When They Don’t Grow With the Flow



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    When They Don’t Grow With the Flow

    We spoke to a group of brave and admirable mothers who told us of the bumpy and challenging upbringing of their children, who, after years of difficulties and moments of despair, have themselves become fruit-bearing trees  By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    Aluma Shemli, Beis Moshiach

    Who doesn’t pray for nachas from the children when lighting Shabbos candles?

    We raise them and work hard. We don’t sleep, we clean, cook, wash and shop. What do we ask for already? A bit of Chassidishe nachas!

    What happens when the sapling we planted, watered, cared for, hoed around, for which we placed supports, grows wild? Or maybe doesn’t grow wild but doesn’t flourish? Or maybe it becomes transplanted in some other garden …

    We have three wonderful mothers who share their hopes, fears, and the long road it took, when they didn’t know what the end would look like, until the beautiful growth, the nachas. All names and identifying information have been changed.

    First is Ahuva. She is happily married for a second time and is raising her children with joy and nachas. In the package deal of her marriage, she got her husband’s son from his first marriage, Eitan.

    Esther’s daughter Shaina, a good girl in every way, just didn’t connect.

    Finally, there’s Sarah who tells us about her son Menachem Mendel. As a young man he took a long and winding road, full of pitfalls until he found his way to serve Hashem with joy.

    BEGINNINGS

    Ahuva: The beginning was so sweet. Eitan was three and so cute! Sometimes, I felt that I was even more sensitive to him than his biological parents. I paid attention to his needs on a regular basis, to his frustration when I came to take the other children from school and he stayed because it wasn’t his day with us. There were so many things connected to him that seemed to me to be of importance and I insisted on them.

    When he grew older it became harder. First of all, when he came, he would ask endless questions about what happened when he wasn’t there. Where had we gone, what did the other children get … He didn’t exactly get along with everyone and he would argue about nonsense, was terribly competitive and he didn’t stop keeping track of things. What did I give him and her and when …

    Then the situation became catastrophic. When he was in sixth grade, he had a lot of freedom in his home. He would go out to play on the street for hours with irreligious kids and brought back unacceptable behavior. We began getting phone calls from school about his coarse language, chutzpa, inappropriate and immodest behavior. Parents complained that their children did not want to board the bus because of him.

    At home he knew not to do this in my vicinity but I would suddenly hear the little ones talking about soccer, the names of athletes … In my Chassidishe home?! It is very hard to change a child who is with you only two days a week and in his other house, everything is allowed. It reached a point where I would bring him to school on Wednesday morning and breathe a sigh of relief that we would have peace and quiet until the following Monday.

    Esther: How it all began … I can’t say that there was anything that wasn’t good. My Shaina was a good girl, really. Whatever the category, she would get a star. But that was the problem. We could check off the boxes but there was no chayus, no connection. There was nothing to complain about, she was good at home and at school, she learned well, got good marks, behaved nicely, but we are a family that is full of chayus with everything associated with the Rebbe, Moshiach and mivtzaim. She, however, did not connect at all. She was cold and in a “fanatical” family like ours, this really worried me. Why wasn’t she like her siblings who were full of chayus and Chassidishe warmth? How would she survive if she didn’t love and connect to everything she learned and farbrenged about in school?

    In the upper grades it was even harder. You need to invest more in your studying and the level of social-Chassidishe activity is altogether different. As for her? She did not connect to any of it but continued to do fine.

    Sarah: Menachem Mendel was a very social kid. From when he was little I went through a lot with him. He had quite an imagination. They would tell me that he lies but I always listened to whatever he said. He had a good class and despite this, he went off the derech with many other friends. He is among the few who came back. It is very painful.

    The day he left yeshiva he said to me, “The Rebbe is the Rebbe but I don’t feel that those who were chosen to work in yeshiva are his shluchim.” As a mother, I don’t want to speak about the teachers and rabbanim. It’s easy to blame the teachers and they do have a part in this, but my avoda is my avoda.

    He told me, “When a child gets older he is angry at G-d. He pictures G-d like his father, like his mother, like his rav. When he is angry at them he drops everything. If children would see that G-d is good, they won’t want to leave; and if they leave, they will want to return.”

    WHAT I WENT THROUGH

    Ahuva: It was really hard for me! Every time Eitan came to us, dealing with the outside influences that he was exposed to, preserving the purity of my home. Dealing with his pettiness and keeping track of things. Dealing with the tension with my husband who, on the one hand, had such compassion for him. On the other hand, he would also get angry and frustrated with all the spiritual garbage that Eitan brought to the house.

    It came to a point where I dreamed that his mother would decide to move abroad and take Eitan with her. Even for just a year, to get a break. What I asked for happened, but exactly the opposite from the way I wanted it. His mother actually decided to move abroad. My husband fought for his child to remain with us and he won. He gained custody over the boy who moved in with us on a permanent basis.

    What had I asked for already? Some rest from a child who was difficult to have two days a week. So I got him all the time …

    The moment I realized that what I had imagined wasn’t going to happen, G-d decided for me. That’s what would be and nothing was going to change. He would be living with us. I began to do the work and I continue with it until today. When I light Shabbos candles I ask G-d to give me love for this child, a special love which I don’t have, because I am not his mother and it’s hard for me with him.

    Slowly, I began to feel it, so that sometimes I feel that I have a new love that wasn’t there before. I know that love also comes from lots of giving. Sometimes, I am really pressured and have to operate mostly from a place of the mind when it’s not coming from the heart. Sometimes, he really makes me crazy and I stop for a second and imagine that he is my biological child and doing the same thing and only then do I react.

    Esther: I was terribly worried. I didn’t say a word to my daughter but I would write to the Rebbe a lot. I would dedicate to her all my merits from my job as a preschool teacher, from mivtzaim, from everything. For real, I have no merits left at this point because I gave it all for her.

    At some point I realized that first and foremost a girl needs to be connected to her parents. If, for example, a mother says to her daughter, “What?! At your age I loved giving out neshek and being a counselor in Tzivos Hashem! How can you not like it?” the girl will feel estranged from her and think, she doesn’t understand me. I am embarrassed to do it, so how does it help that she loved it?

    Being a role model doesn’t help either because you’re not connected. If the daughter sees her mother saying Chitas all the time, it doesn’t influence her. “My mother is from the previous generation. I respect her and love her but it doesn’t help me in my life. I’ll never attain her level.” But if the mother eats ice cream with her and plays games with her and they read joke books together and laugh, then she feels connected to her mother, closer to her. Then her mother’s personal example, in which she never missed a day of Chitas, is something she can relate to.

    Sarah: I loved him and listened to him, without conceding to him. I had rules for my house. I had no problem asking: Where are you going? When are you returning?

    I didn’t argue with him. Sometimes, I see mothers arguing and I tell them, “Don’t argue with them; they are experts in winning.”

    I did not allow his not-good friends to enter the house. He was a really handsome boy and he went out a lot and he knew that it couldn’t come into my house. I would listen to whatever he was going through. He shared everything with me. When it was important to him, I would travel to meet with whoever he wanted me to meet in town but they couldn’t come to the house.

    Each day I would ask the Rebbe for a bracha for him. I would travel to kivrei tzaddikim, to Rashbi, to daven for him. I would daven at the kever of his son, Rabbi Elozor, I would say, “You were also a troublemaker to your father. Daven for my son. Bless him.”

    I always gave him a lot. Even when he wanted jeans and awful t-shirts, I bought him expensive, quality ones. I wanted to show him that I would give to him and it made no difference where he was at. He would sometimes come home late, at two or three in the morning and I would wait up for him. The next day I had to get up for work but I would still make him food that he liked. Whenever they hang out they only drink and don’t really eat …

    THE NACHAS

    Ahuva: Today, it’s completely different. Boruch Hashem, our relationship is completely different. I won’t say Eitan’s yetzer hara died … He’s the same kid. But I see many, many things that I repeated and said and felt go in one ear and out the other – suddenly happening and becoming settled inside him. Now, his life is stable. He is in one home with clear rules. He is protected, loved, he is not constantly looking for what he may have missed out on when he wasn’t here because he is with us all the time.

    Our chinuch is different too because we include a lot of compassion and pity. He is a child like the rest of our children, for better or for worse. Today, he is a Chassidishe boy who learns nicely and davens and brings us lots of nachas!

    Esther: Today, she is the most infused and enthused of all of us. On every subject… It simply happened. I don’t even know how. Maybe all the prayers and all the merits and all the patience and love did it.

    Sarah: It took several years. He saw that I wasn’t breaking. He saw that I did not concede. One day, we went on a trip together to the Jordan Valley, he and I, my oldest daughter and a grandson. We were traveling on winding pathways and looking for the road and Waze wasn’t helping. Menachem Mendel said to me, “Turn here , now here,” and suddenly, I said to him, “Maybe you’ll put on tefillin?”

    He didn’t really want to but at some point before sunset he said, “If I had tefillin, I would put them on.” I said, “We happen to have in the trunk.” He put them on, there in nature, with his red pants. I have a picture of him. Amazing. Since then, he has only been moving onward and upward.

    When he went to yeshiva, he warned me not to expect anything. He wouldn’t wear a suit and hat! One Shabbos, we were guests near the yeshiva and on Thursday I arranged to meet him at the entrance to the yeshiva at a certain time. I was waiting for him and he didn’t come. I looked around and saw a Chassidishe bachur on the side, tall with a nice suit and hat. I was already starting to think about a shidduch … Then he turned around and I saw that it was my Menachem Mendel, looking so Chassidish.

    I never held anything back from him. Like if he wanted inappropriate clothes, I bought the most expensive kind. When he came back, I bought him the best suits and clothes. He tried telling me that the twenty dollar white shirt was fine but I decided it wasn’t.

    Obviously, when he wanted to start putting on four pairs of tefillin, I was happy to buy them despite the expense. After he married, he wrote me a letter. We came back from the Shabbos sheva brachos and I sat and cried and cried. He wrote, “Ima, if I were Rabbi Akiva, those words that he said to Rochel, I would say to you …”

    THE GENERATION OF GEULA

    Did knowing that we live in the generation of Geula and not four-five generations ago, affect how you handled things? Did it help?

    Ahuva: I think so. I think that in this generation there is a lot more awareness. Self-awareness and awareness of repercussions. Awareness of the extent that things that are small and seemingly unimportant in childhood, affect the adult years. Awareness that the inner voice of a child when he is small is what his parents tell him dozens of times and thought nobody was listening.

    Esther: How did it help me? Maybe it helped me in that I was waiting much more for Moshiach. Also, the connection with the Rebbe nowadays is far easier, more accessible, and this definitely helps one deal with the challenges.

    FOR WHAT ARE YOU GRATEFUL?

    Regarding the Geula it says, “I thank G-d for Your being angry with me.” In Yemos HaMoshiach people will say thank you for the hardships we underwent in galus. Then, we will see the good in them. Do you look back now and see things for which you can be grateful?

    Ahuva: I am really happy that Eitan remained with us, together – which is what I was so afraid about in the beginning. I am grateful for how hard it was for me to accept that, since in proportion to the difficulty has been the pleasant surprise for the good.

    Esther: To say thank you for that period of time? I’m not on that level yet … I would gladly have forgone it. What I see as good are all the good hachlatos, the merits that I amassed on her behalf, the tefillos, the Tehillim, writing to the Rebbe …

    Sarah: I thank Hashem that I always loved, always believed, always accepted him as he was and wasn’t ashamed of him. Friends would say to me, “We would have thrown him out of the house.” So perhaps I’m not normal but I know that this is what brought him home, with Hashem’s help.

    WITH WHOM WHO DO YOU SHARE THE NACHAS?

    Ahuva: I’m waiting to share it with Eitan, when he’s grown. Perhaps when he is married.

    Esther: I would really like to share the nachas with my older brother who is no longer with us, unfortunately. On difficult days I would call him and he would always reassure me, “You’ll see, Shaina is a Chassidishe girl! It will happen. Don’t worry.” Today, she is so Chassidish. If I could only call him and say, you were right.

    Sarah: My daughter is married and a shlucha. Menachem Mendel would go to her sometimes. Once, he even went on a Friday night, after Shabbos had begun, with guests and family seated at the Shabbos table. She always welcomed him graciously and with a lot of love. Also my son Shneur, who was with him and encouraged him when he first began coming back, when he joined Shneur’s yeshiva.

    MESSAGE FOR THOSE FACING THESE CHALLENGES

    Ahuva: First, to daven. Daven that you should love the child because this is not always a given. Also to try to understand that this child will eventually become an adult, he will always be part of your life, and he will become an amazing adult thanks to you! The moment that you understand that what you do now influences his future adulthood, that will help you relate to him differently.

    Esther: You invest so much into your little girl that she should be Chassidish, but it could well be that Hashem wants that not to be the case for now and has chosen a different course for her. In that case, everything I do and all the speeches I give won’t help, but I still need to do the maximum. The results are from Above and is no longer connected to me. It’s important to remember that we need tremendous Divine assistance, and not to think that if we do whatever we have to then we have a guarantee…

    Sarah: My message is to love them. Love without limits. Even if we go to 20,000 therapists – if we don’t love them, it won’t happen! Also, not to think about where did I go wrong. Rather, to think about what am I doing good, for him, for me, for the family.

    LAST WORD:

    Ahuva: Sometimes we are better off when Hashem doesn’t give us what we ask for.

    Esther: Between us, the bottom line is: Everything is siyata d’shmaya (heavenly assistance).

    Sarah: The homes need to be a happy one, the parents need to be smiling!

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