Dear Emuna: Uprooting the Kids

August 22, 2013

8 min read


My husband’s dream job requires moving. My kids say we’re ruining their lives. Are we?

Dear Emuna,

A very exciting career opportunity has arisen for my husband. It is really his dream job and the financial benefits are amazing. The only problem is that it requires moving to another state and we have two children, a son and a daughter, in high school at this moment. They keep telling us that we will ruin their lives if we move now. Is that just typical adolescent hyperbole or is there some reality to their concerns?

Conflicted Mom

Dear Conflicted Mom,

Although I am generally dismissive of teenage exaggeration and their desperate pleas, in this case I think they may have a point. While “ruining their lives” is certainly a strong way to put it, they are in a particularly sensitive phase developmentally and it is a precarious time to move. Their friends are all-important to them and you will be wrenching them away from these crucial relationships. In addition, they will be thrown into an environment where there are already established friendships and cliques at a vulnerable time in their lives where it is extremely difficult to break in. It’s not life or death but it is a real trauma to them and I think there is a real risk of acting out, decreased interest in school and grades and just more pain for them.

On the other hand, sometimes life hands us tough choices and we have to try to roll with the punches. If your marriage could stand the commute, perhaps it’s better to have a longer distance relationship until your children finish high school. It depends on the child and the grade. If one of your children is entering his or her senior year, then maybe they could board with a friend for the last year. Maybe the child entering 10th grade (if such is the case) is more flexible.

You may end up with limited flexibility. Your husband may need the career advancement personally, professionally and financially. Your family may have to move and your children may be required to come with you, kicking and screaming.

If such is the case, be sensitive to their pain. Be empathic. Don’t treat it cavalierly or mouth platitudes about making new friends easily or the growth available. Better to throw in some perks to keep them focused and motivated – maybe a trip at vacation time back to see their old friends – and to ward off the sense of doom and gloom. Remember that adolescents live in the moment which to them, at this point, seems bleak. You need to be sensitive to this and work with it, not against it.

Pushed Out

Dear Emuna,

I am writing because I am so alone and scared. Although I have been married 15 years, we don't share our lives but we still live in the same house because we can't afford a divorce. My kids are now aged 13 and 14 and as I work long hours and my husband works from home, he spends more time with them. Now my kids, who have been my life, are stuck in my husband’s power struggle against me. They don’t really understand why we are divorcing and my husband is encouraging the relationship divide so that I am the one pushed out, and then he keeps the kids. I am so sad that the disrespect has gone so far. Can anyone suggest a way through this struggle?

Abandoned Mom

Dear Abandoned Mom,

I’m really sorry to hear about your situation and how it has deteriorated. I think that, on a practical level, you need to get some legal help to try to ensure, at the very least, shared custody before the situation gets any worse. It will also demonstrate to your husband that the status quo is unacceptable.

Does your husband have a mentor/teacher/rabbi that he trusts as a confidant and advisor? Perhaps he could be brought into the process. Your husband needs to understand that, although his goal is to hurt you and cause you pain, the ultimate losers in this scenario are the children. He has clearly lost perspective on this reality. Making the children pawns in the divorce and/or in any way putting them in the middle is extremely destructive to them. Hopefully, once this has been made clear, your husband will change his ways.

Don’t play his game. Try your best (I know it’s difficult) not to get into the power struggle or to badmouth him to your children. Take the higher road. Keep telling your children that you love them and continue to be there for them, whether they seem to want you there or not. It may be a rough road now but, please God, ultimately they’ll remember those messages . Focus on the long run, not the short term.

And finally, when you’re feeling truly alone, turn to the Almighty and ask for His help and His comfort. He’s always there waiting.

Since your last sentence was a general request for help, I’m reiterating it and opening it up for discussion. “Can anyone suggest a way through this struggle?”

Husband & Mother-in-Law

Dear Emuna,

What should the relationship look like between a husband and wife and how does that compare to the relationship between a married man and his mother?

I have a general idea, but I feel very confused right now. I had my second child almost four weeks ago and after struggling with my relationship with both my mother-in-law and my husband after my first child was born, feeling insufficient in meeting everyone's expectations, I feel like I need to have this clarified for me. I am starting to feel even worse than I did after my first and I am not sure what to do right now to help me and my family, as we cannot afford to pay someone for me to talk to about this.

Most of the emotions and self-doubts I am feeling right now would not be there if my mother-in-law was a little bit more encouraging, conveying that she believes in me as a mother. She is a very critical person and is very involved in our lives. My mother, unfortunately, is very far away and much less active in my life, although I wish it were different. Any advice from you is welcome.

Feeling Insufficient and Lost

Dear FIL,

I understand that you are having issues with your mother-in-law (an all-too-common phenomenon that deserves its own special column!) but are you really confused about the difference between a husband and wife and a married son and his mother?

Let’s start with a few basic principles. As the Talmud teaches, “A man doesn’t die except to his wife.” This is the deepest relationship you will form in your life. This is your most lasting relationship. The Talmud teaches that a husband and wife spend eternity with each other (not with your children, not with your parents – please take note!). This is the relationship where the most growth is available. It’s the relationship that teaches us about our ultimate unity with the Almighty. It is the most central relationship of our lives and it may require the most work. Even though our children are also tremendous effort, giving to our children is instinctive (if anything we sometimes have to hold back!) Giving to our spouses is not. We have to make a conscious choice. We have to step out of ourselves. But this is the relationship that really counts.

Secondly, your primary responsibility is to your immediate family – your husband and children. They need your full attention. They need a happy and confident wife and mother. If your mother-in-law dramatically interferes with your ability to fulfill your role appropriately, you need to pull back and limit contact with her until she agrees to be more considerate and to hold her tongue. Your family comes first. Of course, it would certainly be best if your husband could gently and lovingly explain to his mother the type of behavior and conversation that works in your home and establish some appropriate boundaries. It’s better not to frame it as a criticism of her but as a need of yours (this is a good marriage and parenting principle in general).

And what is the relationship of a married man and his mother? That’s complicated. The parameters in Jewish law are very limited but a loving son will of course be solicitous of his mother’s needs. Nevertheless, he needs to know and she needs to know that you come first. He needs to respect and she needs to respect the family’s boundaries. It’s a delicate balance but when a son gets married, he leaves his parent’s home and clings to his wife. The Torah describes it that way for a reason (see Genesis 2:24). Both mother and son need to accept that leaving and behave accordingly.

Everyone is afraid (and rightly so) of hurting their parents, but the irony is that more damage is done by allowing these situations to fester. If there is clarity about the roles and boundaries, it will actually be easier to let go of resentments and build and healthier and more pleasurable relationship with your mother-in-law.


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