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Bassi Gruen

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My daughter is twenty-two years old and has not yet started shidduchim. She says that marriage is a big commitment and she doesn’t feel ready. When I ask what would have to happen/change for her to feel ready, she has no idea. Marriage is a big commitment, and I don’t want to push her to do anything she doesn’t feel ready to do. However, she’s also getting older. We’ve had to turn down some excellent suggestions — most of those boys are now married. I don’t want her to wake up too late. What can I do?


Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker

It’s possible that your daughter’s concerns are those that are quite common among marriageable girls, and she simply needs validation and encouragement. Alternatively, there may be a deeper issue here. Let’s explore both options.

Shidduch-age girls often ask me, “How do I know if I’m ready?” To which I respond, “Innocent until proven guilty.” Meaning, we assume a shidduch-aged girl is ready to date unless there’s a specific reason why that isn’t the case. Girls do not wake up one day and suddenly feel ready, and there is no rite of passage to this stage of life.

Often, girls have a misconception that they should have a strong emotional desire to get married. While it is very positive and helpful if a girl feels this motivation to move on to a new, fuller sense of giving and sharing, many do not have this feeling until they meet a specific young man with whom they want to share their life. Before this happens, they will not be enthusiastic about the shidduch process or marriage. They often start shidduchim due to a certain social pressure (all their friends are dating) or because a suitable suggestion comes their way and prompts the beginning of their dating career.

If your daughter falls into this category, you should validate her position and encourage her to start dating with openness towards meeting someone whom she may want to marry. In order to empower her, I would give her a little “readiness homework” — things she can work on, but not need fully accomplish, that will help propel her towards dating.

Here are three areas to work on:

  1. Willingness to give to others – looking for chesed opportunities and developing emotional openness with friends and relatives.
  2. Willingness to receive – the ability to let other nurture her, and to receive a compliment graciously, allowing them to make her feel good.
  3. Ability to accept rejection – help her reach a point where if a boy says no to her, though it may be disappointing, she’ll realize that it’s not indicative of unworthiness and should not reduce her self-esteem. Give her the mantra, “It’s not rejection; it’s redirection,” Hashem leading her to the person who is ultimately suited for her.

But what about the second possibility, that your daughter has a deeper emotional block that is stopping her from moving to the next stage in life? There are a few possible obstacles that you may want to gently explore with her. It is crucial that she not sense any criticism or impatience as you discuss the issue with her.

You may want to ask if she prefers to discuss the issue with a close relative, kallah teacher, rebbetzin, or even a complete stranger who is psychologically insightful. Don’t be offended if she chooses not to discuss this with you; such a reaction is quite normal.

What are the possible emotional blocks?

  1. She may be afraid of the magnitude of the decision. A frum young girl often has no precedence of independent decisions of such great proportion.
  2. She may have some emotional baggage regarding marriage. Has she seen bad marriages? Watched a messy broken engagement or divorce?
  3. She may be afraid of emotional closeness, possibly because of the culture of her home or the nature of her personality is not one where that encourages open expression.
  4. Perhaps she is suffering from low self-esteem and is afraid of her vulnerabilities being exposed in the context of marriage
  5. As a tzanua girl, she may be she afraid of contact with a man
  6. She may be afraid of the responsibly and commitment that marriage entails

Some girls are very contemplative or are cautious people and therefore the topic may be causing them more stress than their more carefree peers.

If she doesn’t want to discuss the situation with anyone, that in itself may be an indication of a deeper issue, and this inability to open up will likely affect her connection with a potential husband. If that’s the case, or if any of the above issue turn out to be an insurmountable obstacle, professional intervention may be recommended.

One last hashkafic point we should all keep in mind. One of the applications of bitachon in shidduchim is accepting the fact that the ideal time that Hashem has in mind for a girl to get married may be different than her ideal time. This usually manifests in situations where a girl dreams of marrying at nineteen and must wait until an older age. Occasionally, the opposite is true; the girl may ideally want to wait, while Hashem sends her a wonderfully suited person at a younger age.

Though we live with the illusion that we are writing the script of our life story, we need to remember that Hashem is the ultimate Scriptwriter and we must leave room for Him to lead us towards our happiness.

Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker is a veteran teacher in Michlalah Jerusalem College and lectures in various other seminaries. She also has a phone service through which she counsels the alumni of Michlalah in matters of shidduchim and marriage.


Rabbi Dovid Hochberg

Your question is fairly common, and although it seems pretty straightforward, there are many layers beneath the surface. On the one hand, if your daughter says she isn’t ready for marriage and you don’t want to push her, then why are you so concerned? You simply need to wait until she is ready. Yet, your question of “What can I do?” implies that you aren’t content to wait.

As I read your question, I get the impression that you’re not asking whether you should encourage her, but rather how you should encourage her. Therefore, please permit me to present the question I believe you are really posing: The clock is ticking and I’m worried about my daughter. How can I help her get married even though she says she isn’t ready yet?

There are many answers to this question and I am confident that the other columnists will offer some practical suggestions and techniques that might help motivate your daughter to date. You may even have some motivational ideas of your own. However, I would like to address the deeper aspect of your question, the aspect that is troubling you to ask this question in the first place.

Please forgive me for what I am about to say — I don’t mean to be unkind —.but isn’t it ironic that although you believe your daughter is ready to face all the responsibilities and decisions of marriage, you still don’t believe that she is capable of deciding when she ready to get married!

So what is driving you to encourage her to get married even though she says she isn’t ready?

Perhaps the truth lies in your answers to the following questions: Why are you so uncomfortable with her waiting to get married? What insecurities, fears, or judgments are being brought to the surface when your daughter insists she is not yet ready to date?

We all grapple with this on some level. Our adult children frequently do things that bring out our own issues and insecurities. Our challenge is to recognize them and do our best to work on them.

Perhaps you are worried that your daughter is making poor decisions, or that others may judge you if she isn’t dating. People may say that you aren’t taking care of your daughter, or worse, they may think there is something wrong with her or with you. Perhaps you are afraid that the good boys will already be married by the time she is ready and she’ll have to settle. Maybe you are feeling pressure from other family members or perhaps deep down you don’t trust your daughter’s judgment. There are many possibilities.

These are difficult questions to honestly face, but your answers will reveal the reasons why it is so hard for you to accept that your daughter isn’t ready yet to get married. Your daughter may have her own issues about marriage, but the issue in front of you is not how to motivate her; it is facing yourself and your own struggles.

May Hashem provide you and your daughter with great clarity and strength and may you experience much mazel and nachas in your lives.

Rabbi Dovid Hochberg LCSW-C is the Director of the Maryland Counseling Network and a sought-after psychotherapist. He has published and lectured extensively on mental health, marriage, parenting, and relationship issues and is the author of The Jewish Teen’s Survival Guide.


Dr. Aviva Weisbord

Having adult children living at home presents a new set of challenges for parents. We don’t want to “push”; we want to respect their adulthood and encourage their capacity to make their own decisions and follow their own path. At the same time, we don’t abdicate our roles as parents and we can’t stand by when we see a serious issue that isn’t being handled.

If your daughter had stomach pain and you were pretty sure that it was appendicitis, would you wait for her to figure that out? You’d make sure she got to a doctor pronto, even if she tells you she’s “not ready yet.” Built into the nature of a young woman is the desire to connect with her other half and to begin building a life with him. If your daughter insists that she’s not ready, we have to respect those feelings, yet simultaneously give some direction just in case she does, indeed, have “appendicitis.”

There are many possibilities for her hesitation, ranging from the rather mild to the more serious. She may fear commitment (have there been any divorces in the past year or two within the family or among her friends?); she may be afraid of; she simply may feel unprepared to assume the burdens of caring for a husband and a home; she might feel she’s not “good enough” and no one will choose her, so rather than be rejected, she just refuses to go out. Whatever the source of her hesitation, your task is to make sure she deals with the issue.

You can be very frank with your daughter and share your hesitation to press her. Tell her that you recognize that she’s an adult and that you’re therefore speaking to her adult-to-adult, just as you would to a very close friend or relative. She needs assistance — now — to come to grips with her avoidance.

Don’t ask any questions, although I think the way you asked her what would have to change was masterful — not a hint of nagging! Just state your case: “My dear daughter, I see a special young woman, with outstanding middos and qualities, who is limiting her life because of some fear or worry. My job is to help you realize that this can be dealt with and you can take care of it.”

It’s important that you make it clear that this is not about you or your wish to see her married. This is about her and your fervent wish for her to move forward with her life. You can offer to come with her to an initial meeting with a rav or therapist, and certainly offer to share the cost or cover it. The only thing not acceptable is doing nothing to improve a situation that has the potential to keep your daughter from living a full and fulfilled life. HaKadosh Baruch Hu should grant you the strength and the chochmah to help your daughter on her way.

Dr. Aviva Weisbord is a licensed psychologist who was in private practice for over twenty-five years. She is the executive director of Shemesh, a Baltimore-based organization that provides resources, support, and advocacy for children with learning differences. Dr. Weisbord regularly writes and lectures about issues affecting the frum community, with a particular focus on marriage and family.

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