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.