I recently read a letter to the editor by a woman who self-described as an older single. The writer shared that she was “experiencing lots of nisyonos – from the shidduch that is on the cusp of being closed, until it comes out that he’s fighting a serious gambling addiction – to the frustrated sighs of my younger siblings, itching to enter the parsha.”
From what she says, it seems that her younger siblings are forcibly having their milestones delayed as they are made to wait for their still unmarried sister to reach hers.
I was somewhat taken aback by what I view as a self-destructive attitude that one must marry kids off according to birth order, and the younger siblings must patiently wait their turn – no matter how long it takes. Although I don’t think delaying younger children’s entry into the dating world is as prevalent as it might have once been, based on what she wrote, it is still being done in some families or communities.
This practice reminded me of Amram’s flawed reasoning that due to the horrific situation Bnei Yisrael were in, it was better for him to divorce his wife. His argument was why bring sons into the world only to have them be murdered at birth by the Egyptians. His clearer-sighted daughter Miriam pointed out that while Amram was preventing the birth of the boys, he was also, by his decree to divorce, stopping the birth of daughters, negatively impacting the existence of future generations.
When parents insist that their children, especially their daughters, wait for an older sibling to get engaged/married before green-lighting them to enter the “parsha,” they are sabotaging their futures. It’s okay if a year or two goes by, but at some point the younger girls – and boys – are losing out. They are like airplanes aimlessly circling the skies above the airport, waiting for permission to land, as life continues to flow below them. The siblings are themselves at risk of being labeled “older singles,” which in some communities is as young as 23-24. Their classmates are married with children while they haven’t gone on a date yet. Being forced to be on “hold” because of a sibling could cause growing resentment and undermine the families shalom bayit.
I realize that parents sense that their older child can be humiliated if his or her brothers and sisters are allowed to bypass them, and thus want to spare their feelings, which is very kind. Yet, they are inadvertently preventing the creation of future generations.
If you open any heimishe newspaper or magazine, there will be ads or articles describing organizations, like A TIME, that help desperate and bewildered infertile couples by providing crucial information on how to navigate the emotional, medical and financial drama and trauma that defines fertility treatments.
Or there are poignant chizuk testimonials on how childless couples have, over years of struggle and disappointment, had their emunah and bitachon fortified in spite of the see-saw of hope and bitter despair they experience.
Biologically, fertility tends to decline after 30. That doesn’t mean that pregnancy won’t happen, but in some cases, it may take longer to achieve. It may also result in having fewer children than hoped for. The risk of having children with birth defects is elevated as well.
Delaying dating can also mean a smaller and shrinking pool of eligible men or women. Older singles may have to compromise more than they would have liked to, accepting the “6” rather than the “8” they envisioned themselves with. The “8” they may have been set up with years earlier is not available anymore.
And then again, if the parents are strict about the kids marrying in birth order, the older sibling, out of guilt, may eventually marry someone wrong for her/him, just to stop being a barrier to younger siblings’ future happiness. She is at risk at being unhappy at best, or at worse, single again.
Hopefully, the unmarried older sibling may convince her parents to allow the siblings to date, which would resolve the issue, as difficult as it may be emotionally for him or her.
Ironically, having younger siblings marry can benefit the single as every marriage results in enhanced networking. In other words, the new spouse comes with an extended family that can include his/her married siblings, uncles and aunts and cousins from different neighborhoods and communities across the country and the world, as well as friends, who having met the unmarried siblings, can potentially introduce them to their bashert.
If the other sibling hadn’t been allowed to date and marry, this opportunity would never happen.
Moshe Rabbeinu was the younger male sibling and he became the leader of Am Yisrael. Hashem wasn’t focused on birth order. And we find the same when He sent the prophet Shmuel to anoint David, the youngest of the sons of Yishai to be king.
He let them fulfill their destiny. We should let our children fulfill theirs.