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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Blended Family’

The Ashkenazi – Sefardi Blend

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Sixteen years ago, when I married my husband, I did not give much thought to whether he was Askenazi or Sefardi. Having grown up in what was then a small close-knit Jewish community, it held little importance; my concerns were focused around whether or not my bashert (intended) was Jewish according to halacha, someone who was upstanding in both ideals and actions, and a man solidly committed to a Torah lifestyle.

In my hometown girls married boys from various ethnic backgrounds, many of who were born and even raised for most of their lives in foreign countries. So marrying a man of Moroccan heritage, who was actually born and raised in Brooklyn, did not seem the least bit unusual to me. In fact I felt that whatever cultural differences we had would add some flavor to our family and great new recipes to my file.

For all intents and purposes there was not much difference in our lifestyles. Our goals and dreams complimented one another. My husband was educated in typical main stream Ashkenazi yeshivot and attended popular yeshiva summer camps, while growing up in what was a primarily Ashkenazi community at that time.

Over the course of raising our family together I have made some changes that have helped me to feel more Sephardic – davening a bit differently, giving up my wig (and wearing other types of headcoverings) and cooking more traditional Sephardic foods for my family. Emotionally, for the females that find themselves in this same position, it may take some time to get used to no longer observing religious rituals she grew up with, and instead running her home according to the religious traditions of her husband.

For most families this is where the story might end. Two people from different backgrounds marry, and according to Jewish law follow the minhagim or customs, of the husband’s family. In fact there are even some mitzvot that are performed differently for Ashkenazim and Sefardim, but over time everyone adjusts. Keep in mind, that although religious customs may be observed paternally, there is so much more that goes into raising a family that most couples may choose to incorporate non-religious based traditions from both families.

For the blended family things can be a bit more complicated. What about the children from the wife’s first marriage when there is a “mixed” Sefardic/Ashkenaz second marriage? My children for instance were born Ashkenazi, as both my ex-husband and I are of European decent. His family may have had slightly different family rituals than mine, but the minhagim and halachot were the same for both.

After I married my second husband I now found myself following Sefardic laws and customs, but what about my children from my first marriage? Who do you even ask direction from: an Ashkenazi rabbi or a Sefardic one? Were we obligated to run our home and family honoring two sets of customs? I was concerned that it would hinder my plans to create one cohesive family unit for my blended family.

Fortunately the rabbeim we sought counsel from, both Sefardic and Ashekenaz, understood our concerns and felt that under our personal circumstances, where my children’s biological father had very limited interaction with the children and no participation in their upbringing and education, my children should be raised and educated in accordance with Sephardic customs.

As our blended family grew, my husband and I raised our motley crew according to Sephardic heritage, until one day my daughter from my first marriage met and married a nice Ashkenazi boy. As the custom goes, she now runs her home based on the customs of her husband’s family; she went back to her birth heritage. My husband and I gave little thought to this fact and were thrilled that the boy she was marrying was a ben Torah and raised in a loving home with wonderful parents.

As most of you can attest, by and large the tradition that prominently stands as being polar opposites between the two heritages is the custom of naming a baby. While Sefardic Jews name after the living – as a way of blessing for a long and healthy life – Ashkenazi Jews have the custom of naming after a relative who has passed away as a means of keeping the name and memory alive, and to honor the deceased.

Life Lessons

Friday, July 27th, 2012

I feel truly blessed these days. The experience of becoming a grandmother for the second time to a beautiful, and thank G-d, healthy baby girl is quite honestly indescribable.

I think back on my concerns before and during the time that my daughter was in the dating “parsha.” I dreaded the prospect and fretted about how she would be received having come from a broken home and a blended family. I prayed that I had raised her with enough confidence to face any challenges. Now I sit back and watch as my daughter and her husband nurture and raise their young girls, while at the same time expertly navigating their assortment of relatives.

My little granddaughters have three sets of grandparents and three sets of living great-grandparents. It is amazing how they are able to keep the “savtas,” “sabas,” “poppas,” “grandma and grandpa” and “bubby and zaidy” in order. These children are growing up watching their parents honor and respect their parents and grandparents no matter what role they play in their lives.

When my marriage broke down, my children and I went through “demolition” and “restructuring,” then, together with my husband and his two children, we went through blending and re-building. Now, years later, as the dust has finally settled, we are able to extend ourselves and encompass the very people who were once the opposing team, fighting our right to live and grow as a family.

That does not mean that there are not those occasional moments when past feeling and present reality seem to clash with one another.

Take for instance the birth of my new granddaughter. It was an amazing experience. I was honored to be a part of those moments with my daughter and son-in-law. I worked hard coaching my daughter through her labor. I kept in mind that as excited as I was to be there, this was also a private moment for my children to connect over the birth of their newest family member. I was cognizant of that fact and did my best to allow them their “space” emotionally, but to also take the opportunity to share this special time with my daughter.

We all bonded as the labor progressed, and my granddaughter was born naturally. The room was charged with that special euphoria saved for miracles. As my son-in-law and daughter welcomed their new daughter, I stood in awe of the greatness of Hashem. Then suddenly the spell was broken, my lovely daughter who had been raised by my husband for the past 16 years, turned emotionally to her husband and said, “I need to call my father.”

I knew immediately which father she meant and that it was not the man who took a young girl abandoned by her biological father at the age of 6, loved her unconditionally from the moment they met and helped raise her into the mature and capable woman she is today. She did not mean the man who walked her to the chuppah just a few short years before or who holds her two-year-old on his lap as he sings at our Shabbat table. No, she did not mean my husband, she meant my ex-husband.

Certainly from a non-emotional standpoint her actions were reasonable, even practical. She knew that I would immediately call my husband who had been checking in all night, begging to join us and waiting impatiently for the blessed news. Yet, when I heard the emotion in her voice as she requested her “father” be called, it was a “wow” moment for me.

I knew that over the last half year or so there had been more frequent contact between my daughter and her father. I just did not recognize how important that bond was for her. In the past I feared that closeness, as my ex-husband’s track record of hurting those close to him spoke for itself. But now things were different. My daughter, now an adult, had set the ground rules. She understood the risk she was taking and chose to take it. Maybe this time things would turn out differently. Maybe this time he was in a different place in his life; a place that could accommodate his own emotional needs without sacrificing the emotional needs of his daughter.

Above And Beyond The Court System

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

After my recent article about the difficult trials divorcing couples face within the court system (Family Issues 1-13-2012), especially when there are children involved, I received a heartfelt e-mail from a grandfather in tremendous pain over the demise of his son’s marriage and the subsequent custody battle over his beloved grandchild. He was concerned that his son would be portrayed to the court as incapable of caring for his young child due to recent debilitating health issues his son has unfortunately suffered. The grandfather felt conflicted over the fact that a beit din would not hear the custody concerns but instead a judge would hear the matter during a family court hearing. As an observant Jew he felt that going to a secular or civil court was not an acceptable option for his family. His daughter-in-law, who was seeking the divorce, felt differently and requested that the beit din only take responsibility for securing the get, the Jewish divorce decree, and subsequently appealed to the secular court system to deal with matters of custody, visitation and child support.

Unfortunately divorce is on the rise in the Jewish world. Sadly, each new day brings additional broken families. In fact, the average couple divorcing is no longer a shocking occurrence. I recall that when my marriage fell apart over sixteen years ago, due to what would now be considered “typical” circumstances, it bordered on scandalous in my small community. At that time I could count on one hand the number of divorcees I had ever come in contact with. Sadly, today that is not the case.

Shalom bayit, a peaceful and joyous home with a happy harmonious family is the dream of every new couple starting out. Sometimes that dream gets sidelined to such a degree that there is simply no other option except to divorce. There are even circumstances where a divorce is warranted according to halacha. When a relationship has broken down it can become toxic to the point that the individuals transgress the Torah laws that govern how one should treat his fellow Jew. Hashem’s precious Torah is all good, and allows for the possibility of the dissolution of a marriage – it even provides the necessary guidelines for divorce. There are appropriate steps that must be taken, laws that govern the proper way to give and to receive a get in order to retain the dignity, sanctity and holiness of the process and the respect for the parties involved.

Living in galut, as we all do these days, where we are governed by laws other than just halacha, there is often no choice but to utilize the family court system, in addition to beit din, to some degree in matters of divorce. Enforcing child support, parental rights and parenting time are but a few of the standard functions of the court system. In Israel the system is a bit different as the beit din is considered part and parcel of the legal apparatus and therefore the decision of a recognized beit din can be (but is not always) enforceable by law. In most places the results of beit din arbitrations are considered a form of mediation between the parties and are accepted in civil court; but judgments in child-custody cases are not necessarily binding until they are filed with the civil court system. Each court system, the beit din as well as the family court, is honest about their directive; they each claim to be to be looking out for the best interest of the child/children, yet their interpretations of what “the best interest” is may differ. The rabbinical court will often put greater emphasis on the spiritual well being of the child while the civil courts may see the religious upbringing as secondary to other concerns.

Entering into a civil court situation to decide on the “best interest of your child” is a scary reality that so many parents face today; you are to a certain degree handing over your right to make decisions for your family. Allowing others – people who may or may not understand your personal ideals, priorities and standard of religious beliefs – to make certain decisions that can radically change the course of your life. Taking that chance is essentially a roll of the dice; you never know the outcome until it is too late.

Parents who once shared hopes and dreams for their children now become the prosecution and the defense in family court. Each side fights for control in an attempt to protect what they feel are their “rights.” As difficult as it is for divorcing couples to agree on certain issues, if the opponents take a step back and honestly weigh their options, it would be hard for me to accept that they would choose to surrender control to a third party, and allow strangers to take the reins when deciding on the daily lives of our precious children. Understandably there will be conflict and compromises – and most certainly sacrifices – that would inevitably have to be made on both sides in order to provide the children with the continuity they deserve in order to grow up in a stable home environment, but isn’t it worth it?

Multi-Generation Blended Family

Friday, February 17th, 2012

My family is once again in transition. We are in the processes of evolving from your basic “blended family” to a “multi-generational blended family household.” As is often the case for those of us in our forties (and approaching 50), we have begun a new chapter – the one commonly known as the “sandwich generation.” At this stage we are “sandwiched” between raising our young children, while at the same time trying to help our parents as they age. Since many of us started building our own families while we were quite young, we now find ourselves providing support (financial or otherwise) to adult and or married children and grandchildren while still having younger children at home.

On a personal level, our daily lives currently revolve around our five minor children and one adult child living at home, an adult daughter living away from home, a married daughter and her family who live a block away from us and her newest additions; and my parents who recently moved in with us. Thankfully, my parents are physically well and have each other and therefore able to have their own apartment. Somehow though it seems surreal that fifteen years after moving away from them, they are now living in an apartment attached to our home and have become part of our extended household.

Multi-generational families are making a comeback these days. For some the choice is made out of necessity because of the unstable economy, for others it is due to the physical needs of either the younger generation or aging parents. And then sometimes the decision to live this way is out of a mutual desire to be full and present participants in extended family life. For us it was a combination of factors that brought us to this point. For as long as I can remember, my parents have talked about being able to live in Israel. Fortunately I married a “doer,” a man who takes action, overcomes obstacles and makes thing happen. Since my parents had a clear wish to make aliyah when my mother decided to retire, my husband undertook the challenge of helping them realize this dream. This was no easy task. My parents were living in the US; we live in Israel, and embarked on a yearlong construction project to make it a reality. Since my husband and I are of the belief that Israel is the homeland of all Jews, and that as Jews it is our obligation to come “home”, we view helping our parents to attain this goal as part of our commitment to “honor” our parents.

In their decision to relocate to Israel my parents could have chosen to move to a city with greater amenities than the small settlement my family and I live in. They could have chosen a more “Anglo” neighborhood, surrounded by people who would better understand their culture, their language and their philosophies. They could have lived in a city or a retirement community with people closer to their age. However, a major motivation for my parents is their desire to get to know their grandchildren. My children and my brother’s children have lived far from my parents for most of their lives. Since my brother moved to Israel before his first child was born, my parents, for the most part, played the role of visiting or simcha grandparents. My older children, born during my first marriage, had a close relationship with my parents up until the time I re-married and re-located, after which we visited, phoned and e-mailed – but it just wasn’t the same as seeing them daily. My parents, now retired, understand the important position they can play in our children’s lives and I feel blessed by their desire to embrace that role.

Change is difficult at any age but especially when you are older; moving to a new country could prove to be overwhelming. From a logistical standpoint living in close proximity to family members who are looking out for your best interest makes that transition so much easier. I suggested that if moving to Israel was what my parents wanted, the best scenario for all of us would be for them to live here with us. Yes, it will be work for me to balance all of my personal responsibilities; my husband, children, parents, home, and community obligations, but they understood that living far from us would cause additional stress and that I would not be as available to assist them. I felt that they could be reasonably happy here and did not want a situation where I would feel torn between my husband and children’s needs and my parents.

What I failed to consider in this new arrangement was the emotional affect it would have on all of us. For an entire year my husband and I spent every waking hour and many restless nights dealing with some phase of the move. My family suffered through the challenges of construction while attempting to retain some semblance of normalcy in our active home. We were so busy that my husband and I honestly did not even have a chance to consider the emotional impact. To my surprise, in the early hours before my parent’s arrival, my husband suddenly turned to me and simply said “I guess starting tomorrow our lives will be changed forever.” It was at precisely that moment that I became conscious of the fact that we had never actually talked about all of the ramifications of this decision. We never weighed the pros and cons or discussed how our children were going to react or how this was going to affect us as a couple. What was it going to be like living with my parents after all of these years? It was then that I felt an overwhelming affection for this man I married; I understood that his entering into my life allowed me to be able to do this for my dear parents. One of the first things that drew me to my husband was his sense of knowing what was “right.” When he believes in something he uses all of his strength and his determination to follow through and make it happen.

Courtroom Drama

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

There was a time when I thought we would never reach this stage. However, I can now say that we are “courtroom-drama free” – at least in regards to our blended family. The scars remain, the experiences no doubt have changed us, but the constant upheavals no longer control our daily lives.

After a recent conversation with a close friend, who is still in the midst of the madness and courtroom drama, I felt compelled to write in the hopes of giving chizuk – strength – to those like her who often wonder, “will this ever end?”

For those of us who have experienced divorce and remarriage involving children, the court system becomes a significant factor that must be considered while raising our family and making personal choices. The “system” with its very long “arm of the law” may step in and govern decisions – such as where the children go to school, where they can live, how much time a parent can legally spend with them, and the amount of child support owed – when parents cannot come to agreements themselves. The court can even decide which parent or guardian will be the party responsible for making the day-to-day decisions, which may include religious upbringing and medical issues.

There were times during the first decade plus of our marriage that I felt that my husband and I spoke more often with our attorney on any given day than with each other. Simply planning a family trip was grounds for being called into court. Switching “parenting time” to accommodate all of our children attending a family celebration needed to be “cleared” with the attorneys. Bad traffic that would result in returning the children later than usual on a wintery Sunday afternoon, after a Shabbat spent together, may have meant a call from a member of the police department questioning where we were and the reason for the delay.

Over the years there were small trips to court, to enforce our right to be included in the children’s educational concerns. There were longs days in court fighting for the “privilege” that allowed us to make aliyah which we view as our religious obligation and birthright.

There were months devoted to psychological evaluations by a very costly court appointed psychologist – twice, at different periods of the children’s development. Additionally, there were private evaluations by a therapist of our choosing, just to keep things balanced. I cannot even calculate the many miles we covered driving to and from these appointments to ensure that each family member involved was seen – in the hopes that the “bigger picture” would be taken into account. Countless hours and sleepless nights were spent wondering and worrying what the professionals may have seen; would it help our case or would it hurt our position? Would the therapist uncover what we had noticed? Only time would tell.

Sometimes we were involved with not one court case but two ongoing cases; same state, different counties. One of them involved my ex-husband and the other with my husband’s ex-wife. These battles left us depleted of time, energy and financial resources. I recall way too many evenings when my new husband and I spent reviewing court documents and attorney’s notes in order to keep each other up to speed and decide on our “game plan.” We would have certainly preferred to use that precious time at the start of our marriage dreaming of our life together instead.

There were court visits for “silly things” and court visits for life altering matters. Courtroom “lingo” became interwoven with our daily vocabulary. We could hardly believe that friends didn’t understand what giving a deposition entailed, or the proper format used when submitting a certification to court. Court appearances themselves were often grueling and stressful; there were days in court when I wondered if the judge believed the one sided accounts presented by our opposition. How can someone meet you in a courtroom after simply reviewing some paperwork and determine the type of person you are, what type of parent you are?

During one particularly difficult day the judge labeled me cold and unfeeling, based on my demeanor in the courtroom, when in fact I had walked in that day determined to keep my emotions in check. I thought becoming too emotional would have me viewed as weak or overly sensitive. I wanted to be careful not to be seen as playing on the sympathy of the court. Yet, my ex-husband, who was able to turn on the tears during his testimony, was praised for being sensitive and caring.

Friends, currently going through their personal courtroom drama, often ask how we made it through that difficult phase. I admit that it was difficult and seemed like it would never end. It takes a tremendous toll on the family, especially the children. No matters how we, as parents, try protecting them from the horror of it all, most children do pick up on the emotional stress and turmoil. When you are going through something so major and possibly life-changing as a family there is no way to keep it completely hidden. Often children’s “imagined truth” is far worse than the reality of a situation, so it is important to explain certain aspects in a way the children can accept and understand.

Tikun Olam

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Tikun Olam, “repairing the world” has become a modern day catch phrase. It appears to be everywhere from the yeshiva world, to Christian groups, used by even certifiable cult leaders and Kabbalah enthusiasts – both the respected ones and the phony ones. I have seen the term used in the mission statements of youth organizations and support groups from every range of the religious and not so religious spectrum. It has been used as the basis for shiurim on self improvement and devotion to community and G-d. The “holy” work of righting the wrongs of today’s society and finding ways to balance injustice seems endless and overwhelming on a personal level and as a public concern. Sometimes it is referred to as “paying it forward,” “random acts of kindness” or “one good deed begets another,” and although from a Torah prospective these are all considered different types of deeds, they all have the power to make the world a better place for you and me.

One thought that keeps coming to mind when I hear the term used, is the connection between the seemingly ever present “tikun olam” and the focal point of this column which is the blended family. For me, as I am sure for others in similar situations, my second marriage is proving to be the tikun for my personal world; it is setting right what had been wrong.

People who know me often wonder how it could be that throughout the entire eleven years of my first marriage I never fully grasped that I was in an abusive relationship. Certainly I recognized that there were “instances” that may be “viewed” as leaning towards abuse, but there always seemed to be an explanation, an excuse or an apology. It is something I find I am not fully comfortable discussing even today, sixteen plus years after the breakup of my marriage. My situation was one of those “gray areas” where there was not full blown physical or emotional abuse, nor was there extensive arguing or fighting, but there were manipulations, secrets, deceit, and occasional fits of anger that on more than one occasion became destructive.

It has taken me years to process that the words “abusive relationship” could even remotely describe a marriage I thought was loving, passionate and truthful. Even post-divorce I was singing the praises of my marriage that was; we were high-school sweethearts, we married young with only thoughts of a long and happy life together, we completed each other’s sentences and practically read each other’s minds. For all intents and purposes we were a perfect match.

It was only after my divorce that my eyes began to open. Hashem was good to me; He did not allow me to feel my own suffering until it was over. Only after receiving my get, my Jewish divorce, and without a husband to care for, did I have the time and wherewithal to educate myself and take a good look at my situation – with my blinders off – as I began my investigation into finding the truth. What I eventually uncovered is not really important, except suffice to say it helped me to find closure and to move on from what was and to try to establish a life with a spiritually healthier partner.

Although I feel I “got over” my ex before I met my husband, my personal healing only came about well after we were married. I believe the actually steps towards repairing or tikun occurred as our relationship matured and strengthened within our shared experiences.

Although I try not to compare the husband I had before to the one I have now, I cannot avoid seeing the glaring differences in my life; differences that have brought about my personal tikun.

Where I once had a husband who was explosive; I now have a husband who is calm.

Where I once had a husband who was abusive; I now have a husband who is protective.

Where I once had a husband who was a taker; I now have a husband who is a giver.

Where I once had a husband who was selfish; I now have a husband who is selfless.

Where I once had a husband who used his G-d given talents for evil and ill gains; I now have a husband who uses those same talents for good and to benefit others.

Where I once had a husband who was dishonest; I now have a husband who is truthful.

Where I once had a husband who served himself; I now have a husband who serves Hashem.

My second marriage, which I truly view as a gift from Hashem, has had the power to be a personal tikun for me. And I feel privileged knowing that our relationship has played a healing role for my husband in many ways as well.

Dead Beat Parents

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Certainly most of us have heard the term “deadbeat-dad” used in relation to fathers who fail to be financially responsible for their children. There is also another type of “deadbeat- parent” (I prefer to use the word parent in an effort to avoid gender bias and with the understanding that this phenomenon can occur with mothers as well), and the phrase is used to depict parents who are emotionally unavailable or inattentive to their children’s emotional needs after the breakdown of their marriage.

A “deadbeat” is defined as someone who does not pay his or her debt – a loafer or lazy person; in general someone who does not meet their responsibilities. Now, responsibilities come in many forms. Raising children is a costly endeavor and being financially dependable is one of the main concerns we parents have. So many hours are dedicated to securing the fiscal needs of our families. After a divorce when financial burdens are increased, and there are additional debts from attorney and court fees, as well as the cost of dividing up a household and starting over, making ends meet can be overwhelming. Today, our court system views a large part of parental responsibility as being financially accountable to your children and providing for their basic needs – food and shelter, education and healthcare. If a parent falls behind in his or her child support obligations there are consequences, and if a parent fulfills his/her monetary requirements they are praised for being “responsible” and “caring” parents.

Well, what about those parents who meet their legally set forth financial obligations but not the emotional needs of their children; parents who do not go the extra mile necessary to ensure their child’s wellbeing, both physically and emotionally? According to the “law” these people are defined as good and responsible parents simply because they have found a way to support their children’s basic humanistic needs.  However, we cannot overlook the harm being caused their children – harm which is not only damaging but long-lasting.

As Torah-observant Jews we must keep in mind that the Torah way of parenting is not to think of our children as possessions that we own and are free to do with as we please. They are special gifts on loan to us from Hashem, from G-d, and we are responsible to raise and care for them, with His help. This means that children cannot be divided up like other assets during a divorce. They cannot be sold like a house or traded in like a car. We are responsible for them from the moment they arrive and, hopefully, throughout the rest of our lives.

Being parents of a blended family my husband and I have had “real life” experience with my children from my first marriage and his children from his first marriage. I have seen parents struggle and fight to stay connected and involved in their children’s lives and succeed in maintaining the loving, warm relationship that should exist between parent and child. I have also seen parents who unfortunately do not take their responsibilities and obligations to their children seriously. Parents who caused more harm than good in their too few, half-hearted attempts to stay connected, parents who continue to put their own needs above those of their children.

Divorce can add an almost insurmountable challenge for the non-custodial parent trying to stay involved in raising his/her children. If you and your ex-spouse had differing parenting styles when you were married, chances are you are not going to agree on how to raise your children post-divorce either. When there is a lack of good communication with the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent can feel out of sync with their children, making involvement that much harder. For some, the challenge may seem so great that the non-custodial parent will simply give up and move on with their lives.  They would rather leave their children behind instead of patiently staying the course until emotions settle and new norms emerge which would allow them a greater ability to play some role in their children’s lives. Often standing back and taking on a lesser position is the answer rather than putting the children in the middle of a chaotic situation.

Ultimately there are consequences for the emotionally deadbeat parent just as there are for financially deadbeat parent.  In fact the consequences are often greater and more life altering.  I know that my children from my first marriage unfortunately have had a roller coaster relationship with their father since our divorce. Years of disillusionment, broken promises, undelivered gifts, missed visits and false hopes of a true relationship have taken their toll. I wonder after each disappointment how long it will be before my children begin to believe again that next time will be different; that next time he will actually come through. We all would like to trust that his intentions are good, but there is never any follow through on his part; he is just not able to give them what should be their birthright. Fortunately, they have grown from the process of learning how to deal with their father and maybe those lessons are the best gift he has been able to give them.

In my humble opinion, if you cannot be a positive force and partner in raising your children, at the very least pledge that you will not cause any additional harm to them. Be true and honest regarding your limitations. Do not make promises you cannot keep and do not string the children along on false hopes. If you are unable to participate in raising your children, support those that are; that may prove to be the best contribution you are able to make for the welfare and wellbeing of your children.

At the end of the day the children will come to understand that each of the adults in their life was acting responsibly and participated to the best of their ability out of the deep love they felt for them. Choosing to play a less active role does not necessarily equal a less meaningful one; remember sometimes it is the small supportive characters that receive the greatest applause.

 

Yehudit welcomes and encourages input and feedback on issues relating to the Blended Family and can be reached at blendedfamily@aol.com 

Cinderella – The Story Behind The Story

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Ever since I become a stepmother I have not been able to stop this nagging feeling that there just may be more to the story of Cinderella. The well-known fairy tale of the forlorn, young, beautiful girl stuck in an oppressive home as the maidservant to her stepmother and stepsisters after her father’s death somehow left me yearning for more details. There must be missing chapters somewhere or perhaps the story has only been told from the perspective of Cinderella and her perceptions during a grief stricken time in her life. As we know Cinderella lost her mother at a young age and her doting father was now gone. Could there be another angle here? Maybe a view from the stepmother’s position could help us understand the situation in a different light.

One scenario that comes to mind: Cinderella, so grief stricken feels very alone. In fact when her stepmother extends her warmth and kindness, she rejects those overtures because she feels conflicted. If she allows herself the love and happiness offered, she’s afraid she will forget the love and kindness that her parents showered on her. If she allows herself to be happy and settled in a home with “another mother,” she feels that in some way she is being disloyal to the memory of her dear departed mother. (Often children of divorce struggle with these same feelings of grief over the “death” of their family.) Cinderella decides to make the dusty old attic her special place, her room, rather than enjoying the comfort the rest of the home has to offer as a way of separating herself in what she believes to be her private grief.

Another possibility that comes to mind is that Cinderella is so wrapped up in her own loss that she does not notice that when her beloved father died he left his new wife and family destitute, penniless. She does not see the ever mounting bills and the eviction notices that arrive daily. You see her kindhearted stepmother hides them from her so as not to tarnish the young girl’s memory of her late father. She does not realize that her stepmother sneaks out in the early dawn hours and does not return until late at night in search of parnasah, livelihood to support her family. She does not see the efforts her overworked and underpaid stepmother is making just to keep a roof over her family’s head and to keep food on the table. She does not understand that her stepmother is so concerned about keeping the family up to their community’s standard of living so that the three girls of marriageable age she is now raising will be able to find proper matches. Instead Cinderella prefers to believe her stepmother is sleeping late and spending her days shopping or relaxing at the spa, squandering the wealth her father left behind, Cinderella’s own yerushah, her inheritance.

Certainly, all working mothers would agree that being away from home all day trying to make ends meet, we often find that there are chores that simply get overlooked. We do our best to prioritize and Cinderella’s stepmother just did not have the strength after a full day at work to even think about cleaning out the cinders from the fireplace. When Cinderella saw that her stepmother seemed to be neglecting the beautiful home her dear father so cherished, she became obsessive-compulsive, cleaning and scrubbing day and night as a tribute to him – with a growing sense of resentment towards her stepmother.

Yet another scenario comes to mind: since her stepmother and stepsisters moved into the home that had always been Cinderella’s she felt a sense of entitlement. When her father was alive certainly she gave respect to his wife but, now that he was gone, Cinderella being a full-fledged teenager became chutzpadik and would often sneak out at night to meet friends. For her own protection, and the protection of the family’s reputation, her stepmother began to enforce a strict curfew and a modest dress code befitting a nice girl.

These new restrictions caused Cinderella to cry out to anyone who would listen, (even the mice she befriended) telling them of how awful her life was and how she yearned for a better life where she was loved and cared for, far far away from these evil people who she was sure did not love her. What she did not recognize is that her family loved her so very much. They wanted to include her in their lives, but she rejected and turned away from them, preferring to live in a fantasy world where everything always turned out perfect; where she had a fairy godmother who would grant her every wish. She had been an only child doted on and spoiled. Now that circumstances had changed she did not know how to cope. She did not have the skills to deal with the challenges she was presented with. She showed difficulty in sharing and working as a team with her stepsisters. They in turn were made to feel like they were trespassing in Cinderella’s home, her birthright. She liked to do things her way and took over rather than allowing them to contribute and help out. Eventually the stepsisters simply gave up trying and teamed up together for support, and although they were sad about the situation, at least they had each other.

Her stepmother, knowing and understanding that Cinderella was in essence a good girl, tried to get her help with her issues. Cinderella’s stepmother felt that she could benefit from some psychological counseling. She felt the girl was acting out due to her grief, something she needed to face and deal with. She believed that if Cinderella was to go on to have successful relationships in the future she should first learn the skills that would help her cope. Cinderella protested and refused to get the help she needed; being over eighteen it was legally her choice. Instead of working on her problems Cinderella turned her frustration and anger against her stepfamily.

In this version of our fairytale, Cinderella was not a victim, but a bit of a manipulator. Late one night, with the help of some friends, she sneaked out and dressed up for a “shidduch” ball. She felt destined for greatness and if her family would not back her she would do it on her own. The charming young prince (who happened to be a “top top bachor”) noticed her immediately. She was determined to win him over. Certainly she did not mention the difficulties that deep down inside she knew she had. She was stunning, glamorous and willing to marry him. He fell for her (of course after the lost shoe incident everyone agreed that it must be b’shert) and asked her to marry him on their second date. When he questioned her about her family she told him that she had no “real” family. He, being young and inexperienced, felt that was just great; no other side to consider when planning a wedding and his family had plenty of money so they would support them. Little did he know of her unresolved issues that would soon surface.

Being a mom/stepmom of a blended family for more than fourteen years I have learnt that often the events of our lives take on vastly different interpretations by each member of the family. My fifteen-year-old son may find my asking about his day endearing while my stepson will find it intrusive. One daughter may find my stepdaughter’s behavior “funny” while the other will find it annoying. We see variables like that in any family unit, blended or not, but I believe the differences are seen and felt more acutely in the blended family where two separate families have joined as one. Bringing together groups of people, each with their own expectations or interpretation of family norms, is never an easy task.

I hope that someday all the Cinderellas out there will find the peace and happiness that they deserve and that they will understand and appreciate all that their stepmothers have sacrificed and done for them, to help them achieve that state of being.

Yehudit welcomes and encourages input and feedback on issues relating to the Blended Family and can be reached at blendedfamily@aol.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/cinderella-the-story-behind-the-story/2010/09/28/

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