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January 21, 2017 / 23 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Shalom Task Force’

How Does Marriage Counseling Help?

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

If you are in a difficult marriage and are considering seeking help, you’re probably wondering: what would the counselor make us do during the session? Would my counselor know the appropriate technique to use for our specific case? Is our counselor’s style suited to our problem?

These are all valid questions, and you have the right to ask them.

The good news is that there are many marriage-counseling techniques available, with most verified by research and experience. The use of these techniques is not limited to counseling sessions; couples can borrow these techniques and/or the rationale behind them, and use them to either enrich or heal their marriage.

The following are three of the most commonly used techniques in marriage counseling:

Analysis of communication patterns

It may be cliché, but it’s still fact: the majority of marital issues can be traced to poor communication.

Conflicts are normal in relationships. After all, no two people are alike; it’s inevitable that a husband and wife will differ on at least one issue. But while you can’t avoid disagreements, you can transform them into constructive discussions. The key to successfully navigating conflicts is to be able to communicate your position well.

What many couples aren’t aware of is that communication is a skill. It requires deliberate effort. We can’t always go with what feels natural, and assume it will make us understood.

Consider this example:

Wife: He’s so insensitive. I’ve been moping around all week, and he doesn’t even sense that something is wrong.

Husband: Oh, did you want me to comfort you? You were so surly; I thought you wanted me to stay away!

Was the husband really insensitive? He did notice his wife’s discontent, and sincerely wanted to respond to it. However, because the needs weren’t communicated directly, the husband received the wrong message. And you can imagine how this simple miscommunication can escalate to a bigger fight!

What a marriage counselor can do is mirror unhelpful communication patterns to the couple, and help couples express and receive messages better. At first, new communication styles may feel unnatural, and the counselor may even have to act as a translator to decipher what couples really want to say to one another. But once functional communication is learned, it can be a powerful tool, not just in addressing conflicts, but in providing support and nurturance.

Surfacing Unconscious Roots of Relationship Problems

Some counselors adapt a psychodynamic approach to counseling. In this approach, the unconscious roots of one or both spouse’s behavior are surfaced. This approach is most applicable when an irrational pattern of reacting exists in the relationship. Psychodynamic counselors believe that much of our behavioral tendencies are shaped by either childhood experiences or significant events in our lives. Our experiences can create a need to be fulfilled, or a skewed perception of reality. When it comes to dysfunctional tendencies, it is always helpful to gain awareness of how they were formed, so that a couple can begin changing them into functional patterns.

There is a reason why the psychodynamic approach works in marriage counseling: unfortunately, marriage can be a catch-basin of personal issues. This means that it’s easy to see your relationship with your spouse as a solution to what your childhood lacked. While there’s nothing wrong with looking to your partner to fulfill your needs, — indeed, the impact of a neglectful or abusive parent can be healed by a spouse’s love — a lack of awareness about this dynamic can lead to unreasonable expectations.

Consider this example:

Rachel came to counseling because of her husband David’s “extreme jealousy.” David is unreasonably suspicious, and demands that he be informed of his wife’s whereabouts 24/7. He also has a tendency to “overreact” whenever Rachel is in conversation with another man. Rachel feels stifled by David’s behavior, so much so that she can’t enjoy her social relationships anymore.

Upon exploration, the counselor found that David’s parents separated when he was a child. When David had been eight, his mother left him with his father. David blamed the separation on his father’s complacency; he felt that had his dad just been more vigilant, he could have curbed his mother’s affairs before they progressed into something serious.

David wasn’t aware of it, but his jealousy is a direct result of his childhood. He was trying to be “vigilant” — the way his father never was — to protect his family. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see that his reactions are uncalled for by the situation, and is actually harming rather than protecting his marriage.

In cases like David’s and Rachel’s, a marriage counselor can help by uncovering these unconscious roots of irrational behavior, and bringing it to the couple’s awareness. Then David can start to control his jealousy, while Rachel can be more compassionate when it does occur. The counselor can even teach Rachel how to assure David that history will not repeat itself, helping David to gain greater security in their relationship.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch

Recession And Domestic Violence

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

The country’s economic indicators may be falling, but incidents of domestic violence are rising.

Hotline calls, shelter visits, and domestic violence-related crimes are all up significantly, according to recent reports. Many of NYC shelters, to list just one example, are fully occupied and having to turn women away.

Job loss and declines in income add even more strain on violent relationships. A study on recent domestic-violence homicides in Massachusetts found that “limited access to services for victims and unemployment for batterers” were key risk factors of abuse.

And women often feel trapped in abusive relationships during tough economic times. They’re likely to feel they’d be unable to financially support themselves. Plus, if an abuser is out of work, there is more opportunity for them to be present at home.  It’s also not uncommon for abusers to keep victims economically enslaved, seizing paychecks and denying all access to money. When that income shrinks during hard times, the victim becomes even easier to control.

A sign that things may be getting worse is a government booklet offering advice to women on how to deal with recession-related domestic violence and discrimination from employers released last week, reflecting concern that women are to be worst hit by the economic crisis.

The 30 page document is based on the premise that “women, especially those who are pregnant or work part-time, can feel particularly vulnerable during economic downturns.” The document provides a summary of benefits already available and details support groups women can call on if they feel their job or personal safety is threatened as a result of the recession.

Figures from the police issued in January suggested that there has been a slight increase in domestic violence in the past year, and police were looking at how stress in terms of lost jobs might create tension in families. The government booklet devotes a section to the impact of the recession on divorce, violence and family tensions.

“Economic downturns can be difficult times for family relationships. Worries about finances can create additional tension and in some cases, where couples have already decided to part, problems over selling the family home can deepen tensions,” the booklet states.

The government booklet lists advice for women who have lost their jobs, saying “it is unlawful for your employer to treat you less favorably because of your pregnancy or because you take maternity leave.”

If you are a victim of domestic violence in our community you can turn to the Shalom Task Force hotline (1-888-883-2323). Our confidential national domestic abuse toll-free Hotline is the backbone of all our efforts. It was established in 1995 to provide a listening ear and to offer a wide range of referrals to our callers.

The Hotline is staffed by over 80 volunteer advocates, many of whom are professional women who work in law, social work, education and psychology. They take part in an intensive training program in addition to an internship. Besides English, we have advocates who speak Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Spanish and Hungarian.

Our volunteers understand the impact the economy is having on people’s lives and they are ready to speak with you when you pick up the phone and call.


Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. For more information visit www.shalomtaskforce.org or call the hotline at 1-888-883-2323.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch

Shalom Task Force Responding to the Call of Domestic Abuse

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Mrs. Sharon Russ, Hotline Director for Shalom Task Force, prays every day that her job will cease to exist. Alas, her prayers have yet to be answered. Over the last fifteen years, thousands of Jewish women have summoned up the courage to reach out and contact the hotline, asking for help. They rely on Shalom Task Force’s guarantee of anonymity and privacy and awareness that an Orthodox Jewish wife will often delay efforts to seek advice. This is because she is fearful of embarrassment and the potential negative consequences for her and her children. When she finally gathers the courage to face her dilemma, calling the hotline is her first step towards getting help.

The caller could be a distraught mother who believes that her married daughter is suffering from a controlling, critical husband. She wonders what can or should be done. Another call could be a young girl in her twenties, engaged to be married in just one month, who is uneasy because she heard her chassan speak to a family member in a cold, hostile way. Is this a red flag she should be paying attention to? Is he really the mensch everyone said he is? She’s been uneasy for a while now, as she’s seen this darker side of his personality emerge on several occasions. Should she break off the engagement? And if she does, will she ever get another chance? These cases are representative of the hundreds of different situations Shalom Task Force’s highly trained staff of dedicated women face on a regular basis.

STF hotline advocates take a three-hour shift once a week. They don’t take their responsibility lightly. They know that for many women, they may be the only existing lifeline. There are more than an estimated 1000 calls received each year. Many of these calls are in response to a domestic abuse situation. Additionally, the hotline provides referrals and a listening ear for personal and family concerns.

Rachel*, a dedicated volunteer, shares her experience: “One of my first calls was a woman who called Monday morning at 9:02am, right after the phones opened. It was clear she had been waiting to make the call. She said: ‘I just want you to know that Hashem blessed me with seven children. Last night, baruch Hashem, was the last sheva brachos for my youngest child. I have been married 35 years, my life has been a living hell and I have to get out of my marriage.'” Rachel, the volunteer, continues: “Many times the phone will ring and all I’ll hear is sniffling. I’ll say, ‘I’m here for you, I care about you. I’ll hold on for as long as you need.’ The woman will start sobbing because someone cares about her. I have listened to women cry for ten minutes before they start talking.”

A few years ago, the hotline began an affiliate program that has allowed them to expand beyond the NYC region. Since it is very costly to start up a new hotline and to train volunteers, other areas of the country are joining Shalom Task Force as affiliates. These cities put together a customized manual for social service, therapeutic and legal referrals in their area, and supply the New York volunteers with these manuals. If a woman in trouble calls from elsewhere she will speak to a New York volunteer who has access to referrals that are well suited to the caller’s geographic location.

Sarah* is the name the anonymous victim used when she called the hotline one Tuesday morning, after her husband had left for work and her children were safely at school. She had been summoning the courage to make this call for at least three years. Her hands trembling, her mouth as dry as the Sahara, she practically whispered the words: “I’m frightened for my children to witness what is going on, what do I do?”

Sarah called the right place. Shalom Task Force is here to help.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch

Responding To Smoking, Rude Behavior, Drug And Alcohol Abuse

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011


Scenario: your teenager starts smoking and you detect it by smelling it on his or her breath or by finding packs of cigarettes in his or her bedroom.

Possible inner issues: control, self-esteem, lack of relationships.

The attractiveness of cigarette smoking is more than just the high teenagers receive through inhaling nicotine. When teenagers smoke, they are often trying to accomplish three objectives:

To gain control by making their own decisions, To gain the social status of adults, To gain acceptance into a popular group of teenagers who smoke.

Teenagers who smoke often believe that smoking will make them look older and that they will be treated in an adult-like way. Smoking, therefore, is a statement by teenagers that they can take control of their own lives and be independent from their parents.

Teenagers also use smoking as a means of achieving social acceptance. By smoking, a teenager can gain entry to a selective club of teens who are willing to take chances and make their own choices independent of what their parents want from them.

Possible relationship-based strategies include:

Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control.

Working to build your teenager’s self-esteem.

Highlighting and nurturing your teenager’s unique qualities and talents.

Arranging a meeting with a mental health professional to discuss ways of quitting smoking that may include group therapy and/or pharmaceutical drugs to help wean your teenager off cigarettes.

Rude Behavior

Scenario: Your teenager is rude and insulting.

Possible inner issues: control, self-esteem.

One of the most common issues facing parents with teenagers at risk is the teenager’s use of rude and offensive language. Unfortunately parents tend to fight fire with fire and respond by yelling back. According to Relationship Theory, parents need to avoid power struggles and instead work to understand the inner issues motivating their teenager’s behavior.

Most of the time, rude behavior is a symptom of extreme frustration. Teenagers who haven’t learned how to express their needs tend to bottle up their emotions and let them loose on their parents and teachers.

Other possible causes of rude behavior include feelings of loss of control and poor self-esteem. When teenagers feel bad about their self-image, they sometimes project their feelings onto their parents by blaming them for their frustration and feelings of anger and resentment.

Instead of confronting their teenagers’ behavior, it’s best for parents to tell their teenagers that they are unable to speak with them under the current circumstances. Rather, parents should wait for an appropriate occasion when their teenager will be more open to discuss their inner issues in a calm and respectful manner.

Relationship-based strategies include:

Actively listening to your teenager’s inner messages,

Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control,

Investing in your relationship with your teenager,

Highlighting and nurturing your teenager’s unique qualities and talents.

Drug and Alcohol Use and Abuse

Scenario: you suspect that your teenager is drinking alcohol or using drugs.

Possible inner issues: control, self-esteem.

Alcoholism and drug abuse are clearly rough challenges to deal with. Yet nobody is too young (or too old) to have trouble with alcohol or drugs. That’s because alcoholism and drug abuse are illnesses. They can effect anyone – including orthodox teenagers.

What causes certain teenagers to experiment with alcohol and drugs? As a certified alcohol and substance abuse professional, I have found that lack of parental support, monitoring and communication and low self-esteem are significantly related to frequency of drinking, heavy drinking and drunkenness among teenagers. Harsh, inconsistent discipline and hostility or a parent’s rejection have also been found to significantly predict adolescent drinking and alcohol-related problems.

If you suspect alcohol or drug abuse, several relationship-based strategies include:

Working to improve your relationship with your teenager.

Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control.

Working on building your teenager’s sense of self-esteem.

Seeking counseling (individual and/or group) and behavioral therapies that are critical components of effective treatment. In therapy, teenagers look at issues of motivation, build skills to resist drug use, replace drug-using activities with constructive and rewarding behaviors, and improve problem-solving skills.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For an appointment call 646-428-4723 or email rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch

Responding To Problems With Prayer, School, Secular Music *

Friday, April 1st, 2011

The principles of Relationship Theory (where the greater the relationship, the greater the ability parents have to connect to their teenager) can help address some of the key issues facing teenagers today including: problems concentrating during prayers, difficulty in school, listening to secular music, smoking, rude behavior and alcohol and drug abuse.

It is important to note, however, that the suggested solutions do not offer black and white answers for these problems; rather, they provide an overall strategy for parenting that focuses on some of the inner issues that often hide below the surface and may be the underlying cause of a teenager’s at-risk behavior.


Problems with Prayer

Scenario: Your teenager doesn’t like to pray and won’t go to synagogue.

Possible inner issues: Control, meaning, learning disabilities, individuality

Difficulty in prayer may be rooted in several underlying issues. One common cause is that praying in synagogue can become an issue of control, especially when teenagers feel forced to go pray with their parents and siblings. Prayer can be viewed by teenagers as another obligation or chore they have to perform to make their parents happy.

When teenagers find it difficult to pray, it may also point to an underlying attention disorder. Some teenagers simply have trouble concentrating for long periods and may say, “I hate shul.” or “It’s boring!” What they really mean is “I can’t sit for a long time” or “I’m crawling out of my skin because I don’t like being in group settings for a long time.”

Some teenagers stop praying because they don’t find prayer meaningful. And this may not be their fault. Unfortunately our schools often neglect to teach the “whys” of prayer. Many teenagers have grown up learning only about the obligations of communal prayer and have not developed an appreciation for the beauty, structure and meaning behind the words.

As alternatives to confronting teenagers on the issue of prayer, possible relationship-based strategies include:

· Having your teenager assessed for attention difficulties. · Studying with your teenager the meaning and symbolism behind prayer. · Empowering your teenager by offering him or her choices about where and when to pray. For instance, a different minyan may be more enjoyable. · Spending quality time alone with your teenager instead of relating to one another only during synagogue services and at family meals.


Difficulty In School

Scenario: A teenager is having trouble in school and is failing in one or more subjects.

Possible inner issues: Learning disabilities, control, individuality.

Few challenges are as frustrating and difficult to deal with as a teenager who is having trouble in school. Often parents become agitated when they receive a disheartening report card or a call from their teenager’s principal to discuss the teen’s behavior. The most important strategy parents can try to adopt in this situation is to resist the temptation to blame teachers, the school or their teenager but rather seek out the cause of their teenager’s difficulties in learning.

One possible cause for failure in school is an undetected learning disability. Teenagers who struggle with learning are especially vulnerable to feelings of depression and despair. Many experience the embarrassment, confusion and humiliation that go hand in hand with falling behind their peers in school. Behavioral and adjustment difficulties – from isolation or withdrawal to clowning or acting out – can mask less visible signs of learning difficulties. The following signs may also be clues that an individual is experiencing difficulties with learning:

· Having difficulty paying attention · Hiding, losing or avoiding schoolwork or homework · Being especially sensitive to criticism, mistakes or poor grades · Giving up easily or appearing poorly motivated · Showing anger and frustration when engaged in schoolwork, homework or similar settings · Having attendance problems or developing school-induced sickness · Avoiding schoolwork through over involvement in other activities

Parents, however, can become catalysts for change when they begin to address the key issues that are affecting their teenager’s performance. Relationship-based strategies include:

· Having your teenager evaluated for possible learning disabilities · Hiring tutors to supplement your teenager’s learning · Highlighting your teenager’s positive qualities · Working with your teenager’s teachers to utilize his or her unique interests and abilities · Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control


Listening To Secular Music

Scenario: Your teenager likes listening to popular music on an mp3 player.

Possible inner issues: Control, individuality, lack of satisfying relationships.

Music is one of the most inspirational forms of fine art. In its rhythm, melody and its variety of sounds, music transmits many exciting feelings and sensations. Its power is in its ability to penetrate straight into a person’s soul and to manipulate a person’s feelings. Depending on its content, music can evoke the most elevated and noble feelings or produce quite the opposite by arousing self-destructive or impulsive feelings.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch


Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

When the parent-teen relationship is strained or just needs improvement parents can utilize outside help to bring about a change.  When necessary, one of the most effective ways of wielding indirect control is by having the teenager meet with a mentor. As a third person, uninvolved in family conflicts, a mentor is able to interact with a teenager and provide an informal means of solving problems at school, help the teen do homework or simply be a friend.


There are many possible people who can play the role of mentor.  A mentor can be an older student in your child’s school, someone you know in the community, a cousin or older sibling or a youth worker from your synagogue.  Often a good mentor for your teenager may be your best friend or someone that you know and admire at work.


Mentors can fill any number of functions in a teenager’s life. Yet all mentors have one thing in common: they care about helping young people achieve their potential and discover their strengths.  Their main purpose is to help young people define and achieve their own goals – and those goals will vary depending on the young person’s age. By sharing fun activities and exposing a teenager to new experiences, a mentor encourages positive choices, promotes self-esteem, supports academic achievement and introduces the child to new ideas.


Here are some of the roles a mentor does and does not play:


A mentor is

A friend

A coach

A motivator

A companion

A supporter

A advisor

A advocate


A mentor is not


A social worker

A parent

A cool peer

A nag

A parole officer

A savior


The goal of the mentor may be to do homework with the teenager, to learn a new hobby or just to have a good time.  Most importantly, a mentor can provide quality time and instill important values, such as trust, friendship, community and responsibility, without impinging on a teen’s sense of freedom.


Unquestionably mentors make a lasting impression on the lives of children and teenagers.  Research confirms what previously we had known anecdotally or intuitively:  mentoring works. A recent research brief published by Child Trends found that “youth who participate in mentoring relationships experience a number of positive benefits.” In terms of educational achievement, mentored youth have better attendance, a better chance of going on to higher education and better attitudes towards school. In terms of health and safety, mentoring appears to help prevent substance abuse and reduce some other negative behaviors. In terms of social and emotional development, mentoring promotes positive social attitudes and relationships. Mentored youth tend to trust their parents more and communicate better with them. They also feel that they get more emotional support from their friends than do youth who are not mentored.


The most compelling evidence of the impact of mentoring was found by a private study that demonstrated that compared to young people not participating in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program teenagers that are mentored are

46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs

27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol

52 percent less likely to skip school

37 percent less likely to skip class

More confident in their schoolwork performance

Able to get along better with their families


With all this evidence taken into consideration Relationship Theory teaches that when parents have an unusual amount of difficulty relating to their teen, finding a mentor may be one of the best routes to take.


Sometimes other people are better at telling your children truths and ideas that you find difficult to express. For example, a friend of mine has always utilized mentors or other third parties to impress upon his children the importance of values such as honesty, integrity and religiosity.  To do this, he invites guests to his home who have a positive effect on his children’s moral development. He engages his guests in discussions about Torah learning, personal integrity or community involvement.  During these interchanges his children pick up important and lasting messages that they can easily absorb without feeling that their parents are forcing their values upon them.


In addition to having guests, this seasoned parent always strives to arrange learning sessions with mentors or well-known rabbis for his children during their vacations.  By effectively limiting his own direct control, he has more impact on his children’s lives.


In addition, mentoring reduces stress between parents and teenagers. Take Sarah for example, a forty-two-year-old mother of three daughters ages nine, twelve and sixteen. Sarah came to talk to me about her oldest daughter, Leah, who was having trouble in school.


This is how she described her problems:


“Every night we fight about her homework and I’m left with a throbbing headache. When my husband comes home sometimes at eight or nine o’clock, depending on his busy schedule, he tries to do homework with her, but most of the time they just end up fighting over silly things. She finds it impossible to sit down and concentrate on her schoolwork for more than five minutes. She was tested for ADHD and she doesn’t have it. My daughter and I are growing further apart. Imagine if all you did was fight with someone day and night without a break.”


I suggested to Sarah that trying to control her daughter wasn’t working. She needed to replace direct control with indirect control and to hire a mentor to help her daughter do her homework.


To implement indirect control, Sarah also needed to

Avoid confronting her daughter about homework.

Do some research with Leah’s teachers to find out exactly what her problems were in class.

Find opportunities for her husband and her to spend quality and enjoyable time with Leah.

Sarah decided to step back and stop trying to control her daughter and shift towards a relationship-oriented style of parenting. By arranging for a tutor, she let a third person help her daughter to do better in school.  She was able to move from direct control to indirect control and make a difference in Leah’s life.


After a few months of tutoring, the tension in Sarah and Leah’s relationship had been reduced.   Leah was getting the help she needed, which was something her mother couldn’t provide for her.  Now when she arrived home at night after a long day’s work, Sarah could focus her energy on relating better to her daughter and spending quality time with her.  By shifting from direct to indirect control, Sarah enabled herself and her daughter, to become closer and enjoy the benefits of a warmer and more intimate relationship.


Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch

Moti’s Street Clothes

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

I once received a call from a forty-seven year old distraught mother whose seventeen-year-old son Moti had changed his style of dress, wearing jeans and refusing to wear a hat.  She explained that he had gone through a difficult time in school and was now hanging around the house instead of studying in yeshiva.  He was also mixed up with the wrong crowd and was associating with at-risk teenagers late at night on the street.  She was very concerned as she had an older son who had gone “off the path” and was worried that Moti was going in the same direction.  She believed that Moti could be helped if he would be willing to talk with someone.


We set up an appointment and Moti came on time and seemed receptive to speaking with me in a friendly and open manner.  What follows is a transcript of our meeting.


Daniel Schonbuch (DS): Moti, I know that your parents are concerned about you and wanted you to speak with me.  I just want you to know that I’m very interested in what you have to so say. Tell me what’s going on in your life?


Moti: Well, I guess my mother told you that I hate school and I’m looking for a job.


DS: What kind of job?

Moti: It doesn’t really matter.   Perhaps something in business or high tech.


DS: High tech.  Do you have any computer skills that would help you?

Moti: Yes, I love computers and I know how to create Web sites.


DS:  That’s a great skill.  Did you take a class in HTML or figure it out by yourself?

Moti: I just figured it out by myself.


DS: Wow.  I wish I could do that.  Well, if you are so talented in working with computers, why are you having so much trouble in school?

Moti: I hate my school.  I can’t stand the teachers and the principal.

DS: You hate your teachers?

Moti: Yes. I can’t stand them. They are boring and mean and my rebbe doesn’t know what he is talking about.


DS: You don’t like your rebbe.  Let me ask you a question.  If you did like your rebbe, would school be any better for you?

Moti: I guess so.  But there is no way he can change.  Everybody knows he’s the worst rebbe in the grade.  He doesn’t care about me. In fact he kicked me out of class twice this year.


DS: So that’s why you’re at home right now?

Moti: That’s right.


DS: Tell me about your home.  I know you have a big family.  What is your relationship like with your parents?

Moti: It’s pretty bad.


DS: What do you mean, bad?

Moti: My parents make me crazy.


DS: Anyone in particular?

Moti: Yes, my mother; she is always trying to control me.


DS: In what way?

Moti: She can’t stand my music or the way I dress. She also hates my friends and recently made my curfew at eleven o’clock.  It’s unbearable to be around her.


DS: So dress is a big issue in the family?

Moti: Yes.  They want to tell us what to do all the time.  I feel like I’m living in a cage.


At this point we had brought to the forefront several key issues.  One was that Moti didn’t like his rebbe and another was that he felt that his parents wanted to control everything he did.  At the same time, it seemed that Moti also had a very high desire for control. When he was unhappy with a situation, he would try to control his environment by making choices that elicited a negative response from his parents or teachers.


I felt that Moti was able to become aware of the dynamics of his own inner world.  In his case, I believed that more self-awareness would help him understand why he behaved the way he did.


DS: Moti, tell me about some of the things that your parents and you argue about, like your friends and your clothes.


Moti: I don’t see what’s wrong with my clothes.  I’m just more comfortable wearing jeans and these shirts.  I mean, I don’t know what the problem is, but my mother is always telling me how to dress.


DS: Did you always dress like this?  When did you start?

Moti: Just after my bar mitzvah.


DS: So when you became a “man,” you started dressing the way you wanted to.

Moti: That’s right.


DS: Tell me what you think your clothing represents.  Do your clothes say something about you when you wear them?

Moti: I think so.  They are all about doing what you want.  When I wear jeans, I feel comfortable, more chilled out. I know it drives my parents crazy, but I love the feeling.


DS: Do your friends wear the same type of clothes?

Moti: Yes, we all do.


DS: Let me guess about something and tell me if I’m right.  Your clothing represents your being independent from your parents.  What I mean by that is that they can’t tell you how to dress and of course you can’t stand how they try to control you.  Does this make sense?

Moti: Yes, very much so.


DS: So what you are really saying is that this is an area that you can control and it probably makes your parents crazy.

Moti: That’s right.  I really dress this way because it makes them crazy.  I know the weirder I dress the more it makes my mother nuts.


DS: So your dress is a way to control her.

Moti: I guess so.


DS: If you can see what I’m saying, then I want to share with you the idea that what seems to be an area of control is really an area where you are out of control.  What I mean by that is that although you think you control your mother through your dress, what you are really saying is that she controls you.  If you are just reacting to her and getting her angrier with you then you are not really in control.


I knew that this idea would be hard to swallow – especially for a boy who initially saw his jeans as something “cool” and modern.  What I wanted to do was to have him understand that this alternative way of dressing was actually based on a deeper emotional need to control and confront his mother.  Once I introduced this idea, I could spend more time helping him to improve his relationship with her instead of becoming more reactionary.  I decided to introduce Moti to his mother’s inner world.  I wanted to explore with him any possible reason why she was so controlling.


DS: Tell me a little more about your mother.  Does she come from a big family?  What are her parents like?

Moti: Well, that’s a pretty bad story.  She has a terrible relationship with her parents.


DS: What do you mean?

Moti: Her parents are originally from France.  They moved to Israel when she was a young girl and got divorced and my mother moved here with my grandmother when she was a teenager.


DS: What about her brothers and sisters?

Moti: Two of them moved here with her and the others stayed with my grandfather in Israel.


DS: How did your grandmother survive here?

Moti: Well, she had a sister who moved here many years ago who helped her out a lot when she arrived.


DS: So your mother grew up without her father. That must have been pretty hard.

Moti: Yes but it was probably easier than living with my grandfather.  I heard he was pretty tough with his kids.  You know, very old school.  He used to hit his kids a lot.


DS: He used to hit them?

Moti: He was a tough man who had a hard life.  He didn’t have patience for my mother or her brothers and sisters.


DS: So your mother moved around a lot and had a hard childhood.

Moti: I think so.


DS: And what about your father.  Did he also have a difficult childhood?

Moti: I don’t think so.  He grew up in the neighborhood, went to yeshiva, went into business, and has an okay relationship with his parents.


DS: So it seems that your mother had a harder time growing up.

Moti: Yes I think so.


DS: Would you say that your mother is a tense person?

Moti: Yes, she always walks around nervous, like something bad is going to happen.


DS: I see. So how does that make you feel?

Moti: I can’t stand being around her!


DS: Are you angry that she doesn’t give you enough attention?

Moti: It makes me crazy.  She doesn’t pay any attention to me except when she doesn’t like something.


DS: Like the way you dress?

Moti: Yes.


I wanted Moti to make the connection that somehow his mother was affected by her unresolved feelings that existed in her inner world. Also, without too much information from Moti, I saw that his mother was obviously someone who had trouble relating to her children and found it difficult to nurture them in a loving way.


Throughout this first session, I had begun to uncover a deep association between Moti’s behavior and his mother’s emotions.  In future sessions we would deal more with trying to understand why his mother was tense and nagging.   I believed that it was time for him to explore the connection with his mother and for us to see if we could work out a way to improve their relationship.


I explained to Moti that since his mother had come from a broken home and had moved several times during her childhood, she was compensating for her feelings of rejection and lack of security.  This was understandable considering her past, and it was something that I felt was central to Moti’s situation.  I believed that his mother was so scared of the possibility that her children’s lives would be disrupted – as hers had been during her childhood – that her fears controlled her life. Moti’s older brother had already decided to go on his own path.  She saw this as a sign that the whole family may fall apart and the fact that Moti was having trouble in school and dressing in jeans began to cause her considerable stress and anxiety.


I wanted Moti to understand these underlying issues and to realize why he was unhappy with their relationship. Her desire that “life should be perfect” had caused her to act overly harsh with her children, which made them feel that somehow they were not living up to her expectations.  After all, Moti was a teenager trying something that his friends thought was cool.  He wanted to be accepted by his crowd and wasn’t thinking about how his behavior affected his parents.


Having explored other emotional issues in his family, I suggested that Moti try to reduce the conflict regarding his alternative dress by toning down what he wore.  I knew that his parents wouldn’t easily change their expectations, but Moti could benefit from an improved relationship and a small gesture on his part may make his life at home more pleasant.


I also spoke several times on the phone with Moti’s parents and suggested that they were not yet equipped to discipline Moti about his jeans.  Rather, they should work to improve the relationship and allow a new sense of closeness to eventually enable Moti to feel more comfortable with himself and his identity.  They could accomplish this by

reducing their criticism of Moti; finding ways to give Moti healthy levels of control; exploring ways of nurturing Moti’s latent talents.


To start the process, I suggested that Moti’s parents take him away for a weekend in the country and have a fun time sightseeing, hiking or maybe even going to a batting cage or playing miniature golf. I wanted Moti to feel comfortable with his parents.  They should give Moti the feeling that he was the most important person in their lives.


During the outing, Moti’s parents should avoid talking about his jeans. Rather, they should focus on his positive qualities and what areas he could potentially excel in like music, art, computers, or even some type of community service. With an increased sense of relationship, Moti may be willing to adjust his behavior and take steps to reconnect to his family’s traditions.


Trying to force the dress issue would only push their son further away. Instead of pushing him away, they could gently pull him in the right direction. In the end, we were able to change the focus from direct control and conflict to mutual understanding and an improved relationship.


Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, M.A., is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” He maintains a private practice in marriage and family counseling in Brooklyn and can be reached at 646-428-4723 or rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com. For more info about his books, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/motis-street-clothes/2010/05/12/

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