Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Dr. Yael,

I am writing to you about my family background which involved very close relationships. I always thought of my mother as being very involved in my life. She always prioritized our needs and never focused on her own needs. I always saw my mother as extremely devoted. However, she did not have her own life. My mother lived through our achievements. While my father was very proud of us, he is a successful businessman and a true talmid chochom. My mother is also totally devoted to him and disregards her own needs. My father is not a gashmiusdik person, but in his own way, he expects my mother to tend to all his needs. He does not realize that she needs activities to make her happy and that she needs to do more to take care of herself. Now that I am married with my own family, I am blessed with a very healthy husband both emotionally and physically. He sees my mother as being too involved with the family and not having enough of her own life. Lately, I feel my mother is prone to depressed moods when she is alone and feels disconnected. She is active in helping us with our children, which is great, but I want her to do more for herself. Please help me deal with this issue as I love my mother very much.


A Loving Daughter


Dear Loving Daughter,

Your mother sounds like a caring person, who may struggle with some enmeshment with her family. I do not know her background or the full picture; however, it appears that your mother’s identity is overly enmeshed with the family. Does your mother have her own friends? I think it would be helpful to encourage your mother to join groups outside of the family. Would she enjoy an exercise class? Perhaps a torah class where she can meet women her own age? Your mother needs to find activities in addition to being involved with her family, husband, children, and grandchildren.

I want to explain enmeshment and see if this resonates with you regarding what may be going on with your mother. Ask yourself these questions: Does your mother not have a strong sense of self? Does she depend on others to provide validation and self-esteem? Does your mother have problems functioning well alone? Does your mother sacrifice herself and is she afraid to be her own person? Does your mother have problems with boundaries?

I don’t want you to minimize the devotion that your mother demonstrates to her family. Closeness and devotion are very important. As Jewish mothers we all struggle with some degree of enmeshment. Anyone involved in a family unit has some degree of enmeshment and closeness. It is an issue of degree of closeness. People who understand boundaries and realize that we all need to fulfill our own needs and cannot achieve happiness by living through other people are not enmeshed. Ultimately enmeshment is a form of control that can dissolve a person’s own emotional identity and individuality. It can also be mistaken for healthy friendship and family relationships until one person in the relationship tries to create space for themselves/their new family or tries to develop their own identity.

Depression is something your mother may be experiencing because she may feel that she can’t express her own emotions. Perhaps your mother feels that expressing her own needs is not ok since she prioritizes her children’s needs and tries to fulfill her needs through her children. Anxiety may also present, with an overwhelming fear or worry of functioning on her own.

Please help your mother develop her own sense of self while still being involved in a healthy manner with her family. If joining activities is not helpful, your mother may need to seek professional help to assist her in forming a new identity that is not focused only on her family. It is admirable that you see your mother’s strengths and want to help her feel more fulfilled and happy with her own accomplishments. However, it is important not to push too hard or make your mother feel she is doing something wrong by being a great wife and mother. As with everything else in life, it’s a balance, so tread carefully. Hatzlacha!


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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to [email protected]. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at