Homework not completed, no problem; bar mitzvah lessons missed, understandable. Even with failing grades, my stepchildren were permitted to advance in school, year after year. Treats, gifts, special day trips, free summer camp and rewards given but not earned were all part of everyday life for my stepchildren well into their teen years. Like most lessons learned in childhood, these “lessons” have stuck and shaped who they are today. These experiences have set the stage, trained and educated them. They are now faced with a tremendous struggle to “catch up” in order to develop into mature responsible adults.
It is a widely accepted “truth” that children of divorce will encounter hardship and difficulties in their lives. I do not deny that there is suffering and often lifelong challenges associated with being a child whose parents for one reason or another were unable to navigate the ups and downs associated with creating a peaceful loving home together. That being said, it is my opinion that more than the actual breakdown of their parents marriage, the attitudes and reactions post-divorce by everyone involved, including those on the peripheral of the situation, is what exacerbates the issues which can create serious long term problems for these children, problems that jeopardize the children’s ability to cope in the future.
Divorce rates are on the rise nationally including within the Orthodox community, albeit at a slightly lesser rate. Therefore it is no longer unusual for several children in a particular class to have separated, divorced or remarried parents. In the name of “chesed” will they all now get a “free pass”? Looking towards their future, would it not serve the child better to teach him or her coping skills that will assist him or her later on in life?
Obviously, it would be in the best interest of everyone if parents were able to put their differences aside for the sake of their children, and figure out a positive, productive way to co-parent them. Sadly, many divorced couples fall short of that goal, at least on the onset when everything is fresh and new. That is where those on the next tier of support have an opportunity to step up and help these children acquire the necessary tools they normally gain during childhood and adolescence. Regular, age-appropriate challenges and responsibilities, disappointments and personal accomplishments are the framework that allows children to gain the confidence and self esteem which are necessary to become successful adults.
If parents are able to meet their co-parenting responsibilities, the community at large will not see dysfunctional behavior that prompts the inappropriate amounts of chesed being deployed. If there is a need for chesed I challenge the givers to have a plan, to think long-term and not simply concern themselves with how the receiver feels in the moment.
If I could give the “teacher” some advice, I would suggest spending a few moments with the child before the school break discussing the assignment and explaining which portion of the assignment he would be responsible for should the circumstances at home be too overwhelming or too stressful for him to complete the entire workload. He would then be rewarded for meeting a goal based on his personal situation. He would still be held responsible for what he could reasonably be expected to accomplish, instead of a free ride. At some point the children have to embrace their new reality and move ahead in life regardless of the fact that their parents divorced; misguided and inappropriate degrees of chesed hinders their ability to do so.