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The Girl's Family Situation Concerns Me

Sara Eisemann

Most importantly: is your son okay with this?

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

 

 

M

y son was just redt to a girl whose parents divorced when she was a toddler. She has no contact with her father (his choice), and her mother remarried around five years ago. Her stepsiblings are distant at best and possibly even hostile. It’s fair to say that if my son were to marry her, he wouldn’t have any family to speak of on her side. Our family is very close and connected, with a lot of love, laughter, and banter among the siblings. We treasure the time we spend as a family. I’ve heard really nice things about the girl, but the family situation really concerns me. Is this reason enough to say no?

Concerned

 

Dear Concerned,

Before I answer, I’d like to offer up an extra tefillah to HaKadosh Baruch Hu that my answer not cause undue pain to anyone reading it. This topic is loaded, beyond the obvious sensitivities, because it falls under the umbrella called “It’s not your fault, but it is your problem” (at least that’s what we call it in our house). It seems so unfair to hold something against someone when they had no say in it, especially when they’ve suffered so much already. 

This question also raises the larger issue of how much consideration to give to the peripherals of a shidduch, relative to the merits of the actual person. This is something we’ve discussed in connection to other scenarios such as controlling in-laws, mental-health issues, marrying into a different social class, etc. The answer is the same as it always is. 

Step one: Acknowledge the reality. Yes, this really is going on in their family. I recently came across a quote so genius in its simplicity: “When someone shows you who they are — believe them the first time” (Maya Angelou). 

We love to second-guess ourselves even when the gift of intuition that Hashem gave us tells us that something isn’t right. We excuse and “farenfer” when we actually already know all we need to know. So the first step in deliberating these dilemmas is to acknowledge the reality. Believe this family when their behavior screams distance, disconnect, and possible hostility.

Step two: Acknowledge that yes, it makes a difference. It matters if your only siblings in the world don’t show up to your simchahs. It matters if you can’t go to your in-laws for Yom Tov because his kids don’t want you there. It hurts. And it will affect your life.

So, finally, you’re left with the ultimate question: Should I try anyway?

And that is where the real work begins.

There are so many factors to consider. How did this trauma affect the young woman? Notice I don’t wonder if there was trauma associated with early childhood abandonment and later rejection by siblings. I work with the assumption that events of this magnitude at crucial developmental phases will result in trauma. What I don’t purport to know is the impact it had, what supports were available to her, what her inborn resilience is like, etc. See what I did there? 

Do you know why the couple divorced? The reason for the divorce might provide information that continues to be relevant, even to the girl’s current functioning. 

These are both crucial pieces of research that you must do. It’s tough because you have to find people who speak and understand this language. 

The next consideration is the elasticity of the members involved. Is there any desire on the part of the family to repair and build the relationship? You don’t give any indication as such, but it’s worth exploring. You may want to find someone who can ask family members some direct questions for you. 

None of us has the right to judge the pain of a child when their parent remarries. And it’s extremely normal for children to resent the new child coming in. In healthy individuals, however, people do not remain stuck at the age of the trauma. As they evolve and develop into healthy adults, they may gain insight into the hurts of their past, and they’re able to observe those hurts more objectively. They can say, “I’m no longer 14 years old. I’m a grown adult with my own family and my own life. This person is no longer a threat to me.” In the absence of this sort of growth, there’s little hope of healthy functioning as a family.

And the most important consideration: is your son okay with this? As much as he values the bond with his own family, does he need that from her family? Would it be okay if only his siblings came to his simchahs? Is he emotionally healthy enough to not get sucked in if this turns out to be a toxic situation?

Let’s be honest, with all this to consider, sometimes it feels easier to just say, “Forget about it. Who needs the hassle?”  Maybe your son does. Maybe he could use a girl that has been through tough times and has come out a shining star. He might find a girl that learned resilience, inner strength, and an ability to stay calm and centered in times of stress. Most importantly, he might find a girl who has learned early on to rely deeply on Hashem, because people may disappoint. Sometimes the deepest pain yields the most beautiful humans. 

Hatzlachah,

Sara

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 629. Sara Eisemann, LMSW, ACSW, is a licensed social worker and a dating mentor. She lectures on topics related to relationships, personal development, authenticity, and growth. She welcomes questions, comments, feedback, and interaction at matchquest@mishpacha.com

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