Dear Emuna,

My 20-year-old daughter essentially divorced us. She got a job, moved out and is living the life she wasn’t allowed to in her early years.

We are heartbroken and terribly worried for her future. How can I show her love if she doesn’t want us in her new life? And more importantly, how can I survive this for the sake of my other three kids and marriage

Dear Heartbroken,

I am sorry to hear about your painful situation. Nothing is fool-proof, but with children, there are two basic strategies. The first is prayer. Beg, cry plead – speak out your pain to the Almighty. King David teaches us in Psalms that the Almighty is close to the broken-hearted.

The second strategy is love. Your daughter needs to feel that whatever her current feelings toward you are, your love is unconditional and unchanging. She needs to know that no matter what, she can always come home.

I heard a story once about a teenage girl who ran away from home (her father related it many years later), screaming at her father, "I hate you! I hate you!" Her father, amidst great pain and anxiety, was able to remain calm and responded, "But I love you more. And the door will always be open to you." When things didn't work out as she anticipated, she had a place to return to – and she did.

Not only does your 20-year-old daughter need to know that the door is always open, but your other children need to know that as well. You don't want them to be afraid that they could do or say something that would, God forbid, deny them your love and support.

Although your heart is breaking, stay strong and do your best to "get a grip." Plaster on a smile and give constant love and encouragement to your kids and your husband. If you have time, find others in need to help as well. In addition to actually being of benefit to those you assist, it will give you perspective and take you out of yourself.

And we end where we began. Pour out your heart to the Almighty and ask for His help. He wants to unite parents with their children in the same way that He wants to unite His children the Jewish people, with Him, our Father in Heaven.

-- Emuna

No Bris for New Nephew

Dear Emuna, 

My only sister is married to a Gentile and lives in France. She recently had a baby boy and despite my best efforts, I was not able to convince her to give him a bris – or even to circumcise him. She said, "Nobody here circumcises their babies, not even Jews." I am heartbroken over this. She refuses to talk about it with me anymore. I pray daily that he will have a proper bris.

My family is spending a week in August with her family. I'm excited to meet my new nephew, but sad at the same time. My question to you is: During that week, should I try another angle to persuade her that he should have a bris? Or should I just accept it and love my nephew the way he is, even though he is not part of the covenant?

Dear Loving Sister,

I can really empathize with your pain over the situation – and your sense of frustration and helplessness.

I think the complicated state for Jews in France today makes this situation even harder to resolve. Not living there ourselves, it's hard to imagine how they feel.

I would NOT bring up the topic in August. This is a visit to enjoy family and, because of your sister's resistance, it is a topic that needs to be addressed delicately and slowly.

Of course you should still love your nephew! He is still the Almighty's precious creation and he is a Jew. And while not ideal, he can choose to become part of the covenant later in life. Many Jews from the former Soviet Union or baalei teshuvah have made that decision.

In fact, your job is to be accepting and loving, to model a kind, thoughtful Jewish family. It is your example (and not your words) that may possibly lead him to explore his heritage more deeply in the future and to make the choice that you so desire.

Any communication of judgment or lack of acceptance will have the opposite effect. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough. Act normally. Be kind and caring.

And finally, please follow the same advice I gave the previous writer. Pray. Express your pain, concerns and caring to the Almighty. Ask Him to help bring your nephew home to his people.

-- Emuna

Good Friends or Good Teacher?

Dear Emuna,

I have to make a decision about which class to put my 6-year-old daughter in next year. There is one class with a great teacher, but the children are not the ideal friends for her. In the other class, the teacher is so-so but the kids are terrific. Which is the priority?

-- Anxious Parent

Dear Anxious Parent (and what parent isn’t?),

Choosing schools and choosing classrooms are definitely anxiety-provoking experiences for parents. So much seems to ride on each choice. I’m here to tell you that it really doesn’t. While we still need to choose wisely and thoughtfully, these choices don’t need to be permanent. Both schools and classrooms can be changed (although not too often).

Additionally, an inept teacher or a less than ideal group of kids is unlike to be a source of lifelong trauma for a 6-year-old. (I am assuming your daughter will not be the victim of a queen bully.) Their friendships are still superficial; their deeper relationships won’t come until much later in life. And except in extreme circumstances, a bad teacher isn’t the end of the world. There are character lessons to be gleaned from such an experience.

School will never be perfect; it will always fall short of the fantasies of warmth and caring and appreciation and education (!) that we would like for our children. Even if we created our own school, we would need a separate one for each of our children to satisfy their particular needs.

That said, we do want to try to create the best learning environment possible and we’d like our child to have a positive experience. So how do we choose?

I believe that, at this young age, the teacher is more important than the peers. As mentioned, their friends are not a stable factor now. They will be constantly evolving and shifting, probably up until high school when relationships seem to solidify. This assumes, obviously, that the children in the “good” teacher’s class are not actually bad, destructive or troubled kids.

Our children’s minds are like sponges in the early years. This is their chance to soak up a tremendous amount of knowledge, and a talented and caring teacher can make all the difference.

Good luck with your decision.

-- Emuna