By Esther Mann

 

Dear Esther,

My husband and I are absolutely heartbroken. When our daughter Tami started dating Heshi, we weren’t crazy about him from the start; but Tami was! From their first date, she was enthralled by him.

We are a simple family. Both my husband and I work. We live in a comfortable, though modest-size, house, but we’ve never borrowed a dime from anyone or received financial help from anyone, and we are proud to be independent and honest hard workers. Heshi comes from a comfortable lifestyle. He and his family live large. Their house is extremely large, their vacations are large, and their clothing seems large in the statement they make. Tami was drawn into that world quickly. She loved the car that Heshi drove, the restaurants he took her to, the gifts he bought her, and the prospect of living in his world.

My husband and I sensed trouble from the beginning. It’s not that we have anything against wealthy people, as long as they don’t throw it in our faces and think they are better than we are because of it. But there was this sense we got from Heshi, and later from his family, that we are second-class people. It was subtle but it was definitely there. We saw how happy Tami was and felt mixed emotions about whether or not to discourage her from dating Heshi. Looking back, that wouldn’t have helped, I’m sure.

I don’t think Heshi is a bad person, but he’s definitely not our kind. We did hint to Tami here and there, and though she knew we had concerns, ultimately she did get engaged to Heshi and they had a mega-extravagant wedding. We felt so out of our element there, but that’s the least of it.

They are married now for close to a year, and it feels like Tami has dropped us almost completely. Heshi’s family is the one she seems to be relating to now, and she wants to spend her time with them. It’s painful for us. She almost never comes to us for a yom tov (or ever.) I’m sure our modest, though loving, environment can’t compete with what Heshi’s family has to offer.

Tami rarely calls, and when she does, she can’t seem to get off the phone quickly enough. It’s like Heshi and his family have taken over in every way. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, it almost feels like a death without the shivah. I’m feeling particularly vulnerable right now as we begin the yom tov period, knowing that I won’t be seeing her at all for any of the yomim tovim. We have a married son who lives in Baltimore and comes in occasionally, and another son who is in Israel now. It’s lonely and sad for my husband and me.

I don’t like to share my feelings about this with my husband, because I know he’s suffering his own private pain over the situation, and when we discuss it, it only seems to make both of us feel much worse. I have no illusion that I can fix this situation. It feels to me like this is the new normal with Tami, so I have no reason to believe that things will get better with her in the future. We just can’t compete! I don’t know what to do with my sad feelings and thoughts that seem to dominate my mind constantly.

I know everyone has something, and we’re all coping with different difficulties, but this one feels so personal and shocking. I don’t know how to move forward with it. What should I do?

Abandoned

Dear Abandoned,

When children cut off or disengage from parents, it can feel like a death occurred. It feels like an actual loss of a loved one — a child, no less, the severing of a primary relationship that once felt so secure and predictable. These types of losses are almost impossible to predict. Parents rarely see them coming, particularly if there were no warning signs preceding the event. In Tami’s case, you had no reason to believe that her getting married would essentially turn her life around in a way that is feeling so brutal to you and your husband.

Hearing your story, one’s knee-jerk reaction is to wonder how this relationship can be salvaged and be put back on track. Obviously, that would be the best possible outcome. But that’s not what you are asking for, which leads me to believe that you have probably already tried speaking to a rav or some family members or friends for ideas and perhaps even some sort of intervention. I’m guessing you’ve tried winning Tami back with kindness, logic, and maybe even some good old-fashioned Jewish mother’s guilt! Despite all that, Tami has picked her team and is not interested in budging. No one can predict what the future holds, but at this moment in time, it’s not looking good.

So the question you are asking is, basically, how to cope. How can you deal with this particular hardship that feels so personal, unwarranted, shocking, and overwhelming? The old saying “Time heals all wounds” is a cliché because there is some truth to it. Time doesn’t necessarily make bad things go away, but, with time, hopefully we learn how to compartmentalize a particularly painful portion of our lives so that we don’t live in it but rather with it. To pretend that it is nonexistent is impossible, and that kind of denial will ultimately seep through one’s very being until that issue reappears with a vengeance. We can learn not to allow the matter to live center stage in our brains, shoving out all the other pieces of our lives that may be satisfying.

Your goal is to believe that your reaction to this reality is something you have a say in. You can decide to accept this new reality, realizing that trying to understand how or why it happened to you and your husband is a waste of energy, since you’ll never find a satisfying answer. It’s quite amazing what we can all learn to live with. That might feel like a scary thought to you right now, but it’s actually an empowering one. It is within our reactions and acceptance that we can find the peace of mind to move forward with our lives, with joy and fulfillment, despite painful circumstances. Most people have “despites” that they have chosen to put on the back burner because they want to live in a calmer, happier place.

On a practical note, though for the moment the COVID virus is a disrupter of most normal plans, there is no reason why you can’t eventually fill your yom tov table, Shabbos table, any table, with wonderful people, extended family or friends, who love and appreciate you and your husband and will be thrilled to be a meaningful part of the family of your own creation. When one road is blocked, we can either stay blocked and go nowhere, or find another road to pursue. It is in our creativity and desire to live a meaningful life that we adapt and keep moving forward.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone, Zoom, and FaceTime sessions. She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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