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Dear Emuna: Repairing Broken Homes
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Repairing Broken Homes

How do I get my estranged stepson to honor his father?


Dear Emuna,

My stepson is 32 years old, married with one child and one on the way. Ever since his parents’ divorce in 1991 he took his mother's side (she destroyed their family by committing adultery). It would take two pages to describe all terrible things my husband had to go through, while still paying for everybody's colleges and weddings. Presently my husband is banned from his son's house and unable to see his grandchild which causes him a tremendous heartache. His son also managed to spread gossip that his father does not want to see him or his son. My question is: can I e-mail my estranged stepson a reminder that honoring your father is one of the most important commandments? And if not, what can I do to change this situation?

-- Broken Family

Dear Broken,

Given the details of the story related here, I do not think it would repair the relationship to email your stepson the way you have in mind. To “remind” him about the mitzvah of honoring his father is sure to get his dander up and make him angry and defensive. Rebuke or advice given in the form of a reminder that a particular activity is one of the most important commandments is rarely, and possibly never, effective. Most frequently, it is annoying and destructive.

Swallow your pride and approach your stepson with love.

So, is there anything you can do to change the situation? If there’s any hope at all, it will come through swallowing your pride and approaching your stepson with love. It doesn’t matter whether he’s the one who’s wrong or not. It’s the nature of the parent-child relationship that the parent wants the relationship more, loves the child more and is more disturbed when the relationship isn’t working. And therefore it’s the parent (who is older and presumably more grown-up) who has to do the repairing, like it or not. If you and your husband want this relationship, you have to delete your list of perceived (and possibly real) wrongs, and only focus on love. Try phone messages, texts and emails like “We’d love to see you; when are you around?” “I’m making a special birthday dinner for your father; can you make it?” “I got this cute gift for your child; when can we drop it off?” “I made your favorite cookies; come over for dessert.” And so on. Be creative and relentless. I can’t promise it will work. I just know that a positive strategy (along with lots of tear-filled prayers) has a chance of being effective while your initial negative strategy has none.

-- Emuna

Related Article: Step-Father's Day

Dear Emuna,

How far one has to go to honor a parent? If a mother is destroying your marriage, if whatever you give or do is not enough, if there is little appreciation and show of affection for a daughter, if when you express your need for consideration and respect it falls on deaf ears, what should you do? In spite of everything, I love my mother and wish that she would give me some love before she leaves this world. They say I have a problem. Do I?

-- Hurt Daughter

Dear Hurt,

As I say to many of my correspondents, it is very difficult to give advice with so few details. So I can just state some generalities. 1) Chances are your mother is not going to change. The only question is if you can – if you can find a way to treat her with love and respect no matter what she does. But you need to begin by letting go of any expectations or hopes for different behavior from her.

The mitzvah of honoring your parents does not require or demand putting up with abuse, be it physical, emotional, or verbal.

2) The mitzvah of honoring your parents does not require or demand putting up with abuse, be it physical, emotional, or verbal. If that is the tone of your conversations, you can say “Mom, I love you but this is not the type of conversation I can tolerate” and put an end to it. Not only can you, but you need to – for your own emotional health and for that of your family. Your marriage is your first priority and you need to preserve it, at all costs.

3) That said, keep in mind that whatever her behavior, you owe your mother a debt of gratitude. And you don’t want to have to live with regrets. This does NOT mean that you can make or could have made the relationship different than it is. Nor does it mean as stated above that you should put up with abuse or other destructive behavior. It just means that if you can do it (and it’s definitely hard), you should try to cultivate an attitude of acceptance. “This is the mother the Almighty gave me, this is the relationship He put me in; I will try to make the best of it.” It may mean cutting off contact for a while; it may mean just keeping your mouth shut and smiling; it may mean listening sympathetically to her life and not engaging about yours. It’s still not going to be easy and, as mentioned, self-preservation and the preservation of your marriage take priority, but if you can move forward, work on acceptance. Perfect parent-child relationships only exist in novels and movies (and not even in most of them today!).

-- Emuna

Related Article: To Mother, With Love

Dear Emuna,

My daughter has been dating her Jewish boyfriend for several years. They met at the prestigious university they both attended. The boy's family loves her. They are in their late 20s. I see the years go by and no sign of marriage ahead. I struggle to clip my lips and not say anything. Should I hint? When and how?

-- Anxious Mom

Dear Anxious Mom,

I know it’s hard to keep your mouth shut but I think in situations like the one you are describing, the hints of parents rarely push their children into marriage and may even, sometimes, provoke an opposite reaction. Since it is your daughter we are discussing, you may, however, want to do some gentle probing. Is she happy with the status quo? Does she want to marry him? Have they discussed it? Does he actually want to get married? Is there a time frame? Possibly you will be able to help her clarify her priorities and needs. She may decide to set a time limit for the relationship, she may feel the situation is fine as is, she may decide to end it. You need to keep in mind that what you want is the best result for your daughter which is not necessarily synonymous with marriage to this boy. And you may find that an open and frank conversation is a relief to everyone.

-- Emuna

January 22, 2011

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 4

(4) harold k, January 24, 2011 12:45 AM

rights of grandparents

I believe that grandparents can not be legally denied access to their grandchildren unless it would be harmful to the child

(3) Elana, January 23, 2011 9:30 PM

Hit it right on

These comments are so true; especially the first one. It would be absolutely the worst thing to do to point out honoring your parents is a mitzvah. You don't know the history there; you only know it from your husband's point of view. Yes, Emunah is right; little things like the advice given will show the son in law that you love him anyway and are willing to accept him no matter what happened in the past.

(2) SusanE, January 23, 2011 9:01 PM

I'm Not Feeling the Love Here

To Broken Family: Does your husband know you wrote this about the mother of his son? "(She Destroyed their Family by Committing Adultery)" ~~~~~~~~~~~ Is it possible there is a current reason the 32 year old son isn't seeing his father. I agree with commenter #1........... the book might help you.

(1) Anonymous, January 23, 2011 3:04 PM

This might help...

I read a wonderful book that was very helpful in addressing the first two questioners. Sometimes you can't change a difficult circumstance, but you can change how you react to it. "Let Go Now" by Karen Casey may give you the comfort you seek, and really help turn your life around in a positive way.

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