FFB Children of BTs Part I

Last year, we were zocheh to host Rabbi Lazer Brody for our first Beyond BT melava malka. As my wife and I were discussing my plans for getting to Passaic motzei shabbos, our (now 14 year old) daughter asked to come along. My wife and I had previously decided that we wouldn’t be bringing any of the kids (even though this daughter is probably more mature than I am) and we jokingly told her “Sorry, it’s only for BTs”. She immediately responded “Yeah, but I have BT blood”. The kid is right.

BTs raising their FFB children face many, many challenges such as balancing how much of their past to reveal to their children, keeping up with their children’s studies and walking the tightrope of relations with non-frum relatives. But, in my humble opinion, FFB children raised by BT parents tend to exhibit a certain indescribable quality. Those BTs among us who have been zocheh to have children know that the challenge of BTs raising FFBs is a unique one. It is at times, daunting, rewarding, hilarious and, let’s face it, often downright scary.

I do not profess to be a parenting expert or an expert parent. I do profess to be a parent and to having many BT friends who are parents. In a way, I guess that qualifies me to discuss this issue. In this piece, I intend to highlight some of the major parenting issues and challenges facing BT parents, as I see them. Feel free to disagree, I’m sure you will:) .

In order to write a piece of this length, it helps to use acronyms. However, I haven’t yet stumbled upon a good acronym for children of BTs (I’ve tried SOBs [sons/daugher of Baalei Tesuva], too heavy with negative connotation, FFPs [frum from parents], too lacking in any personal input or choice on the part of the child and FFBBDBPBT [frum from birth but different because parents are baalei teshuvah], just too long. So, for the purpose of this piece, I will call them CBTs (children of Baalei Teshuvah).

My personal take is that well adjusted CBTs combiine the best of both worlds. They often have the bren and entusiasm that BTs are famous for (no, that does not mean that FFBs do not have enthusiasm) and the formal learning, schooling, skills and social structure of an FFB (no, that does not mean that BTs don’t have formal learning, schooling, skills and social structure). There is often a seriousness of purpose and an acceptance of Jewish responsibility that is not always found in non-CBTs. I recognize that this is an extreme generalization so let’s just say that CBTs have the potential to synthesize the best of the BT world and the best of the FFB world. We often decry the rift between the FFB and BT worlds and the challenges of BT integration and/or acceptance. CBTs have the opprtunity to integrate without shedding the positive aspects of a BT outlook. In life, the greatest potentialities walk hand-in-hand with the greatest potential pitfalls. Let’s identify some of these potential pitfalls and some possible approaches for avoiding them.

Great Expectations and Vicarious Living

Some BTs bemoan “lost time”, meaning that they feel like they wasted a good portion of their lives doing non-Torah things. A symptom of this “lost time” syndrome is that one might feel, perhaps subconsciously, that since their children were born into frum homes, they will direct their lives in such a manner as they think they would have lived if they were born into frum homes. One might also think that each of his children should be the gadol hador as opposed to being the best chaim or chaya he\she can be, living up to their personal potential and not to our “wannabe” dreams. The result of this vicarious parenting approach is often undue pressure, unrealistic expectations and the squelching of individuality.

Perhaps, the best way to address this issue is by first addressing it in our own lives. In addition to the parenting problems mentioned above, this “lost tim e” syndrome can be depressing and debilitating. I think that two approaches can help in that regard.

1. I have a family member who is a giores (convert). Shortly after she was megayer (converted), she told her Rav that she felt like she had wasted her whole life chasing sheker (falsehood). The Rav responded that Bnai Yisroel spent 40 years wandering in the desert before reaching Eretz Yisrael. It was 40 years of complaining, wrong turns and sins. That 40 years was necessary in order for Bnai Yisroel to reach the “holy land”. They couldn’t have gotten there without it. He continued, “You couldn’t have and wouldn’t have gotten to yiddishkeit if it weren’t for your own wanderings. “

2. The other approach was laid out by Rabbi Brody. Rabbi Brody says that we have to realize that we were born into non-frum families because that’s exactly where Hashem wanted us born. To quote Rabbi Brody “what, there wasn’t enough room for you in a family in Boro Park or Bnei Brak?!”. Along with that understanding comes the fact that Hashem determined that you be born into a non-frum family in order to grow from that and to bring something different, something special to the frum world.

Coming to terms with our own uniqueness and individual role will help us to appreciate and foster the individuality of our children, thereby avoiding vicarious parenting.

Stigmatism and Pomposity

I find that there is an interesting dichotomy in how many BTs view themselves. Some feel as if they are second class citizens and will do anything to hide the fact that they are BTs (that is not to say that all BTs who are very discrete about the fact that they are BTs do so for this reason and that there are never good reasons to do so). Others wear their BT status as a badge of pride. This can also be detrimental when taken to extremes. The way we view ourselves and our frumkeit is usually picked up by our children. BTs who are embarrassed that they are BTs will have children who may feel inferior or not as good as their non-CBT peers. On the flip side, BTs who take an extreme, unhealthy pride in their BT status can expect their children to develop a hloier-than-thou attitude toward their non-CBT peers.

The way to address this potential pitfall is by developing in our selves a healthy attitude toward our BT status. I would suggest that such an approach would be “I am happy that I am a BT because that is what Hashem has chosen for me and He doesn’t make mistakes. I am happy that I was zocheh to become frum and that I have tremendous opportunities for growth. Being a BT, in and of itself, doesn’t make me better or worse than the next guy. It simply means that I have different challenges and potential. The world needs FFBs and the world needs BTs.” If we take that attitude, our children will incorporate it in their lives allowing them to avoid both stigmatism and pomposity.

25 comments on “FFB Children of BTs Part I

  1. In my experience, I have observed that most BT parents haven’t got a clue how to raise frum kids and no one is showing them. They raise their kids with the secular liberal mind sets they were raised with and that is why the kids of BT’s are at much greater risk of going off the derech.

  2. From the time my children started pre-school I found myself befriending and asking questions of some of the other parents in their classes. Some of these friendships lasted until their high school days, and I continued to ask them advice on an as-needed basis. Another source of advice would be your rabbi’s wife; the principal of the preschool or elementary school, or other older parents you get to know in town.

  3. we all know that pirkei avos instructs us to make for ourselves a friend and a ruv.
    for a bt&g family the former is as important as the latter.
    no matter how many hours a day you learn torah, you still can’t know what it is to be a kiteh alef yingle (or maidel) unless you sat in the kiteh alef chair. a good ffb friendship, with real peerage, can be very hard to cultivate; but you and your kinder will benefit by the insights they have just because they sat in that kiteh alef chair.
    we can all mix up shtarkeit and frimkeit, there is a difference.
    hatzlocha rabba

  4. My wife is FFB and I’m not.

    My somewhat rambunctious 3 year old doesn’t like to do nagelvasser (washing hands with a cup after waking up).

    I asked my wife if this is a cause for concern and her reply was “how many 3 year olds are meticulous about saying the entire Asher Yatzar and about all food brachas? I’m not concerned”.

    Of course that could be construed as evidence in support of Ed’s and Gershon’s viewpoints but in this case can you simply apply the character roles to neatly fit your thesis?

    I’m no expert on parenting either by far. However, if the cause-and-effect thesis of BT’s myopically being too strict triggers rebellion in kids I would also like to think that if BT parents overall teach by example that makes Yiddishkeit a source of warmth, meaning and yes some fun for their offspring then the kids would hopefully overlook those moments of overreactive stringencies.

  5. WADR Gershon Seif “wealth of wisdom within those woven words” albeit being wonderful wordplay ,those whimsical words of wonder would definitely be classified as wishful wonderings on ambiguous wishy washiness.

    Facetiously speaking though , there’s generally truth to every joke.its best to joke about stuff until you don’t know the difference between joke,bloke, jest,zest, bright,night èrudite ànd Àdderall. Anyway just a trite truism on humor, if you joke about something long enough the issues tend to gravitate towards the insignificant side of Sears.As opposed to the softer side which is reserved for wimps ànd softees. This strategy works best on heavy deep issues. The kind of issues you would find in that “well” of yours at the end of your comment. Happy humor embracing !
    Did you want to open a” Father for a Friday” in your town ? My plan is to open a “Father For a Friday ” in all fifty states.Ónly daddying candidates that have successfully completed the daddying for dummies course need apply.

  6. Jaded’s Jewish jestering has got me judiciously pondering. Is she just jiving and jabbing, or perhaps there is a wealth of wisdom within those woven words? Well…?

  7. David, a wise project coordinater once said “don’t sell yourself short” (doesn’t your own medicine taste so good ;-) anyway are you kidding you sound like a really good daddy in fact I think you ànd Mark who àlso sounds like a really good daddy should both start writing the David ànd Marks Daddying for Dummies book. You might run into likelihood of confusion issues with that dummy word which I’m sure is copyrighted somewhere.As a lawyer I’m sure you can come up with something.

    Bob Miller, fascinatingly “facetious” in fact.
    I pride myself on my facetious leanings on father related issues on a global level.meaning the overall global concept of what it means to be a father whether your Jewish , Catholic , Atheist ór undecided. Fathering is not for everyone.
    I’m not so sure that peru irevu is proof that everyone is capable of being a father.
    Some individuals are best off just letting others do the fathering.
    Maybe they could work on théir uncle ing skills. Ór maybe once they pass david ànd marks daddying for dummies course they can have fun peru urevuing. Whatever.

  8. I hope JT is being facetious.

    To me, the command “pru urvu” in the Torah is good reason to hold that we are typically capable of being good parents. Of course, we need to be taught what HaShem asks of us as parents, and to pick up useful ideas from life or from books, but we don’t need to run some kind of gauntlet to get certified by “experts”.

  9. David Linn, fascinating fun facts on fathoming fatherhood/motherhood and related parenting activities. Definitely sounds like soooo much fun ! Between not instigating “stigmitism”ism and preventing the promoting of “pomposity” there definitely is never a dull moment, I would assume. And personally, as a perfect Auntie I can understand why the perpetual efforts of Auntiing are worth it (albeit from a distance;)

    And judging from your picture blog ( always judge a father by his pictures ), you definitely sound like a really really good daddy.In case ure bored you could start the Father for a Friday (or anyday) Fatherhood Firm.
    There’s definitely a distinct dearth of good functional daddies out there.If you get too many clients looking for fathers you can always hire your own crew of good daddies to work under you. It could become quite the interesting Fatherhood organization.

    Or you could do Daddying for Dummies courses.
    Passing grades should be mandatory for all daddys before the marriage license.
    Failure to furnish passing grade report card could result in the revoking of the marriage license if kids are in sketched into the future….. or simply just a ban on birthing kids until passing grades are attained.
    Ok i’m done with the rules and regulations for Daddys for Dummies.
    Its just feverishly flabbergasting how much emotional effort is sometimes wasted on chumrahs/classifications/dresscode and related activites at the expense of more important stuff. I see it all the time. Or used to.

  10. David,
    Thank you for a long overdue and stellar posting.

    “One might also think that each of his children should be the gadol hador as opposed to being the best chaim or chaya he\she can be, living up to their personal potential and not to our “wannabe” dreams.”

    This is an issue I’ve been dealing with (as my wife points out to me) for the past few months. Rabbi Seif’s comment echoes the issue.
    It’s important just to appreciate a child for being him/herself.

    My kids are 6 months, almost 5, and 7 1/2 years and I find with my oldest that I often for example, put emphasis on issues that in the big scheme of things are not so important in the life of a FFB 7 yr old. Case in point:
    What is more important…sitting in the same seat for bentching [that one ate in] or bentching properly?
    Obviously for a 7 yr old the ikar is that he bentches with the proper words and a little feeling (hopefully).

    For myself, as a BT parent, I try to be enthusiastic about my mitzvos, davening, and learning and (based on something from I read about Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky) I daven that my children should be Shomer Torah U’Mitvos.

  11. I think that the over-reaction towards the jacket isn’t limited to BT parents, it’s common to all parents.

  12. Most of my Orthodox friends at Penn are Bnei BTs. Even without asking them, I could usually get a sense from interacting with them, though I’m not sure why this is.

    But they are all wonderful and amazing people. I think having BT parents allows them a glimpse into the secular world, and helps them stay strong in their Judaism while being at college, since it’s not like they all of a sudden start seeing these aspects of secular society. At least, that’s my take on it.

  13. Always fascinating what different backgrounds we all come from. My parents were very strict and selective about music, tv programming, and more. We were not allowed to listen to much besides classical, big band, etc and I spent a great deal of energy sneaking pop music.

    I imagine I will be fairly restrictive in the home as our kids get older (esp. as much of the music is so trashy now that I can’t even enjoy it for the beat), but I expect our kids to sneak some of the forbidden music and programming. And with G-d’s help they will find that their parents (or should I say grandparents?) were onto something.

  14. “But that type of overreaction is a typical BT parenting faux pas.”

    That must mean there is a typical BT!

    Those I’ve met so far don’t fit any neat pattern.

  15. I agree with Gershon! Since we never grew up frum, we aren’t familiar with “normative” frum childhood and might put undo pressure on kids for doing normal kid things, like not wanting to wake up for minyan.

    I remember when my (now married) daughter was a young teenager she wanted to wear a faded denim jacket, which in our circles, is Muttar, but not quite, well, the most *refined* type of clothing. Alarm bells of the sort that Gershon described went off in my mind, and the tape recording began…”for this I became frum and left all that behind?! So my daughter can embrace hippie culture?!” Of course, all the cultural baggage that a faded denim jacket represented in my mind –total freedom, drugs, etc– was nowhere in my innocent daughter’s motivations. It was simply “cool” to wear! Fortunately, I had the presence of mind not to say anything and let her wear it until she tired of it on her own. But that type of overreaction is a typical BT parenting faux pas.

  16. I’m convinced that another factor in why CBTs are at greater risk of becoming at-risk is because the BT parents aren’t as good at turning a blind eye to even minor religious misdeeds. The BT parents have so much invested in full observance of the entire Torah package that when the kids veer off just a bit, it is blown out of proportion and that can create a real issue. Parents who grew up frum, might remember how they themselves weren’t always so perfect, but how in the end they got on track. But to a BT, those behaviors set off alarm bells connoting an entire different way of life. That’s when the overly loud alarm bells start ringing.

  17. Ed, you make some excellent and important points. I will attempt to address them in the order that you raised them.

    I wonder how old your children are. I say that, because I think your point of view is that of someone with younger kids.

    My kids ARE younger ranging from 2 through 14. I would love to hear from others with older CBTs.

    Tremendous problems can arise for CBTs when they become teenagers, especially if they attended a more “yeshivish” school through 8th grade. It is no mystery to me that I read in the Jewish Observer a while back that a significantly higher percentage of “at risk” kids come from BT parents. The problem stems in part from the CBT’s lack of common background with many of their classmates, which can be alienating.

    I’m not so sure how much of this comes from a “lack of common background”. Was that hypothesized by the JO writer? Although I agree that this can be a problem, I’m not sure it is THE problem and I don’t know if any of us know whether it is more or less of a contributor than the factors I mentioned or any others. It is perhaps an important point to keep in mind when choosing a community wherein to raise children.

    Also, the BT parents – often, the ones with “healthy attitudes” about their BT status – do not totally leave behind their pasts – for example, listening to secular music. The inconguity between this, with what is taught in school, or with how FFB kids of FFB parents are raised, may lead to profound problems for the CBTs, and may lead to rebelliousness.

    Good point for any parent. The “lifestyle” decisions we make and often think only have an effect on ourselves also have an effect on our children.

    And by the way, that so-called “bren and enthusiasm” that you’ve referred to – I’ve seen other CBTs rebel by going to the other extreme – by displaying their frumkeit in almost an freakish manner, such as davening as though they are catatonic.

    I think we’ve all seen this, unfortunately. My personal opinion is that such behavior is not borne of enthusiasm but of lack of guidance (parental or otherwise), attention seeking and, perhaps, neurosis. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this behavior in plenty of FFBs as well.

    The challenges of raising CBTs are significant. Your blog entry focuses primarily on the parent’s role. My point is, notwithstanding that, there are other factors which come into play in raising CBTs that must be dealt with somehow, and they are very hard to deal with, since often times, parents have limited control over such factors.

    Agreed. But, I think it’s more practical and productive to discuss those things that parents CAN address, no?

  18. David,

    I wonder how old your children are. I say that, because I think your point of view is that of someone with younger kids. Tremendous problems can arise for CBTs when they become teenagers, especially if they attended a more “yeshivish” school through 8th grade. It is no mystery to me that I read in the Jewish Observer a while back that a significantly higher percentage of “at risk” kids come from BT parents. The problem stems in part from the CBT’s lack of common background with many of their classmates, which can be alienating. Also, the BT parents – often, the ones with “healthy attitudes” about their BT status – do not totally leave behind their pasts – for example, listening to secular music. The inconguity between this, with what is taught in school, or with how FFB kids of FFB parents are raised, may lead to profound problems for the CBTs, and may lead to rebelliousness. And by the way, that so-called “bren and enthusiasm” that you’ve referred to – I’ve seen other CBTs rebel by going to the other extreme – by displaying their frumkeit in almost an freakish manner, such as davening as though they are catatonic. The challenges of raising CBTs are significant. Your blog entry focuses primarily on the parent’s role. My point is, notwithstanding that, there are other factors which come into play in raising CBTs that must be dealt with somehow, and they are very hard to deal with, since often times, parents have limited control over such factors.

  19. Thanks for a very important post on this issue. Perhaps, one can compare it to the Talmud’s discussion of Teshuvah based on fear or love and how one deals with and approaches one’s past.

  20. Out there in general society, we see every generation or sub-generation latching onto some label (baby boomers…) which is supposed to be descriptive. To some degree, the labels really are decsriptive, and to some degree they are caricatures. Some who take their label too much to heart begin looking down on others.

    What David Linn describes above is the Jewish manifestation of this same phenomenon. There is a difference in kind, though, in that doing teshuva (which FFB’s do, too!) really is an accomplishment, not just an after-effect of what year we were born. But we can ruin the effect of our genuine accomplishments by putting on airs. There’s a fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness.

    The integration of children of BT’s into Orthodox society is complicated by the fact that there are really many Orthodox societies. Parents and children have to make choices, but their information is often incomplete. It becomes very hard to generalize at all about what path to take! Not every child of a BT is cut out to bridge gaps between groups; some are better off fitting into an existing group, which may not even be the one their parents belong to.

Comments are closed.