A mother and father living in accord and harmony is one of the best presents that can be granted to a child. Yet what happens when G-d’s natural design of child rearing becomes stripped away from a family? What happens when the notion of enjoying quality time with both parents together becomes non-existent? I am of course referring to the ramifications of divorce. Divorce eradicates the stability of a traditional family unit and invites the inherent difficulties of single parenting.
Single parenting is the divorcee’s proverbial Mount Everest. It is a harrowing peak through which one is expected to perspire and blunder. The obstacles of single parenthood manifest themselves in almost every parent-child interaction. These obstacles range from the significantly personal to the mundane. A “significantly personal” dilemma might be the single parent’s responsibility to address his/her child’s emotional state in wake of the divorce, while a “mundane” dilemma might include awkward situations such as a single father needing to take his young daughter to the restroom. In almost all regards, single parenthood can be distinctly challenging and lonesome.
Yet, not only is the divorcee confronted with the hardships of single parenthood, but also with the solitary road that divorce often paves. The divorcee is faced with a sense of isolation as his or her spouse becomes more of a memory than a reality. The Torah explicitly conveys the drawbacks of loneliness when it states: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Interestingly, the aforementioned pasuk is the only instance when the Torah states what is considered “not good” for man. Why is that so? Why does the Torah feel it is essential to specify that loneliness is a state of being that man should strongly resist? It is simply because loneliness breeds emotional fatigue and frigidity, and subsequently these negative sentiments can create a deep chasm of despair and hopelessness. When people are lonely, it is quite simple for them to slip into that chasm – yet very difficult for them to climb out. There is little else in the world that is worse than the pain of being alone.
In addition, when loneliness crawls into a person’s life, it can make daily vicissitudes and life-changing struggles seem even more unbearable. An individual who is fortunate to have a caring spouse has a greater chance of smoothing over life’s cracked edges. Having a dedicated and loving partner by one’s side can assuage the various frustrations of life. There are scientific studies that record a patient’s chance for survival (from cancer and other serious illnesses) based upon his or her relationship with a partner (or lack thereof). The results of these studies portray that those who had a strong spousal relationship had a greater chance of healing, while those who did not have a strong spousal bond had a lesser chance. The burden of a divorcee’s financial and parental responsibilities, as well as his or her emotional needs, can be particularly despondent paths to traverse alone.
Furthermore, Orthodox divorcees have the added test of maintaining a sense of stability and joy during Shabbat and the holidays. These are opportune times to rekindle familial unity and happiness, yet what does a divorcee do when he or she is faced with the prospect of solitude instead of companionship? Moreover, lack of family bonding does not only create desolation for divorcees, but also for their children. Children from an observant divorced home may become saddened by the break in traditional religious practices that were once associated with family connection. For example, when a son is by his mother for Shabbat, he may sorely miss his father’s Kiddush or walk to the synagogue, and when a daughter is by her father for Shabbat she may yearn for the special moment when she lights candles with her mother. Although Shabbat and the holidays can be potentially exciting, they are usually tinged with a distinct sense of loss for divorcees and their children.
Now that the Orthodox community is more cognizant of divorcees’ travails, what can it do to ease their transition between marriage and separation? How can the community ameliorate the divorcee’s adversities and console his or her pain? First and foremost, the Orthodox community should endeavor to embrace divorced members with warmth. Unfortunately, a divorcee’s solitude is only intensified when the community subtly castigates him or her by passing judgment (whether consciously or unconsciously). Once the community is able to develop a more accepting mindset, then it can fully open its hearts and homes to divorced individuals. A divorcee will truly appreciate it when a family willingly invites him or her to partake in Shabbat meals and holiday festivities. The loneliness will be diminished, and a sense of belonging can enter the picture once again.