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Using My Daughter

February 1, 2015 | by Emuna Braverman

I’m annoyed at the people helping my special-needs daughter in order to build their resume.

Dear Emuna,

I have a daughter, Ariella, with special needs. I certainly believe that “to know her is to love her” but she is definitely high maintenance. Luckily the local high school sends girls over every afternoon to spend time with her and give me a little break, really an opportunity to cook and clean the house. While I appreciate all the girls who come, I’ve noticed something that disturbs me. Some of them seem to genuinely love my daughter and I see their joy in spending time with her. The others seem to be in it to add some community service to their resumes and this bothers me. My daughter is not a tool for resume-building. I want everyone to love her and appreciate her the way I do. Do you think there’s anything I should do about the situation?

Ariella’s Mom

Dear Involved Mom,

You raise some complex and important issues here. I’d like to answer your question first because it actually seems the easiest. No, I don’t think there’s anything you should do – or even could do, short of asking the girls whose motivation you find questionable not to come at all. If you do that, I think that both you and yes, even your daughter, will lose out.

People do mitzvot and acts of kindness for many different motivations. It’s very difficult to find or be someone whose motives are always pure and altruistic. That said, I understand that you don’t want your daughter to be the object for someone else’s mitzvah. There is a famous story told of the Bluzhover Rebbe. When he was elderly and ill, one of his students wanted to come visit him. “I want to do the mitzvah of visiting the sick,” he told his rebbe. “I don’t want to be the sacrifice for your mitzvah,” responded the rebbe. He was clearing suggesting that the student should come when his motives were kindness and caring, not brownie points.

On the other hand, there are two other Jewish ideas that militate against this. The first is the principle that giving leads to caring. Even if these girls don’t start out caring about Ariella, through the process of giving to her, week in and week out, they will come to care. It will develop into a real relationship.

The second principle is a similar idea from a different angle. Jewish tradition suggests that while we may start off doing something important and good for the wrong reason, as we get caught up in it, we will come to do it for the right reason. This too may happen with these helpful yet academically-minded girls.

It’s good that we are not mind readers. We probably wouldn’t want to see anyone’s true motivations for kindness, including our own. For now, I think you should enjoy the help, treat all the girls equally, and feel confident that, knowing Ariella as you do, the more time they spend with her, not only will the principle of “giving leads to caring” come into play but they will ultimately be as charmed by her as you.

Let It Go

Dear Emuna,

My husband did something very hurtful to me five years ago. He didn’t cheat on me or anything like that but he really hurt my feelings and caused me a lot of pain. He has apologized over and over again and tried to make it up to me in a million different ways. He has also worked on himself and grown and changed and I don’t think he would make that same mistake again. But I just can’t seem to move on. I keep re-experiencing the pain. What should I do?

Unhappy Wife

Dear Unhappy Wife,

I don’t know if you are familiar with the motto that “an unhappy wife is an unhappy life” but I’m guessing you are both living it right now. In this case the answer lies in an oh-so familiar Disney tune that encapsulates an idea that is based on Jewish tradition: “Let it go.” (This is the moment to burst into song.)

Holding on to the pain and resentment is a choice. For some reason, you prefer this to moving on. I don’t know you so I don’t know what psychological benefit you are getting from this but I can assure you that ultimately it is hurting you. Yes, your husband made a mistake. And it sounds like he also acknowledges that it was a serious one. But, just as the Almighty has empowered us to do teshuva (repent and return) when we make a mistake in our relationship with Him, so too can we do teshuva when we make a mistake in our marriage. Do you want to be constantly judged by the mistakes you have made?

In this case, your job is to emulate the Almighty and accept your husband’s regret and repentance. Stop punishing him any longer – because in punishing him you are also punishing yourself and hurting your marriage. You can be the martyr, the one who is right and be very lonely even in your marriage or you can let it go, forgive your husband and recapture your love and togetherness. The choice is yours – pain and resentment versus forgiveness, love and togetherness. It’s completely up to you.

Stay-At-Home Father, Frustrated Wife

Dear Emuna,

My husband has been unemployed for about 10 years now. He has acted as a stay-at-home father in many helpful ways while I have been the main breadwinner and I am grateful for that. But I think he has gotten too comfortable with the role and now, even as our children are older and not in need of full-time at-home parenting, he remains unemployed – and not even searching. This is really starting to bother me. I am tired and I feel resentful and unappreciated. I’m not even sure what he does all day. I need to see him be more productive if I am going to be able to maintain any respect for him. Do you have any ideas for me?

Working Wife

Dear Working Wife,

Wow, that’s a tough one. It’s hard on everyone when the terms of the deal are changed. Your husband has been playing one role for so long that it’s probably hard at this moment for him to imagine doing anything else. Also, after all this time, he’s probably not even sure what that “anything else” would be.

In order to have a little empathy, try to imagine the roles were reversed. Most of us certainly empathize with the challenges faced by women who want to return to the work force after having opted out to stay home and raise their children – no business network, lack of recent experience, lack of relevant information, lack of up-to-date training, lack of motivation, uncertainly about goals and focus. Your husband is probably confronting all those questions along with just being pulled down by the power of habit, the habit that has been to stay home.

As hard as it is for you, he probably needs your encouragement and support more now than ever. You need to have a (calm and friendly) conversation in which you communicate your need and desire for him to find employment. Then you need to try not to push but wait patiently for him to act and accomplish. If he is acting (sending out resumes, going for interviews etc.) and not accomplishing, he will need your support more than ever. (He may also benefit from a business coach). If he is not acting at all, then he probably needs professional help.

You need to communicate to him (again in a calm and friendly fashion) that the stakes are high and that seeking help is no longer a choice. In your prayers, ask the Almighty to give you both strength and patience, two important tools for success in your personal and your professional lives.

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