I appreciate your column with its practical suggestions and helpful advice.
I am a Baalat Teshuva, someone who became religious later in life, with young children of my own. I feel at times immense resentment of my non-religious parents who, although they have largely compromised on personal religious issues with both myself and my husband, still comment on matters which govern our lives. For example, they resent the fact that we have a large family. They informed us that they and my husband's parents don't want us to have any more children! To keep "shalom" we listen, but afterwards the resentment and hurt builds up inside me and I can't seem to release them.
How is it possible to keep one's perspective on this issue of resentment when parents/in-laws are not observant?
The scenario you describe is not an uncommon one among Baalei Teshuva (those returnees to an observant lifestyle) and their families of origin. Unfortunately, when both protagonists dig their heels in, much unnecessary heartache and pain ensues. Instead of becoming increasingly invested in their positions and widening the gap between them, I think both sides would do well to consider the following points.
You inform me that your parents have made compromises on your behalf and that only the issue of a large family remains a source of conflict and tremendous hurt. I hope that I am assuming correctly that you understand and fully appreciate the major adjustments a lifestyle change such as yours imposes on your family. The accommodations they have made for you must be seen and interpreted as generous expressions as love and caring. You must not take them for granted and moreover you must be sure to express your gratitude every step along the way.
For some parents your decision to becomes observant may feel as a condemnation, a negative assessment of the quality of life they had heretofore provided in the upbringing of their children.
Aside from the practical adjustments and compromises, parents find themselves at a loss to intellectually grasp and comprehend the necessity for this change in course and the major upheaval that it brings in its wake. At a deeper emotional level, it may feel to them as a condemnation, a negative judgment and assessment of the quality of life they had heretofore provided in the upbringing of their children. It threatens the core of their being because it computes in their mind as a rejection of what they deemed as their best efforts.
The only antidote to their feelings of being left out in the cold as you march off to the beat of your own drummer and to what appears to them as your newly discovered nirvana, is to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
You need to rewind back to your formative years in your parents' home and identify what it was that gave you the spirit of inquiry, the seeds of your metaphysical quest for search and meaning. What gave you the courage to strike out and the ability to search for truth? Invariably you will find that parents, while not committed to the specific behaviors of the lifestyle you have embraced, nonetheless gave you the potential, the wherewithal to return to your roots. Undoubtedly, they created an environment of love, affection, common decency and openness etc, and other components of a positive nature that encouraged you along the way.
It is important that you recognize that in large measure you stand on their shoulders. What you are doing does not emerge out of a vacuum. Hence, you are beholden to them and must give credit where credit is due. Let your parents know that your journey was made possible by them and the many years they invested in you and that you are eternally grateful. Inclusive not exclusive.
Sit down with your parents and have an open, heart-to-heart talk with them.
Having said that, I would advise you to sit down with your parents and have an open, heart-to-heart talk with them. Don't be defensive. Don't try to explain the many reasons for a large family; they have heard them before. Just allow yourself to be vulnerable. Let them know that you understand their concern for you. Every parent wants to see their child "happy" and comfortable. In their minds and to their way of thinking, increasing the pressures of life by assuming more and more responsibility with each additional child, does not configure or fit in with the picture of a good and easy life.
The following incident may prove instructive. Emily, a young attorney with a brilliant future, made the decision to embrace an observant Torah life. Initially, her parents dismissed it as a fad, a passing phase, reminiscent of her "hippie" days given to unconventional and antiestablishment behavior. But the test of time proved otherwise, and they watched in horror as their accomplished daughter began to produce baby after baby.
On one occasion, her mother blurted out in exasperation, "When is it going to be your turn? You will never be able to afford the good things in life -- vacations, Las Vegas, cruises etc, and all other earthly delights and pleasures. You will be paying tuitions for the rest of your life!"
Emily realized that at the core of her parents' outrage and disapproval was a genuine concern for her. They wanted their beloved 'baby' to have a 'good life'. Emily assured them that her chosen path, though inscrutable to them, was best for her and having children was her greatest source of joy. She had 'been there and done that.' She had as a youngster already experienced affluence and had known the 'good life'. She found that though her current life was not easy and raising many children did exact a tremendous toll, ultimately the opportunity to bring decent human beings into the world was the most meaningful and rewarding calling.
At the conclusion, with a gleam in her eye, Emily pointed to her delightful crew and asked, "By the way, which one of these precious gems would you like me to send back?"
I think it is important for you, my dear reader, to openly enlist your parents' assistance. You need to share with them the pain that their disapproval causes you. You should also share the fact that under the best of circumstances, even as committed as you are to the way of life you have chosen, it is not an easy road to navigate. Even the most healthy and delightful children demand enormous physical, emotional and psychic energy, and that you find it hard to do it alone, without their support and involvement.
Let them know that while your way of life is not negotiable, you desperately need their support and approval.
Let them know that while your way of life is not negotiable, you desperately need their support and approval. You need to see them take delight in their grandchildren. Tell them it will warm your heart and give you the necessary strength to go on. Additionally, assure them that you are acting responsibly -- that there are Torah criteria and authorities to consult if mitigating issues concerning having more children should arise, and that you will avail yourselves of these resources when necessary.
In Emily's case it took a number of years. She bided her time. She continued to interact lovingly and respectfully with her parents. They exchanged visits a number of times a year. Fear and trepidation seized Emily every time she had to inform her parents of yet another pregnancy.
Finally, at the Bar Mitzvah of her first child, when her father beheld the beautiful and accomplished young man, he conceded with tears in his eyes. He admitted that he had been misguided in his intransigence and that she had in fact been on the right track. Nothing in the world, he admitted, could give him more 'nachas' and joy than his wonderful grandchildren -- every one of them.
Admittedly, not every situation is so happily resolved. But you must put forth your best effort to celebrate every expression of progress and every move in the right direction. I would advise you to do the following:
- Surround yourself and network with people of like values and if possible similar challenges.
- Try to maintain the high moral road of respect and love to parents even when the situation is tough and you would desperately want to see a more accepting and approving stance from them.
- Remind them that you are their child, who bears the imprint of the values they have impressed upon you even if they do manifest themselves differently in the life of your choosing. Inform them that though your horizons may now encompass "a road less traveled," you are and will always be their beloved offspring who needs their love, approval and support.
- Pray and beseech the "Ultimate Parent" to give you strength and wisdom and to bless your wonderful endeavors with success as only He can.