I recently heard that an acquaintance of mind got divorced for the 2nd time. The marriage had lasted a very short time, but I was not surprised. Her reason for getting married was flawed – she hated being single. She hated being a single parent even more. While I can understand her anxiety at being “normal” again, and wanting to “be like everybody else” those reasons tend to blind people to troubling characteristics of a prospective spouse.
Many years ago, I had the misfortune of being set up with a man who sounded just wonderful. He was highly educated, good-looking and a brilliant conversationalist. Over the phone he was easy to talk to and delightfully witty. He was even willing to fly to Toronto from New York to meet me! It became apparent to me, however, after spending some time with him, that he was a “toxin” on feet. Luckily I had the self-esteem to not allow this poisonous person to be a part of my life and my family’s.
What was it that gave me insight into what this “catch” was all about? A simple remark. Upon noticing my kids’ ice-skates and hockey sticks in the closet as I took out my coat, he asked me about their after school activities. I told him that they played ice hockey in a league that had been set up by shomer Shabbos parents and games were played on week day evenings. As we were talking, the boys were running around chasing one of their pet gerbils that had escaped from its cage. In answer to his unspoken question, I told him that my kids had several gerbils, an iguana and turtles. I personally could have done without these critters and the mess they make, but when the kids asked for pets, I acquiesced, feeling that taking care of dependent animals would teach them responsibility and compassion.
My date quickly informed me that if we ended up getting married, the boys would have to give up their hockey and other sports activities since it took time away from Torah learning. “But exercise enhances one’s ability to learn – it increases blood flow to the brain making you more alert” I pointed out to him, reminding him that he told me he jogged. Well jogging did clear his mind for Torah, he declared but playing hockey was a game and bitul z’man. As for the pets, being treif animals they did not belong in a Jewish home and I would have to get rid of them.
The only animal I got rid of was him.
The issue here isn’t whether Jews should own non-kosher pets or whether sports take way from limudei kodesh. The real point is that this “charming, educated man” was a control freak, a tyrant who gave no thought at all to the feelings or opinions of anybody else. He assumed that as the husband and “father” he was going to be the baal habayis, the master of the house, his word the household’s command.
The true issue here was that his view of marriage was a dictatorship.
Unfortunately for him – my view of marriage is that of a partnership. Both husband and wife should have equal say in running the household and any differences of opinions are to be discussed and resolved to both parties’ satisfaction. In terms of my own family’s dynamics the kids, as members of the household, were entitled to a voice and an opinion and had the right to choose activities and hobbies that gave them a creative or athletic outlet as long as it was within a halachic framework. How else can children grow up to be confident, frum and well-rounded individuals unless they are given the opportunity to think for themselves and partake in Hashem’s creations. Building snowmen and having a snowball fight can be a kiddush Hashem for a child – as is something as simple as petting a goat in a zoo.
Unfortunately there are many single parents in today’s heimishe community – due to an untimely death or divorce. Many are anxious to remarry and become part of the mainstream society. However, mothers and fathers who are dating have to be extra mindful of who they may be making a commitment to. The relationship a new spouse will have with ones’ children can either make them or break them as well adjusted future adults. Don’t let your anxiety to remarry make you vulnerable to “falling in” with a toxic person who will verbally if not physically abuse you and your children by being controlling, critical, hot-tempered or close-minded.
In my opinion, the ideal step-parent – especially when there are older children at home as opposed to infants and toddlers – should act like a loving aunt or uncle. Someone who has a deep interest in the child’s welfare and has a warm and generous relationship (in terms of attention given or time spent on activities), but who does not act like a parent. Gradually as the years go by and trust and love develops the step-parent – if invited by the child – can take a more hands on approach.
You not only owe it to yourself to not let your eagerness to remarry color your judgment. You owe it to your kids and their future well-being.
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