We are a regular frum family, and my son is dating a girl who seems lovely but comes from a non-frum, broken home. She also became a giyores because her mother was not frum after she was converted. This girl’s father won full custody of her, and she has been living with him since her parents got divorced. She told my son that the divorce was messy and that there was a lot of fighting before they got divorced. For example, the police came to their house many times. She told my son that when she was very young, she once thought they came because she didn’t behave!
My son likes her a lot and he wants to marry her, but my husband and I are worried about a few things. The first is that she became a giyores while she was a teenager, so how can we know for sure that it was really her choice and that she won’t one day be like her mother who is not frum? She was told in sleepaway camp that even though her mother was megayer before she was born, because her mother was not frum, she had to be megayer, too.
The other problem is that it’s not normal for a father to get the children after a divorce. There must be something really bad going on with her mother for that to happen. Judges always give custody to the mother. So if her mother is a bad person, what kind of a mother can this girl be one day?
She is pushing hard for my son to propose to her. We are at our wits end with worry. There is something about her that we can’t put our finger on that makes us very nervous. We also feel that our son could do so much better.
You brought up a few disconcerting issues, and while your concerns are certainly valid and should be explored, I will caution you that it is not in your son’s best interest to ever feel that he could “do better.” Whether it is regarding this girl or somebody else, such judgments are ultimately detrimental to any future decision he will make. He might not even be able to make any kind of judgement call if he hears his mother talking like that. One of the best gifts you can give to your children in shidduchim is the confidence that they will one day make the right decision based on their intellect, rather than on what their parents feel that they deserve.
Whenever there is a divorce, in most cases there are at least two stories behind it— the story that people tell, and the truth of what really happened. It is nearly impossible to find out the truth even if you speak to the parties involved, because each person has his or her own perception of what transpired to bring about the breaking up of their home. And when there is a custody battle, there are so many versions, rumors, and tales that you might as well give up on the idea of discovering the truth.
Regarding custody issues, if you speak to people who have endured that parashah and lost to the other parent, they will tell you that it is not a black-and-white matter — meaning, it is not always a “who is right or wrong” issue, and that the person who is right is the one who wins. That is not how these things work. In these situations, there are usually gray areas.
There are so many reasons why one parent will be awarded custody of their child over the other parent. And sometimes it can even be the good parent who loses the legal battle. If you speak to a matrimonial attorney, I am certain he can give you a number of examples why that could happen. And, as I am sure you must know, justice does not always get served accordingly in this world.
There is another component to this situation, which is also one of your concerns, so I will address that for you. How the mother conducted herself as a parent toward her children, or how she lives her life, is not necessarily indicative of the kind of wife and mother this girl will turn out to be. There are plenty of cases where both parents are upstanding citizens who make sure to dot their i’s and cross their t’s, yet one or even all their children do not follow in their footsteps. Conversely, there are parents who are viewed by others as doing everything wrong, but nevertheless their children turn out to be perfect members of society.
On the other hand, it would not be sensible to just disregard the home and family life of the young lady your son is considering marrying. That’s even more so here, because you feel that something is not right even though you cannot verbalize it. There are some important things your son might need to look out for. One of them is if she inherited or picked up negative traits from her home.
What does she say about the years her parents were together, and what does she think happened in their marriage to cause the divorce? It might sound odd to someone who has never heard of this before, but there are cases where the child feels some sort of responsibility for the breakup of his or her parents. As preposterous as it seems, due to certain family dynamics, it can happen that the child carries the burden of guilt.
I am even more concerned in this case, specifically because of the comment she made that she thought the police came because she didn’t behave, and also because she does not live with her mother since her father won full custody. While on the topic of her mother, what kind of relationship does she have with her? Is she alienated from her mother, and if so, does that have anything to do with the way her father handled the divorce and custody matters? If it turns out that she has little to no contact with her mother, then she is certainly dealing with more issues than we know about. What type of man is her father? Have you met him? What kind of reputation does he have? How much input does he have in her life, and does your son feel that her father will be a central figure in their life together as a married couple?
How does she appear from a psychological standpoint? By that, I also mean is she easygoing or is she hypersensitive and easily angered? Why does your son feel that she’s pushing so hard for a proposal? Unless they have been dating each other for a lengthy period of time, it sounds like she wants to get out of her current situation and form a new life for herself. That is not always a bad thing. However, if she has not faced and dealt with her inner demons, those have the potential to be carried over to her married life, specifically when she gets triggered by something.
The big question your son should be asking her is not just whether she was in therapy but if she is currently in therapy. If she is, it would not be a bad idea for your son to have a session with her and her therapist so that he has a better understanding of what is really going on behind the façade of fun times in dating.
The other issue you are concerned about is her geirus; you fear the possibility of her going back to not being frum, just like her mother is now. There is no way anyone — including this young lady — can possibly predict or guarantee the answer to that question. All that anyone can do is examine the situation as it appears to be and based on how she lives her life now. It is my understanding that she was not raised in a frum home, which is why she was probably told that she needs to be megayer. I am saying this because if her mother converted before she was born and was not frum, it sounds like the conversion may not have been done according to Orthodox halachah.
I have met many geirim who are sincere about their decision and their commitment to Yiddishkeit. They live exemplary lifestyles that can be an example to some who have been Jewish from birth! In her case, I don’t know what other dynamics are at play here. Geirus is a complex and specialized subject, and I would recommend that your son speak to an expert in that area, preferably a rav.
In studying your letter, I get the feeling that your real issue with this girl is that she was megayer and comes from a divorced home. While I offered you some advice and ideas, I also hope that you assess her based on the person she is now, rather than details that happened in the past, most of which she bears no responsibility for. There is no human being in this world who is entirely perfect, even those who have always been frum and come from a stable family life.
I am saying this because it would be nice if you and your family would give her a fair chance, and also because if she marries your son and she has a feeling that you don’t like her, not only will it impact on their shalom bayis, but it has the potential to ruin the relationship you have with your son. Keep an open mind and treat her no differently than if she would have come from a family such as yours.
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. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.