By Baila Sebrow
There has been much written recently about Parental Alienation Syndrome. From my understanding, children of a divorce come into the “shidduch parashah” with one strike against them. When a parent is “not in the picture,” is that an additional or bigger red flag for a shidduch? Whether it is “parental alienation” or “child estrangement,” do parents need to be concerned about such shidduchim for their children?
Especially in a case of PAS, is there cause for concern that the alienating parent has too much of a “hold’ on the child and could continue to influence the child? Or is there an unaddressed mental-health issue in the family? A recent article in the 5TJT implies that in most cases, the alienating parent does suffer from a mental-health disorder.
Most critically, is there a concern that a child who alienates him/herself from a parent would do the same to a spouse or in-laws if the “going ever gets rough?”
If someone could become completely estranged from a parent, in clear violation of the Aseres HaDibros, should parents be worried about that person’s overall commitment to Torah and mitzvos? I feel like it would be the same as letting my child go out with someone who doesn’t keep Shabbos or violates other mitzvos, chas v’shalom (even if there is a “valid” reason).
Your articulate letter raises valid concerns that should be brought to the forefront, and I thank you for your voice on behalf of those who are led into marriage believing what they are told about somebody—or worse, not believing what is public knowledge. I will assume that your fears are not coming from a place of curiosity, but rather that you are the parent of a child or children in the shidduch parashah.
I am not a therapist, nor do I ever attempt to diagnose people, regardless of how they present or how their tale sounds. I have been practicing shadchanus, coaching, and organizing singles events for over 30 years, and I’ve enjoyed the privilege of meeting thousands of people from various background in all stages of life. You could say that I have pretty much seen it all, and it might sound sad, but, unfortunately, nothing shocks me anymore.
That said, here is my first piece of advice: history matters. The number-one reason why people fall into tragic marital situations is because significant information was withheld from them, or they were ill-advised to ignore what they heard. There are even do-gooders who will encourage someone to go ahead with a shidduch, claiming that the person did teshuvah. I am all for teshuvah, but no person in the world is obligated to marry somebody and play G-d, Who forgives the sins of the past.
In answer to your question about whether children of divorce come into the shidduch parashah with one strike against them, the honest answer is: yes, they do. Although the stigma of divorce has lessened to a degree from previous years, the frum world still judges and looks down upon someone who comes from a divorced home. It is not politically correct to say it, but even a person who is diplomatic will find a way to decline such a shidduch if he or she does not want to get involved. Interestingly, though it sounds mind-boggling, I have spoken to divorced people who will also decline such a shidduch.
The one saving grace for a child of divorce is when it appears to everyone that the parents have an amicable relationship. That is the first question people who would contemplate such a shidduch will ask. So, in answer to your question, when a parent is “not in the picture,” it is a huge strike against the shidduch and raises a bigger red flag.
You want to know if parents should be concerned about parental alienation or child estrangement. I won’t sugarcoat it—of course, it matters! Can you imagine what a child from such dysfunction has psychologically endured? I am not saying that it has not made him or her into a more sensitive adult, because it probably has. Tragedy of any kind has the potential to broaden the hearts and minds of those afflicted, and it also sensitizes them to the emotional pain of others. Additionally, if they worked on themselves therapeutically, then there is no doubt that they are likely to be just as good a spouse or parent to their own children as anyone else. But it is incumbent upon those who are looking into a particular shidduch to find out all they need to know about the person, family, and interactions with one another. A shidduch is a major life decision that affects future generations and should never be taken lightly.
You wonder whether alienating parents have too much of a “hold” on their child and if they could they continue to influence the child. I will share with you what I have seen. The alienating parent is obviously a controlling person and has a hold on his or her children in various ways—emotionally, financially, etc. However, there are plenty of marriages in which one parent holds tremendous influence over the children, well into the children’s marriages, too.
You need to ask about the behavioral characteristics of the alienated child. As I am sure you know, the alienator has done a great job of convincing the child to have a one-sided view—to idolize one parent and basically hate the other for reasons that are oftentimes unjustified. It is important to bear in mind that the child who hates his or her parent will hate the extended family, too, by association of the alienated parent.
There is much confusion in the mind of the alienated child, because the alienator typically plays mind games and will say to the child in front of other people that he or she should call or visit his or her alienated parent. And when the door closes, the parent intimidates the child to go back to the way he or she was told to behave. The problem as it relates to such children going into adulthood is that they usually have a distorted view of healthy relationships and may even fear the gender of the alienated parent in general, because of delusional false statements that children in such homes are taught to believe. There are many other factors, but I do not want to give the false impression, chas v’shalom, that children from such environments are not good enough candidates for a shidduch.
I will not respond to your question as to whether the alienated parent has a mental-health disorder, but I will tell you that I know plenty of married folks who might even be pillars in their community yet behave irrationally in specific situations. Many of those people, with all their good references, turn out be in-laws from hell!
You also wonder if, when the “going gets rough,” these children would do to a spouse what they experienced their alienating parent doing to the alienated one? That is a case-by-case situation. There are children who have been raised in dysfunctional homes who do exactly as they have seen their role models do. Then there are children who vow to act the total opposite of their parents, and provide a loving, fair environment for their children, regardless of what they witnessed in the home and no matter what happens in their own marriage. It has much to do with emotional intelligence and being able to discern right from wrong by behaving with integrity. That is why I mentioned earlier that it is important that children from such homes receive therapeutic intervention. I personally know of cases where children who were raised in horrific environments grew up to be wonderful adults, spouses, and parents, and viable assets to their respective communities.
I agree with you that an estranged child has been brought up to be in clear violation of one of the Aseres HaDibros, but that is not the same as someone who does not keep Shabbos and other commandments of the Torah. I can see why you would think it is the same, but you have to understand that a child raised and controlled by an emotional terrorist who is shomer Shabbos also sees frumkeit in the household. There are cases where children from dysfunctional homes turn completely off from Yiddishkeit, but that is usually because they are rebelling and looking for an escape. You will find many young adults who do not come from homes of divorce but have turned away from their roots.
As a shadchan, I urge you to please keep an open mind for your children if you are seeking a shidduch for them. Do not place people into a particular box and decide that they belong there because of whatever circumstances occurred in their lives. Please do not project your personal fears onto anyone else and instead be open-minded yet observant. I urge your children to do the same.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com and Israel News Talk Radio. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.