I am the mother of four children of marriageable age, none of whom are married. It is becoming so painful to go to wedding after wedding of relatives and friends. I am happy for them, but I also have a knot in my stomach. Why can't I walk any of my children down the aisle? In addition to my heartache, it is so painful to see the hurt that my children are experiencing as they see their friends marry and have children. What can I do for myself as well as for them?
-- A hurting mother
Dear Hurting Mother,
I’d like to begin with a shameless plug for my book, A Diamond for Your Daughter: A Parent’s Guide to Navigating Shidduchim Effectively. Hopefully it will be helpful to you – both practically and philosophically.
And I’d like to add that I can completely empathize with your pain – and that of your children. It is a hard situation for all parents – wherever we are on the religious spectrum and whatever the age of our children.
Begin with prayer. There is almost nothing we want so badly for our children and we are so limited in our ability to make it happen. Keep praying.
It struck me recently that all Jewish mothers have something in common with the ditzy Mrs. Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – we all want to see our children get married. However, unlike Mrs. Bennett, our goal is not just marriage itself but rather a happy marriage, to a person of substance and character.
Although we can’t control the final outcome, we can certainly steer our children in the desired direction. And we can engage in a little introspection ourselves to ensure that our behaviors are not holding them back or hurriedly pushing them into the wrong arms. I suggest you beware of both possibilities.
Part of our job is to help our children relinquish their Hollywood-fueled fantasies of marriage in preparation for its reality and to assist them in evaluating wisely as they choose a mate. This may be the most serious decision they make in their lives with perhaps the most far-reaching implications. Better to have them wait and decide well.
Getting our children to the chuppah is an awesome responsibility and we can’t do it alone (this really does take a village!). You need to swallow your pride (perhaps you already have; you don’t share any details of your efforts to date) and ask everyone you know for help – family, friends, neighbors, teachers, rabbis…And we need to keep praying – that the Almighty help us and our children be successful. Don’t forget that He is the ultimate matchmaker.
I am a regular reader of your blog and appreciate your insights very much.
My husband and I are blessed to live in Israel. We have been married 20 years and have six children. Like more and more Israelis in today's economy, my husband has to travel abroad to earn an income. He goes to the US for two or three weeks at a time; then he is home for two or three weeks and then he is off again. This has been going on for several years. Needless to say this lifestyle puts a big strain on our marriage. It is not the daily routines that I find challenging to manage alone, as I am an organized person and have support from parents, in-laws, and community. I also appreciate that he is doing this for our family and to take the financial burden off of me. The challenge is emotional, as when he is abroad I find it very hard to maintain the sense of closeness that we have when he is home.
We are in touch daily by phone and internet. However he is not expressive verbally. It’s hard for him to say things like "Love you" and "Miss you." I tried to tell him that this would help me cope better but he says it is too difficult for him and I need to lower my expectations. Also when he is at home he is not the affectionate type, although he is trying to improve on that point with more hugs. He says he has become more withdrawn as he has gotten older. But we are mid-forties and I will find it very hard to spend many long years in this manner.
How can I use my womanly wisdom to feel closer to my husband when he is long distance over the years?
-- Long-Distance Wife
Dear Long-Distance Wife,
This issue is a challenge for anyone whose husband travels. It is very hard to maintain that emotional connection across the globe and the different time zones. You are having completely different experiences. The phone and the internet can’t change that. And I don’t think you should expect too much from those modes of communication – even Skype. While I understand that it would be nicer if he were more effusive verbally, you would probably still end up frustrated and you would definitely still be home without him. The distance gets in the way, like it or not. It is hard on ALL marriages. This should be reassuring in a way. It is not a problem in your home; it is the unfortunately reality of this type of lifestyle.
But since your husband needs to travel to support your family, you need to make peace with the situation and find a way to better enjoy the time together at home. What does your husband enjoy doing? Can you schedule a day or evening away from the kids each time he is home so that the two of you can have some real time together? Try to make that time fun; not a discussion of your relationship.
Make your home warm and welcoming. You want your husband to be excited to come home and not dreading some new issue you’re going to raise, not waiting to discover another way in which he has fallen short. Try not to be critical or even have some “helpful suggestions” on hand. Be only supportive and loving and he is more likely to respond in kind.
How do married couples deal with the fact that they are not the same people at age 45, as they were when they were married at age 25? Or will be at 65? What is the best way to ensure growing up and old together, instead of growing apart?
-- Trying to Get Older AND Better
Dear Growth-Oriented Spouse,
Before answering I must disagree slightly with your premise. I think we are the same people at all ages. Our basic character remains unchanged. It is hopefully refined and deepened but a cruel person probably hasn’t become kind and vice versa. That’s why marriage starts (as I told the previous writer) with prayer and choosing wisely.
That said, I think your solution is in your question. You both need to actively work on growing, particularly together.
There are many ways to do this. It begins with conversation. You need to talk daily – not just about the bills and the chores – but about your hopes, dreams, goals and how to achieve them. And about the world outside the two of you. You need to share your experiences, thoughts and reactions.
It’s good to read. Reading broadens your horizons and deepens your understanding of yourself and the world.
Invite guests over and spend time with friends and new acquaintances. You can learn a lot from meeting people. As it says in Ethics of the Fathers, “Who is the wise man? He who learns from everyone.” Take advantage of that opportunity.
Try studying some Torah together. Learning Torah is an intimate process that requires introspection and reflection. It provokes discussion of goals, values, psychological changes and personal growth. It’s a sure-fire way to bring you closer.
One of the biggest challenges that couples face is that they slip into separate lives, whether it be one with the kids and one with a job or both with their careers. They become like roommates or business partners. You need to start with the goal of building something significant together and you need regular check-ups to make sure you’re on track.
And, finally, a word about physical intimacy. When couples fall (frequently unintentionally) into the trap of separate lives, this is one of the first things to go. As one woman once told me, “I just figure we’ll pass on that part of our lives until the children leave home...” This is not a successful recipe for growing together from 25 to 65. You need to keep all aspects of your relationship healthy and current.
When people say that marriage is work, this is certainly part of what they mean. But , like with anything else, only those who make the effort reap the rewards.