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Paving Their Own Path

C.B. Gavant

Even if we don’t admit it, most of us hope that our children will follow in our hashkafic footsteps. So it can come as a big surprise when a kid goes off the family derech, choosing to move down — or up — the Yiddishkeit ladder.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

“I remember ironing my son’s shirts the night before he entered high school,” says Suri Heller.* “I was davening, ‘Please, Hashem, may I always be zocheh to iron his white shirts.’ Five years later, I canlaugh at myself. Dovid* is not wearing white shirts, nor any kind of button-down shirts, and there are plenty of other things he’s questioning too.”

Today, Suri’s nineteen-year-old son is living at home and working in construction. Though the high-school years were a nightmare for the family, they are now able to accept that Dovid is no longer the black-hatted yeshivah bochur he was at thirteen. “Is my son where I want him to be?” Suri asks. “No. But I’m in a much better place than I used to be — the anguish is not there anymore.”

Suri traveled a long road to get to where she is now, to a place of acceptance that Dovid, like many of his peers, is less observant than the rest of the family. She is not alone in her travels. In our society, when many kids are moving down — or up — the Yiddishkeit ladder, parents are often faced with a child who looks and acts vastly different from their original expectations of him or her. How do parents deal with this challenging situation, and how do they keep their family ties strong, despite the obvious differences?

 

Great Expectations

“When a child picks his own derech, it’s probably one of the most painful things a parent can experience,” says Toby Levy, a family, couples, and individual therapist in Yerushalayim. “The parents often feel like their whole derech is being rejected, that their parenting method is being discarded.”

After putting so much effort into our children, we naturally expect that our children will follow in our path — and when they don’t, it can be quite a rude awakening. “It was like a bucket of cold water in my face,” says Leah Reiter,* who has two children traveling a less yeshivish path than her own. Although Leah’s sons were raised in the Israeli cheder system, they both changed their mode of dress and found jobs, one as an artist and the other as a restaurant owner. “First I was very disappointed, and I blamed myself. It required a lot of growing up on my part to realize that my children are independent people with independent personalities who are going to make their own choices.”

The healing process took some time for the Hellers, too. Suri relates that at one point in Dovid’s journey, she and her husband were speaking to their rav, who told them, “I just want you to know that this is not your fault. It’s not about you.”

“It was an epiphany,” she says. “Until then, we kept on saying, ‘What’s the matter with us? Where did we go wrong?’ We needed to learn the right thing to do, but we didn’t need to take it personally. Once I realized that, my healing process began.”

If you’re less tied to your hashkafah, the changes can be easier to handle. “My children were brought up with an understanding that we wanted them to go in the derech of Hashem,” relates Becky Goldberg,* an out-of-town mother whose Bais Yaakov-educated daughter Rachel* became chassidish as a teenager.

When Rachel decided to keep chalav Yisrael and attend a chassidish seminary, the Goldbergs were surprised, but it didn’t rock the boat too much. “Each child has to find the approach that makes him or her feel happy with HaKadosh Baruch Hu,” says Becky. “My daughter liked the strict boundaries of the chassidish way of life, and she liked the idea of having a rebbe.

“Today, my daughter speaks fluent Yiddish and sends her kids to chassidish schools. It’s not the norm in our community, but I welcomed it with open arms.”

When Phyllis Sanders’* daughter switched lifestyles, it also didn’t cause a lot of anguish. But it did come as surprise. Phyllis raised her children in a Modern Orthodox community and today has chareidi grandchildren living in Kiryat Sefer. “My son-in-law was learning in yeshivah when he married my daughter, and we just assumed that he’d finish yeshivah and start working,” she recalls. “I’d grown up with the American dream of go to school, work hard, get a good job, and raise your family, so my son-in-law’s decision to become chareidi [and stay in long-term learning] was a shock. But we saw it was very important to them, so how could we be negative about it?”

 

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