Dear Emuna,

I read your piece about women requiring empathy and men requiring affirmation and I felt like you were speaking directly to me. My challenge is that, try as I might, I can’t get my husband to read your piece or change his approach. He always tells me, “You knew who I was when you married me.” How do I respond to this argument?

Hoping for change

Dear Hoping,

Thanks for reading my article and supporting my point! I think there are two separate ideas that have been inappropriately combined here. When we say that when you get married you shouldn’t expect your spouse to change, we never imagine that it means you shouldn’t expect them to try to learn and grow and become deeper. We never imagine that it means that you shouldn’t try to understand the differences in behavior and attitudes between men and women and adjust your behavior and conversation accordingly.

What it means is we can’t expect people’s basic character to change. If we marry someone who likes a lot of quiet time, we can’t expect them to become a party animal once wed. If we marry someone who is kind, we don’t expect them to become cruel. If we marry someone loyal, we don’t expect them to betray us. If we marry someone unemotional, we don’t expect they will suddenly turn teary and weepy. This is important because if you want a party animal, you shouldn’t marry the quiet loner.

So how do we take these ideas and apply them to your situation? You need to begin with an understanding of who your husband is and what he wants. Only then can you approach him in a way that will be effective. If he wants to connect to you, you can begin by telling him how much you value connection and then explain how a more empathic response would deepen your connection. That’s a win-win. If, on the other hand, he feels attacked and inadequate, then you must begin with reassurance and kindness. “I think you’re wonderful and I’m so glad to be married to you; I think our marriage would be even better if…” You could even ask how he would prefer you respond to him.

If you focus on who he is and what he needs, you are almost always guaranteed success – and you will likely end up getting him to focus on who you are and what you need!

Who’s Afraid of Ivy League College?

Dear Emuna,

My friends tell me I am so lucky that my daughter got accepted to an Ivy League college but I’m terrified of the values she may absorb there. How can I protect her and survive the four years?

Frightened Mom

Dear Frightened,

Frankly I don’t blame you for being scared. There are a lot of disturbing values being promoted on college campuses these days – from coddling to hookups to the BDS movement, our young children are constantly forced to confront ideas that may be antithetical to ours and to the ones they grew up with. There is something to be said for completely avoiding the environment or choosing an online alternative.

However, I recognize that there are situations or subjects where that isn’t sufficient. I wouldn’t go to a doctor who earned his medical degree online (I know; it’s not available) and that isn’t the only field where practical experience as well as working with other students and contact with particular teachers and environments may be necessary. If our children want a basic BA, the online world has expanded and made it possible to achieve in the comfort of our own home. But if they have a passion for a particular topic, that is unlikely to be satisfied through online offerings alone.

What then is our best strategy for success? The place to begin is to check out the Jewish life on campus. Is there kosher food? Are there regular services? Is there learning? Is there a community of students who care?

Kids need community; if they are totally alone they will flounder. No matter how smart or talented or independent they are, we cannot send them to colleges where there isn’t a thriving (if small) group of committed Jewish students.

They need support. We need to be there for them – as sounding boards for when the ideas of everyone around them close in and make them feel isolated and alone. We need to reinforce their perspective and support their position.

They need a strong foundation. The more we build their values and ideas before they go to college, the more firmly rooted their convictions are, the better they will withstand the forces around them.

And we need to pray. We should not ever underestimate its value. We are sending our relatively young children off into a relatively unsupervised situation and hoping they will swim rather than sink. Most do. But all of them (and all of us) need the Almighty’s help to do so.

It’s never easy letting go. And it’s even harder when you’re uncertain about the environment but we can’t spare our children all of life’s challenges and we need to pray that these are the ones that will build them rather than, God forbid, the opposite.