Don’ts: • Don’t malign the other parent. • Don’t fight about the children in front of them; it will only increase their feelings of guilt. • Don’t use children as messengers or pawns of manipulation. • Don’t use children as spies. • Don’t use your children as therapists, sounding boards or confidantes. There are others in your life who can fill those roles.
Children and Divorce:
A Community Call to Arms
Making sure that children of divorce develop optimally is not just the responsibility of the divorcing parents. In the phrase made famous by Hillary Clinton, “It takes a village.” As more and more children from divorced homes fill our shuls and schools, educators and rabbis alike need to affirm their commitment to these children and to their spiritual, academic, social-emotional and behavioral growth.
I recently had an enlightening conversation with Rabbi Aaron Kotler of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood. Rabbi Kotler, who is exceptionally psychologically minded, spoke of how the Jewish home serves as the central vehicle for children to absorb the Jewish way of life. Children develop their sense of mores, values and practices through the delivery system of Jewish parenting and the Jewish family. If this system is disrupted via divorce, how do children develop the skills and confidence needed to perpetuate the Jewish way of life?
Rabbi Kotler says the “village” must step in with extra help for these children. He suggests that schools develop a protocol or management plan that can be general, utilizing a simple set of checklists, as well as tailor-made for each child. Each year the principal and the child’s teachers would meet to discuss the child and his or her specific needs, particularly pertaining to the divorce.
The plan for each child would incorporate variables such as gender, age, cognitive development and current family situation and may require simple steps such as ensuring that the child has someone to do homework with or to pray with on Shabbos. (At times, far more intensive set of interventions might be necessary.) The outcome of these discussions could then be reviewed with the family rabbi. This type of collaboration would ensure that the child is not on the “outs” in school and shul and that the broken home is reinforced by the community.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn, the noted maggid, talks passionately about children of divorce and community involvement. In his first invited address on this topic, given in May 2009 at an event co-sponsored by Ohel and the Task Force on Children and Families at Risk in the Orthodox Jewish Community, Rabbi Krohn gave out little cards with helpful suggestions on how to help children and parents, such as offering to take a 10-year old boy to shul or inviting a divorced parent and children for Shabbos lunch.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founder and director of Project YES and Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, has developed classes for women who are either divorced or widowed. Rabbi Horowitz even teaches women how to learn Mishnayos with their sons. This is an innovative concept that can be immeasurably helpful both for mothers and their sons, who otherwise might not have anyone to learn with each evening.
These rabbis, all progressive thinkers, have developed ideas that when implemented can truly make a difference in the lives of children of divorce. Our goal as a community is to foster this mindset in every rabbi, every mechanech and every inspirational speaker.
At Ohel we have been deeply involved in helping children of divorce for many years. And in light of the significant increase in the number of divorces, Ohel is providing many new services and programs to best meet the challenges and needs of such children. On Sunday, November 18, there will be a webinar for divorcing or divorced parents, family and friends titled “Don’t Let the Children Get Caught in the Middle” and on Monday, November 19, we will hold our second webinar for rabbis and educators titled “Reinforcing Anchors for Children of Divorce.”
Rabbi Reuven Fink, noted spiritual leader of Young Israel of New Rochelle, recently told me that “Rabbi Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik spoke about ‘mimetic Judaism,’ from the word ‘mimicking.’ Children mimic what they see. Parents act as role models for their children to mimic. If this is disrupted, what role models do children have to mimic?”