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Lifelines: Monkey in the Middle

C. Saphir

The psychologist turned to us and said, “It’s one of two things. Either your son has spina bifida, or there are problems in your marriage”

Thursday, December 08, 2016


THE LAST STRAW “If you don’t keep our rules, you can’t live in this house!” Shimon yelled at him one memorable day, when Zevy was 16. “You come home by 11, or you’re outta here!” Zevy left the house that day and didn’t come back.

W e were sitting, my husband Shimon and I, with a child psychologist, discussing the problems our son Zevy was experiencing. At nine years old, he was still having accidents in cheder, and that caused him significant embarrassment and social rejection. On top of that, he was both brilliant and restless — a fatal combination, because he was bored and hyper in class.

After evaluating Zevy, the psychologist turned to us and said, “It’s one of two things. Either your son has spina bifida, or there are problems in your marriage.”

I went out of that meeting utterly devastated. Because he was so, so right. And not because Zevy had spina bifida.

We did have a big problem in our marriage: Shimon was excessively strict and controlling. Not only was he too tough with the kids, he also wanted me to be the one to say no to them. Instead of setting limits himself, he instructed me to crack down on them.

“There’s no nosh in this house during the week, period,” he’d tell me. Or, “The kids have to be inside before dark every day.” Or, “Tell the kids they can’t come out of bed no matter what.” He expected me to be his enforcer, and the more I tried to explain to him that his expectations were unreasonable, the more he dug in his heels.


“Kids need discipline!” he’d declare. “This isn’t a free-for-all!” I had to be the one to lay down the law with the kids and implement Abba’s diktats, because I was the one home with the kids most of the time. Besides, the last thing I wanted was to fight with my husband. I’d sooner fight with my kids — ask, cajole, beg, even scream — than ruin my shalom bayis.

That was how, for example, I found myself locking horns every day with Zevy — who was my most challenging child — over his insistence on tucking his tzitzis into his pants. Personally, I didn’t think it was something to get into a power struggle about, but Shimon was adamant that Zevy had to wear his tzitzis out.

After Zevy turned bar mitzvah, we went through a similar routine over the issue of wearing a hat and jacket to davening. Shimon insisted that Zevy absolutely could not daven without his hat and jacket, so I had the unenviable job of nagging Zevy about it.

“It’s too hot for a hat and jacket!” Zevy would argue.

“But Abba says you have to wear them!”

Shimon would then berate me for blaming the rules of the house on him. “You’re turning me into an ogre!” he’d complain. “Zevy doesn’t have to wear a hat and jacket because I said so, he has to do it because it’s the right thing to do!”

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