Fans of Jane Austen are probably united in their disapprobation of Mrs. Bennett, the ditzy, frivolous mother of five girls whose sole goal in life seems to be to get them married, the man and the circumstances being but an afterthought. Mr. Bennett -- and certainly his daughter, Elizabeth -- share the disdain of the readers.
As did I -- until recently. Until I took stock of my own life. Until I realized what being a parent really involves. While still abhorring her superficiality, while not condoning her attitude towards other mothers and other daughters (a me-first outlook -- the opposite of Jewish philosophy which recommends praying for someone else's child before your own), while wondering about her lack of scruples and principles when it came to the behavior of her offspring, I was nevertheless able to find a point of empathy.
As the mother of many girls, I can relate to the desire and struggle to marry off daughters (and sons too of course). I understand that while the goal is certainly to raise young women who will be exemplary role models in their relationship with both the Almighty and the world around them, parents (and yes, fathers too) feel like their work isn't done until their children are married. (It isn't done then either, but let's still cherish some illusions!)
The religious system of dating clearly puts the pressure and responsibility to find an appropriate partner on the parents (who may occasionally find themselves, Mrs. Bennett-like, urging their children to take the first reasonable offer or else!). Yet I think all parents recognize and feel this burden. Even if they aren't the ones doing the research and finding the dates, they are making other efforts and their minds are forever uneasy. All mothers and fathers are concerned about this crucial aspect of their children's future.
It's not a question of shoulds or right and wrong. It just is. It goes with the territory. It may sometimes even give Jewish mothers a bad rap. But wherever we fall out along the religious spectrum, we are all united in our prayers for our children's happiness. And in our desire to see them establishing a home with their destined partner.
We may not live in 19th century England where the fate of an unmarried girl was frequently a life of unrelieved drudgery in the home of a married relative or to be hired out as a governess, yet our dreams and goals for our daughters (and sons) are not that different.
And despite the amount of effort we expend, the result is ultimately out of our control. It is one area of our life in which the Almighty's hand is so readily apparent.
We can temper the pain by our trust in the Almighty.
It is also important to recognize that if it takes a long time for some of our children to find their mates, that is also the Almighty's decision and they should certainly make the most of their time meanwhile. I am not minimizing their pain or, on the other hand, suggesting they need be in any pain at all. I'm only representing how parents feel.
We certainly have a few more tools at our disposal than Mrs. Bennett did. We don't live in a small country town, reliant on our neighbors and the likelihood of an eligible young man renting a nearby estate. We have matchmakers and the internet and friends and relatives. We have national and international communities. We are a people focused on helping each other.
Yet in the end, it's not all that different. After all of our efforts and all of our prayers sent and blessings received, it is up to the Almighty. And we need to trust in Him, we need to know that He will not abandon our children. For they are His children too.
Two verses in the Torah illustrate the appropriate and necessary attitude. It says in Genesis 24:15, "Behold Rivka was coming out" and later in 29:6, "Behold Rachel his daughter is coming." Rabbi Miller teaches that just as these girls came out exactly in the right moment, so every woman (as well as every man) is sent forth by the Almighty exactly in the precise moment.
We can empathize with the pain of Mrs. Bennett; we may even have our own pain. But we can temper it by our trust in the Almighty and our confidence in His love for His children.