Dear Dr. Respler:
The letter from the husband lamenting his family’s difficulties brought on by his wife’s physical impairments (“For Better Or Worse – Or Bailing Out,” 1-11) brings back memories of my experience. I was the wife who one day found herself physically incapacitated and unable to do the simplest acts. I so appreciate the husband writing that he would not abandon his wife; it was the same reaction my husband had when I suggested he divorce me and find someone who was “whole.” I clearly remember the reactions of my children, 8 and 10 at the time, when it became very apparent to them that they would need to fulfill many more responsibilities than they ever had before.
My heart goes out to the wife, with whom I feel a close, empathetic bond. When I could not speak, my kids learned how to listen with their hearts. When my vision was reduced to the level of legally blind, they gained much practice reading – to me. When I could not feed myself, my kids learned great patience as they fed me slowly, so I wouldn’t choke. When I could not walk, they got an education on the meaning of accessibility.
When they went off to college, there wasn’t anything they could not do for themselves. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, decision-making, helping other students who needed help and knowing how to utilize their time efficiently had become second nature to them.
Before they left each came to say, “Thank you, Mom.” I had no clue as to why, after all these years of feeling that I was a burden to them, they were thanking me. Separately, they told me that they owed their self-confidence, sense of responsibility, ability to function under duress and deep understanding of compassion for those who are different to their home experience – and for that they were grateful to me. Grateful? I spent years feeling guilty of burdening them with my situation – and yet they were grateful to me!
So here’s my message to the wife: having been there and done that, I can say that there is nothing cheerful or exhilarating about being less than one wishes to be. Hashem works in mysterious ways. Your hubby seems to be a mensch; not all healthy women can boast of that.
My husband would always turn it around and ask if I would abandon him if the reverse had happened. Never! And as for your kids: they will more than likely grow and learn, and emulate the compassion your husband is showing. That isn’t bad.
Today I am blessed to have 10 grandchildren, all of whom are learning the lessons of gemilut chasadim from their parents. Thus, there is much to be grateful for. (With short-term memory loss, I don’t always remember what it is – but one of the 10 will remind me!)
What a beautiful letter! How disabled people and those around them handle the disabilities reflects the strength of family and friends. It sounds like you are blessed with an amazing husband and special children. While you have a nisayon, you are richer than many people due to your amazing family.
Your letter reinforces the research that I originally presented, namely that dealing effectively with a disabled parent creates a more sensitive and functional adult. Also, it appears that your home was emotionally stable. Your husband probably made sure that there was enough physical help in the home so that the children were not overburdened with chores at a young age. As they got older, it was normal to expect them to share the age-appropriate responsibilities of the home. That sharing of responsibility even applies to young children.
In parenting workshops, I encourage parents to assign Shabbos jobs to their two- and three-year-olds and to continue giving age-appropriate jobs to their children as they grow up. This means that an eight-year-old can help clear a table and carry out other tasks, but should not be expected to do all the laundry, cleaning and shopping.
I have adult clients who, at tender young ages, sometimes even six or eight, were expected to take care of things at home if one parent was ill. Many of these adults, feeling that their childhoods were robbed from them, are resentful of the healthy parent, who they feel abused them emotionally and physically – while showing little appreciation for their contributions to the homes. To your credit, it appears that your husband and you had realistic expectations that created healthy and happy adults. The fact that your children thanked you when they were grown indicates your continued emotional support to them despite your medical challenges.