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Dear Emuna: Uprooting the Kids
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Uprooting the Kids

My husband’s dream job requires moving. My kids say we’re ruining their lives. Are we?


Dear Emuna,

A very exciting career opportunity has arisen for my husband. It is really his dream job and the financial benefits are amazing. The only problem is that it requires moving to another state and we have two children, a son and a daughter, in high school at this moment. They keep telling us that we will ruin their lives if we move now. Is that just typical adolescent hyperbole or is there some reality to their concerns?

Conflicted Mom

Dear Conflicted Mom,

Although I am generally dismissive of teenage exaggeration and their desperate pleas, in this case I think they may have a point. While “ruining their lives” is certainly a strong way to put it, they are in a particularly sensitive phase developmentally and it is a precarious time to move. Their friends are all-important to them and you will be wrenching them away from these crucial relationships. In addition, they will be thrown into an environment where there are already established friendships and cliques at a vulnerable time in their lives where it is extremely difficult to break in. It’s not life or death but it is a real trauma to them and I think there is a real risk of acting out, decreased interest in school and grades and just more pain for them.

On the other hand, sometimes life hands us tough choices and we have to try to roll with the punches. If your marriage could stand the commute, perhaps it’s better to have a longer distance relationship until your children finish high school. It depends on the child and the grade. If one of your children is entering his or her senior year, then maybe they could board with a friend for the last year. Maybe the child entering 10th grade (if such is the case) is more flexible.

You may end up with limited flexibility. Your husband may need the career advancement personally, professionally and financially. Your family may have to move and your children may be required to come with you, kicking and screaming.

If such is the case, be sensitive to their pain. Be empathic. Don’t treat it cavalierly or mouth platitudes about making new friends easily or the growth available. Better to throw in some perks to keep them focused and motivated – maybe a trip at vacation time back to see their old friends – and to ward off the sense of doom and gloom. Remember that adolescents live in the moment which to them, at this point, seems bleak. You need to be sensitive to this and work with it, not against it.

Pushed Out

Dear Emuna,

I am writing because I am so alone and scared. Although I have been married 15 years, we don't share our lives but we still live in the same house because we can't afford a divorce. My kids are now aged 13 and 14 and as I work long hours and my husband works from home, he spends more time with them. Now my kids, who have been my life, are stuck in my husband’s power struggle against me. They don’t really understand why we are divorcing and my husband is encouraging the relationship divide so that I am the one pushed out, and then he keeps the kids. I am so sad that the disrespect has gone so far. Can anyone suggest a way through this struggle?

Abandoned Mom

Dear Abandoned Mom,

I’m really sorry to hear about your situation and how it has deteriorated. I think that, on a practical level, you need to get some legal help to try to ensure, at the very least, shared custody before the situation gets any worse. It will also demonstrate to your husband that the status quo is unacceptable.

Does your husband have a mentor/teacher/rabbi that he trusts as a confidant and advisor? Perhaps he could be brought into the process. Your husband needs to understand that, although his goal is to hurt you and cause you pain, the ultimate losers in this scenario are the children. He has clearly lost perspective on this reality. Making the children pawns in the divorce and/or in any way putting them in the middle is extremely destructive to them. Hopefully, once this has been made clear, your husband will change his ways.

Don’t play his game. Try your best (I know it’s difficult) not to get into the power struggle or to badmouth him to your children. Take the higher road. Keep telling your children that you love them and continue to be there for them, whether they seem to want you there or not. It may be a rough road now but, please God, ultimately they’ll remember those messages . Focus on the long run, not the short term.

And finally, when you’re feeling truly alone, turn to the Almighty and ask for His help and His comfort. He’s always there waiting.

Since your last sentence was a general request for help, I’m reiterating it and opening it up for discussion. “Can anyone suggest a way through this struggle?”

Husband & Mother-in-Law

Dear Emuna,

What should the relationship look like between a husband and wife and how does that compare to the relationship between a married man and his mother?

I have a general idea, but I feel very confused right now. I had my second child almost four weeks ago and after struggling with my relationship with both my mother-in-law and my husband after my first child was born, feeling insufficient in meeting everyone's expectations, I feel like I need to have this clarified for me. I am starting to feel even worse than I did after my first and I am not sure what to do right now to help me and my family, as we cannot afford to pay someone for me to talk to about this.

Most of the emotions and self-doubts I am feeling right now would not be there if my mother-in-law was a little bit more encouraging, conveying that she believes in me as a mother. She is a very critical person and is very involved in our lives. My mother, unfortunately, is very far away and much less active in my life, although I wish it were different. Any advice from you is welcome.

Feeling Insufficient and Lost

Dear FIL,

I understand that you are having issues with your mother-in-law (an all-too-common phenomenon that deserves its own special column!) but are you really confused about the difference between a husband and wife and a married son and his mother?

Let’s start with a few basic principles. As the Talmud teaches, “A man doesn’t die except to his wife.” This is the deepest relationship you will form in your life. This is your most lasting relationship. The Talmud teaches that a husband and wife spend eternity with each other (not with your children, not with your parents – please take note!). This is the relationship where the most growth is available. It’s the relationship that teaches us about our ultimate unity with the Almighty. It is the most central relationship of our lives and it may require the most work. Even though our children are also tremendous effort, giving to our children is instinctive (if anything we sometimes have to hold back!) Giving to our spouses is not. We have to make a conscious choice. We have to step out of ourselves. But this is the relationship that really counts.

Secondly, your primary responsibility is to your immediate family – your husband and children. They need your full attention. They need a happy and confident wife and mother. If your mother-in-law dramatically interferes with your ability to fulfill your role appropriately, you need to pull back and limit contact with her until she agrees to be more considerate and to hold her tongue. Your family comes first. Of course, it would certainly be best if your husband could gently and lovingly explain to his mother the type of behavior and conversation that works in your home and establish some appropriate boundaries. It’s better not to frame it as a criticism of her but as a need of yours (this is a good marriage and parenting principle in general).

And what is the relationship of a married man and his mother? That’s complicated. The parameters in Jewish law are very limited but a loving son will of course be solicitous of his mother’s needs. Nevertheless, he needs to know and she needs to know that you come first. He needs to respect and she needs to respect the family’s boundaries. It’s a delicate balance but when a son gets married, he leaves his parent’s home and clings to his wife. The Torah describes it that way for a reason (see Genesis 2:24). Both mother and son need to accept that leaving and behave accordingly.

Everyone is afraid (and rightly so) of hurting their parents, but the irony is that more damage is done by allowing these situations to fester. If there is clarity about the roles and boundaries, it will actually be easier to let go of resentments and build and healthier and more pleasurable relationship with your mother-in-law.


August 24, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 11

(9) Kelia, August 30, 2013 8:56 PM

You are absolutely wrong!

In your advise to Conflicted Mom you said the wrong thing. I was a military spouse and we moved on average every 2 years. There was no discussion, we packed and moved.

These children should be told that they should shut up, pack up and move. They are not in charge of the family, but the requirements of the family mean that their father will be taking a better job in another state. They will survive and thrive.

Instead you bought into the lie that children are to be kowtowed down to at all times. Doing that instills in them a sense that the world revolves around them.

For the record: My children grew up normal, Jewish and with a good sense of humor. When confronted with another move, we laughed and packed. Now they are grown and in their own homes. They have vowed not to move again, but given enough incentive, they will.

(8) Marion, August 29, 2013 9:50 PM

For the woman whose husband wants to move: My uncle worked in banking in the 80s and 90s. If he wanted promotion, he was required to move, most of the time to a different city. Sometimes, he could refuse a promotion, but eventually, if he refused enough times, they would stop offering, so he had to take them. My aunt and cousins, despite the fact that they were in high school, did get uprooted and did likely have some friendships destroyed because of it. Another example: My best friend moved to Indonesia when I was 12 for three years, as her father got offered a job there. She came back, but she was a different person, as the country had changed her. Perhaps we could have started talking again if we'd gone to the same high school, but we ended up going to different high schools and then in different directions. That is life. I think that if one of your kids is 16 , it would be a good idea to let them board with a friend and have them come over for holidays. A child fifteen or younger should be resilient enough to cope with the trauma, as long as you let them go stay with friends over Christmas/Hannukah/Summer break.

(7) Rachel, August 29, 2013 6:59 PM

You spend eternity with your spouse?

Could you elaborate on this? I've never heard of this as a Jewish concept (and the only non-Jews I know who believe it are Mormons.) And what about those who remarry following the death of a spouse?

(6) JB Destiny, August 29, 2013 5:32 PM

My two cents

Re: high school teens - I believe that decisions regarding parnassah are in the hands of the parents. Yes, it impacts the entire family, but the children don't have a vote in it, since the responsibility to provide lies with the parents. The kids should certainly not have veto power! If the parents are only in the discussion stage, then they made a big mistake bringing it up at all. If Dad and Mom are committed to the move, though, they need to convey that to their teens and they also need to allow their kids a mourning period. When my daughters were forced to attend a new high school due to their previous one abruptly closing three weeks before their senior and junior years, they got together with their friends to cry it out, and I still refer to that time, seriously, as them sitting shiva over the death of their school. What your teens will hopefully realize is that friends come in and out of their lives, but ultimately family sticks together.

Re: divorce - I'm sorry that you and your family are in this unhappy situation. All I can say is that your husband must not realize that as he teaches your children to disrespect you, they are also learning to disrespect HIM. They are learning that personal desires trump duty and respect, and this will come back to bite him someday. Perhaps you can get his rabbi to discuss this aspect of the situation with him. Good luck to you, and may you have happier days ahead.

(5) Anonymous, August 29, 2013 4:29 PM

Moving--could be the best thing for the kids!

This is the first time I have failed to agree with Emuna, whose advise is generally so practical and intelligent! Our family went through a similar moving dilemma twice--once when the oldest children were in high school, and once when the youngest two were in high school. There were certainly tears shed, but the experience served three invaluable purposes:

1. It was empowering to the children. At a time when they felt they couldn't adapt, rather than giving in to their fears they were required to go through change. What they learned was that they COULD go through change, and that through those changes they could find wonderful new things. As adults, all of the children have come back and said that moving was one of the single most valuable and empowering experiences of their childhoods.

2. Closesness to G--d. Our entire family learned the lesson of relying on the Almighty more deeply--practically and emotionally, BECAUSE there was nothing familiar. This of course was an investment worth making regardless of the other benefits.

3. Family closeness: As the tears came, as we each experienced our own emotional struggles with major moves, with our local support group dissolved we turned to each other. Family bonds grew powerfully.

True growth entails growing pains. The option is to accept those pains and grow, or to avoid them, insist on the status quo and shortchange the experiences G--d has in mind for us. In doing so, we are challenging G--d, demonstrating ego rather than faith and humility; we are in essence saying that we know best.

Of course, any major change should be made after much praying, and feeling you understand what G--d's will is in the matter. But once you have that--GO!!

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