Dear Mrs. Bluth,
Life has taken such an unexpected turn; I turn to for some direction and advice. We are now faced with caring and supporting my son’s wife and children as they face divorce. What makes this so very painful for us is the realization that our son is at fault for the failure of his marriage and that we did not see it – or we simply turned a blind eye in the hopes that it would get better on its own. But it never does, does it?
Our son (our only son) always had a temper, even from infancy, and it was something we dealt with to the best of our ability and hoped would improve as he got older. He was a bright boy, all A’s and 100%’s, but always a behavioral problem, getting into fights with the other boys and causing disruptions in the classroom. My husband found a way for the hanhala to look away and pooh-pooh his actions, placate the teachers into tolerating it – by donating huge sums of money to the yeshiva, quietly, so that none of the other parents knew.
After graduation and beis medrash, my husband took him into the family business, so as not to ruin his chances for a shidduch. Money also bought good references and glowing character reports, so when my son decided on his kallah, there was little issue about his maalos and learning ability. We welcomed her with love and open arms and she was happy that she missed all the warning signs we had so successfully managed to camouflage all those years. A gorgeous wedding took place, as well as a wondrous sheva brochos week, and then, slowly, fantasy morphed into what was reality.
This sweet, nurturing and loving girl, came to us one night, not four months after the wedding, trembling and terribly upset, telling us about the awful fit our son had thrown, because she burned the supper and was not dressed when he came home. She didn’t even have a chance to tell him that she had been to the doctor because she had been throwing up and feeling weak, and that the doctor told her she was pregnant.
How do you describe joy and terror in the same breath? That is exactly what I felt at that moment. She also said she hadn’t even had a chance to call her parents because she was so terrified and confused by his sudden rage, and being that she lived only a few blocks away, came straight to us. I cradled her in my arms and told her we would speak to him, that something other than the burned dinner must have upset him and that she, being pregnant and hormonal, was taking it to heart that she was the cause. This quieted her a bit and she went home. The next day, my husband sat our son down and had a long talk with him, telling him that his behavior was unacceptable, and that certainly now that he was to be a new father, he would have to learn patience and tolerance, and quickly. I truly believe he tried, but there was a good stretch of peace, where I’m sure, he took his anger out at the gym. The real fireworks started just after the bris.
We fielded many arguments, soothed much weeping and tried to mediate many times during the ensuing years and two more children, but six weeks ago, my daughter-in-law and her three little ones, bags packed, were parked on our door step when we came home. I quickly ushered them into the hour and heard the horrible news that our son had served her with divorce papers. Stunned, we couldn’t believe our ears. She had first gone to her parents, who had not fully been aware of the situation until recently, and who told her that since she had come to us, not them, all these years for help, that’s where she should go now. She was absolutely destroyed and in shock. It seems that our son had been having an affair with a young non-Jewish woman who worked in a neighboring office and he had enough of his wife and children.
For the first time I realized we couldn’t buy our way out of this incident and finally understood that we had caused much of this problem by covering up our son’s problems.
We have all but cut off ties with our son and chosen to support our daughter-in-law and grandchildren in all ways possible. We are determined not to make the same mistakes as what led us to this situation, and not try to bail him out of this mess. He has made his choices, albeit bad ones, with our help. Now, we choose to adopt and care for the one good choice he did make.
Big messes are a long time in the making, and often don’t end well. The clear vision you have suddenly come to have has arrived far too late to fix this situation. You are also misguided if you think that you can substitute someone else’s child in place of your own, i.e., your emotional adoption of your daughter-in-law to replace the son you have cut off ties with, continues to support the dysfunctional methods you have employed throughout your child-rearing days.
As you have not mentioned your having any other children I will assume that there are none and, should I be wrong, I hope the others have faired somewhat better. Let this be a warning to any other parents employing the same methods, that they are setting themselves up for failure. Over indulgence and rewarding bad behavior only perpetuates it. Buying a troubled child out of trouble enforces the mind-set that “anything goes,” that no matter how bad or unacceptable, there will be no consequences, no punishment and no accountability, because Mom and Dad will cover everything up.
I know you were hoping to view this as your past and believe that a clean slate awaits you. You still aren’t getting it. How long do you think it will take before things get ugly in court, or Beis Din – your son may withhold a get and your daughter-in-law could blame you for her misfortune?
Children are not interchangeable. Your son will always be your son and he needs to take responsibility for his mistakes. Cutting off all ties with him won’t help that happen.
Until he does, you should shoulder the responsibility you have helped him shirk, and support your daughter-in-law and grandchildren, not in place of your son but because of him. It is not only the right thing to do, but will also ensure that you continue to have a close and loving relationship with your grandchildren, no matter what happens.
Please know that as a parent and grandparent, my heart goes out to you. You will need great courage in the days ahead and often have to make heartbreaking choices. I would caution you to seek out professional help for yourself and your daughter-in-law, to offer clarity in making decisions and most importantly, to heal.