This blog is not for halacha l’maaseh, but you should ask a sheilah as too whether or not you can eat off your parents treif (cold, clean plates). It is not so simple that it is assur, especial where the chiuv t’vila is not d’oraisa.

  8. I hear you, too.

    In my life:
    Try explaining to your “kosher” grandmother why the Ultra-Orthodox Jews visiting her house won’t eat anything she has cooked or off of her dishes… She decided there was “kosher” and “kosher kosher”

    And then there’s my brother, who is vehemently opposed to me being Orthodox, and has to bring up iblical examples of why the Bible is “wrong” or that we [Orthodox] don’t actually keep its laws. [Such as the fact that the Torah allows slavery…]

    My post from Sunday about my parents is specifically about my parents for the reason that the rest of my immediate family is kind of like yours. My parents are the exception [and sometimes even they fall into the whole Ortho-bashing thing].

  9. AAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I hear you.

    Some recent quotes from my world:

    This rigidity about kosher meals is making family get togethers difficult.
    Can’t we have some flexibility to create harmony?
    Religious practices shouldn’t divide families.

    Some days I feel an overwhelming need to bang my head against a brick wall…

Comments are closed.