Last week we had a wonderful post by Mr. David Shub, in which he shared his perspectives as a Baal Teshuva’s father. We also had the benefit of Rabbi Yaakov Menken sharing some of his insights on this subject.
Today we have the pleasure of hearing from Yael, the daughter of Mr. Shub as she shares her thoughts on the subject of Parent – Baal Teshuva relationships.
By “Yael Shub”
I don’t generally write postings espousing my philosophy on life, but since my father’s recent posting received such a positive response, I figured I would take the opportunity to share some quick thoughts I have developed over the last 20 years.
1. Challenging relationships before teshuva remain at least as challenging after teshuva. Power conflicts, value systems, and conflicting personalities will often be exacerbated with the adoption of a completely foreign lifestyle. I believe these types of relationships are not about teshuva and real, perhaps professional, work, needs to be done to heal. Consider whether placing the blame on frumkeit is perhaps misplaced blame.
2. I assume Rabbi Menken is addressing families where the parent-child relationship has historically been more functional than not. In this case, I believe it is crucial to try to understand the other point of view and to realize how shocking your adoption of a new lifestyle can be. I believe it is necessary to express to your family how much you want to remain part of the family. Sure, we can’t eat in our parents’ kitchen, but tell your parents how much it pains you to eat separately. Be honest. Tell them that you would love to join them for dinner or at a restaurant or at a Saturday afternoon at the beach but you simply can’t. They might not understand the “can’t” part and yes, it may lead to a discussion of you valuing religion over family. This may be an inevitable discussion, but do as much as possible to express and show them that you still love, value and wish to remain close to them. When the time is right, you should sit down together to find creative ways to share your life with them. The beach might be out, but find other avenues for quality family time.
3. Parents often view the adoption of a new lifestyle as a rejection of their values and a rejection of all the years of parenting that they invested. Indeed, it is normal for them to go through a process of “mourning”. New baalei teshuva should try to recognize the loss that their parents are experiencing. Certain family traditions that parents may subconsciously assume will be passed down are destined to end: summers at the beach, Sunday dinner at a favorite restaurant, Saturday matinees. Each family has its own culture and traditions. Adoption of a new lifestyle, undermines all those hopes and dreams. The change of cultural norms can be scary, intimidating and, yes, on some level it represent a loss of power. It is incumbent on baalei teshuva to highlight to their parents those areas of their life that they have not rejected. Show them how much you truly gained from them and those aspects of your behavior, values, strengths and accomplishments you have developed as a result of what they gave to you.
Back in the early years, my parents often told me that they raised me to be a liberal, open, independent thinker, a girl who would grow into a woman who could accomplish anything. My mother used to tell me that every door was open to me. I could become the first female president of the US if I wanted. To suddenly see this daughter behind a mechitza can be very disturbing. As my Dad mentioned in his post, it is an issue he is still grappling with despite all his adaptation, adoption and understanding. Over the years, I have repeatedly told my parents that it was their influence and encouragement to explore, think, and be independent that lead me to frumkeit at such a young age. It was the (and I wish I knew what they did so I could impart it to my own children) self esteem that they imbued within me that gave me the strength as a young teen to go against my friends and adopt a life that was so different than all my peers and classmates. Self esteem is so necessary in so many areas of life not the least of which is managing a busy household while juggling all the responsibilities of a frum lifestyle as mentioned in previous posts.
Individuals will have their own “mesorah” of what they inherited from their parents. As we move through different stages of our lives we will often come to recognize more and more of what our parents gave to us. How often do I look at the experiences I seek to offer my children and realize it was those same experiences that my parents gave to me? So whether it is a love of music, the outdoors, hiking, cooking, or model train building realize that it is your parents you need to thank. Showing your parents that you have maintained aspects of their ‘mesorah’ has the power to bridge gaps of understanding and build healthy relationships between generations.
In summation, when mentoring others perhaps it would be helpful to help young BTs explore themselves. Once a person understands herself, she can be better equipped to express herself to her family and share with them common life experiences.
4) Maintain a sense of humor. I believe humor can save you many times in so many different relationships. Relax. Be able to laugh at oneself and one’s situation. When I was about 16 I read Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s book entitled Teshuva. His words had a profound impact on me. Here is my all time favorite quote (p.51) :
“…one must learn to smile. It is not advisable to do everything grimly and fearfully, some things can be taken more lightly and in many contexts cheerfulness is permissible. It is not only a matter of avoiding sadness which the sages considered the worst of sins, but of keeping a sense of proportion, saving ones seriousness and grim determination for situations where they are needed. Judaism presents a particularly difficult spiritual challenge, for it asks us to live a life of holiness, not in monastic seclusion, but out in the world. It is a challenge that calls for balance and a sense of humor.”
5. Finally, to ensure a smooth transition, I would suggest getting an older sibling to go through the process before you. Let them be the guinea pig and smooth the way. Hey, when my younger brother became frum, he had it sooo easy :-)