Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I'm a 39-year-old woman who lives in a large European city with a small Jewish presence. I was born and raised in this city, and never made the step to move to another city with a larger Jewish community because my parents were afraid to let me go far away. I always postponed my plans for different reasons, including that we have a very small family and my father was getting older. Since marrying a Jewish man is essential for me, staying in my home city meant that I had very few dating opportunities.
A few years ago, my father passed away. But I still couldn't move because my mother needed me. I gave her a lot of comfort and support, and now that things have normalized, I want to move on with my life. I'm planning moving to New York, where I believe I will have the best opportunity to find a Jewish man to marry. The problem is that my mother is making me feel guilty and not making things easy. She doesn't have much of a social life and is afraid to stay alone.
I really want to have children and I'm trying to make my mother understand that time is crucial for me. I've tried to explain that it's my time to create my own family, and that I need her emotional support because moving is also not easy for me emotionally. Unfortunately, my mother only sees her own issues. What should I do? What can I say to change her attitude?
We can see how difficult it has been for you to decide between honoring your parents and moving ahead with your own life. You had to choose between many competing considerations: When you were a young adult, both of your parents wanted you to stay close to them. Then your father became older and depended on your help, love, and support, so you set aside your goal of getting married while he needed you so much. When your mother was newly widowed, you stayed to comfort her and to help with the transition to a new phase in her life. Now you're torn because -- even though you feel that your mother should have adjusted enough to be less dependent on you -- she doesn't believe she can do so.
You seem to think that your only options are to magically convince your mother that you need to relocate to a larger Jewish community like New York, or to remain in a city where your social life is severely curtailed in order to provide your mother with the emotional support she needs.
If you want to build a Jewish home, you will have to relocate.
These are not your only options. Another choice can be to move, despite your mother's inability to see how much you need to do so, and do the best you can to visit regularly and see that she has companionship and easily accessible help should the need arise.
This isn't an easy decision. However, it sounds to us that the choice is pretty clear. If you want to get married and build a Jewish home and family, and your city has few eligible Jewish men, you will have to relocate. There are ways to do this that will make things easier on your mother, but the bottom line is that whatever you decide will be a painful choice for both of you.
Process of Individuation
We often work with adults whose relationships with their parents have become so enmeshed that it is difficult for them to disentangle and separate to build their own lives. Separation is a process that normally takes place in early adulthood. An individual becomes more responsible for her own daily affairs, makes more of her own decisions, develops goals and plans how to achieve them, and, in short, becomes her own person. The process usually takes a number of years and it can be somewhat difficult for both sides. The young adult has to balance the value she places on her parents' advice, opinions, and guidance (and her need for this) with her need to be her own person. Even though her parents may welcome her growing independence, they may periodically wonder how much they should step back and when.
Unfortunately, some parents don't welcome their adult child's independence. They may not be able to envision their child as an adult, and are reluctant to allow her to make her own choices and mistakes. Or they may be very controlling and feel that they need to oversee most aspects of their child's life. Some parents don't know how to make the transition from being a parent of a teenager to being the parent of a mature adult. Parents who have few friends or other close relationships may become emotionally dependent on their child, and in certain circumstances parents become financially dependent on their child.
Any of these parents can resent a child's efforts to build her own life, especially if it involves moving away. There are also some parents who, consciously or unconsciously, prevent separation from taking place by encouraging their child to become emotionally or economically over-dependent upon them.
An adult child who struggles to assert independence from resistant parents may also be held back by a strong sense of guilt. That's what seems to be happening to you -- you're torn between your own need to pursue an important goal in life and your sense of duty to your mother. You realize that she is too absorbed in her own needs to see that you need to move on, and that you've set aside efforts to attain the "normal" goals of life for far too long. But you feel that unless she can approve of your plan and not feel that you're abandoning her, you can't honor your own, very compelling needs.
Before giving you practical advice, it is important to understand what Jewish law says about your dilemma. The Torah commands us to honor our parents. Is it possible that an adult daughter can violate this precept by moving away from an overly dependent parent who fears being left alone? Jewish law doesn't prevent adults from weighing considerations and making most of their own choices, and you don't dishonor your parents by leaving your hometown in order to increase your opportunities for Jewish marriage, even though your move will be very difficult for your mother. (This isn't a blanket statement about how Jewish law applies to other situations; it's important for each individual to consult with a rabbi.)
Nevertheless, there are a number of steps you can take to make your relocation easier for your mother, even though she objects to your move:
1) Help her set up a support network of a few friends or relatives, even if this means nurturing some of her connections that weren't so strong in the past.
2) Whatever the reason why your mother doesn't have a rich social life, it would be helpful to encourage her to become involved in a club, community project, class, or other group activity that can be a forum for her to develop more social connections.
Find someone who can regularly check in on your mother.
3) It sounds as if you mother is well enough to be physically independent right now, but there may come a time that she requires some amount of assistance. We suggest that you look into what resources will be available to her should that time arise. In addition, it will be helpful for you to have a set of eyes and ears in the community, someone you trust who can regularly check in on your mother to make sure that she is managing well on her own.
4) You can arrange to speak to your mother regularly via an inexpensive international telephone line (VOIP) or an Internet video contact like Skype. If your mother isn't technologically savvy, you can arrange to set this up for her and have someone available for technical support after you leave.
5) How often will you be able to visit your mother? Plan your first visit back now. Reassure her that you will make the trip as frequently as is practical.
6) Have you considered moving your mother to your new city after you have settled in? We wouldn't recommend making the initial move with an older parent, but once you have acclimated and decide that the new city will be your home for an extended period of time, you may be able to look into assisted living facilities or communities where your mother could build a new life.
7) Finally, have you considered other cities for relocation that will provide you with rich social and employment opportunities, and that are closer to your country?
Succeeding in Your Goal
We image you've done a lot of research and planning about moving to a new country and finding a community that suits your needs. As you make your plans to relocate, there are a few additional things we feel you should consider:
It sounds as if you haven't had many opportunities to date for marriage. It's going to be a big transition and challenge for you. One of the smartest things you can do is to become educated about the best ways to find suitable marriage-minded dating partners. This involves networking and "marketing" yourself. You also need to learn how to date "productively." Reading the archives of this column, as well as the many articles on the Sasson V'Simcha website (www.jewishdatingandmarriage.com) will be a great help to you.
In addition, one of the first things we believe you must do when you arrive in your new city is to join a synagogue, meet the rabbi, and become involved in classes and community projects. As a newcomer, you'll greatly benefit from a strong connection to the Jewish community. This will also be helpful when you begin to network in order to find marriage-minded men who have the qualities you are looking for.
We've given you a lot to think about. If you decide to make the move you've been planning, we hope that you get started soon, and that the results of your efforts will be fruitful.
Rosie & Sherry