Shared Spirit moderated by Rachel Stein / firstname.lastname@example.org
These are responses to the May 6 Shared Spirit column, in which a mother discussed her struggles with the rebelliousness of her oldest daughter and her fears about the negative influence on her two other daughters.
Your story — “Should I Show My Daughter the Door?” — is what my wife and I faced with our two boys.
We provided a textbook Jewish upbringing of our sons, but one converted to Christianity and married a Chinese wife and then a Brazilian. The other is agnostic, though still retaining slight tinges of Judaism.
The first son divorced his Chinese wife, then the Brazilian. The other divorced his Christian wife and married her friend, a flower child (who is very nice).
My wife and I do not curse and regret hearing others do it, but that is their choice. We understand that is their decision regarding how to express the inexpressible.
My wife, a converted Baptist, and I searched our hearts of hearts to see what we did wrong or did not do correctly.
We have resolved our conundrum by realizing that the boys were given tools for making decisions and chose what they felt was in their best interest.
Our sons did not eschew Judaism or G-d but chose different paths. We accept their choices, and they respect ours.
You should feel no remorse or self-incrimination over your daughter’s decision. You are of value by steadfastly following the dictates of your/our faith.
Your other two daughters will profit from your teaching and practices and from you as a role model, but in the end they will make their own lives.
I pray you have found peace within yourself and can continue to be a good Jewish mother.
You have been gifted a child, one of the most exalted gifts a person can receive. Is it possible that a limit exists on what a parent can and must do for a child?
Dear mother, you have a huge task in front of you. But that is what you accepted from the moment this baby was placed in your arms. You must try any and all possible means to keep Shira at home and part of your family.
When a child feels loved and supported, she can succeed in life. Additionally, sometimes the force of love will pull children back to the path that they rejected. One never knows, but there is always hope.
Perhaps Shira will benefit from additional therapy to help her reform her habits. Or maybe you can maneuver a conversation leading to a relationship with someone she respects and trusts — a mentor, teacher, rabbi, etc.
How about NCSY? Birthright? There are so many programs in place now to assist troubled teens. The question is not whether they exist, but how to navigate the sea of information to find the one that’s best for your child.
Please, Mom, I beg you. Do not close the door on your child. Love her. Care for her. Explain to your other daughters that Shira is going through a rough spot, but we’re a family, and families take care of one another. Years from now, I assure you, you won’t have any regrets from following this path.
Yes, this is one of the largest hurdles a parent can face. How can one possibly cast out a child?
Fortified with indomitable strength, resilience and holiness, our righteous ancestors Abraham and Sarah knew they were following G-d’s word when they sent their son Ishmael away. But how can you, a modern-day devoted parent, possibly find it within yourself to follow in their footsteps?
You wonder: Must I use tough love on one child for the benefit of my other girls? Your question quivers with poignancy and an incurable ache. The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding yes.
You bear a formidable responsibility to the two other precious souls residing in your household. These young girls need structure, normalcy, consistency. And they have the right to those commodities.
If a fire licked your home, would you hesitate to extinguish it? Even if it was coming from within?
Shira is on fire now. Her flames are dangerous, threatening the very foundation that you and your ex-husband labored to build and establish. For the good of your other children, Shira must go.
But wait. Simply because Shira is leaving doesn’t mean severing ties with her. Do keep in contact with her. Be available to help her whenever you can and show an interest in her life and well-being.
While one hand pushes her away, the other one should endeavor to pull her close. And through the haze of your tears, remember that her exodus doesn’t have to be a permanent solution. If she chooses to change and live within the parameters of your lifestyle, at least outwardly, which would demonstrate a modicum of respect, she can be welcomed back at any time.
There is a strong chance that Shira will be so consumed by anger at your perceived rejection that she will refuse to allow you entry into her life. Straighten your shoulders and tough it out.
Most of the time, children come back, though it may take time. But if she doesn’t, you know in your heart that you are doing your utmost to care for your other daughters. Saving two is better than losing three.
You can send her letters and gifts, be in touch by phone, do whatever you can to show you care.
And talk to her if she is willing to listen. Explain to her that you will always love her: She is your daughter, and nothing will ever change that. But you were advised to walk this route for the sake of your other children.
May you see great joy from every one of your children,
Rabbi Daniel Berman
Shared Spirit is a column in which people write in to share personal dilemmas. Readers are encouraged to assist by offering meaningful advice.