By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

When our daughter Sara brought home Moe, my husband and I were not impressed from the start. There was something about him that didn’t sit right with us. Yes, he was charming and good-looking, but something seemed a bit insincere about the things he said. We asked around a bit and got back mixed reports. It seemed as though maybe people were speaking in general terms in order to avoid being downright insulting about him.

We told Sara from the beginning that we thought there might be something not right with Moe. He made us uncomfortable, though it was hard for us to put our finger on exactly what the problem was. Sara is a strong-willed individual, and she told us that she felt we were wrong and that he was perfect for her. The fact that she was 23 years old and many of her friends were already married, some already mothers, may have caused her to be less cautious than she should have been. But since there was nothing specific we could point to, Sara eventually got engaged and married to Moe.

From the beginning of their marriage, we were not welcome in their home. She kept a distance between us and her growing family. I know she loves us, but it was as if she didn’t want us to see what her life and marriage looked like up close and personal. A number of years and three babies later, she finally had it and announced that she had to divorce Moe. Again, she didn’t give us too many details, but we weren’t surprised. Over the years, she had become more withdrawn, didn’t look great, and it was clear to us that she was hiding something.

We feel sad for her and the children, but, honestly, we weren’t unhappy to know that Moe would be out of our family and that hopefully we would get our daughter and grandchildren back. It is not my style or my husband’s to say, “I told you so.” Nevertheless, I think Sara felt embarrassed that she didn’t listen to us in the first place and therefore didn’t bring us into her drama at all, which is OK.

The problem is that right now she doesn’t ask for and won’t accept any help. She is a single mother working full-time and seems to need to prove to all of us that she is capable of doing everything on her own. My heart breaks for her and her kids, knowing how much pressure they have on them. Sometimes, I’ll call an hour before Shabbos and she’s busy cooking for Shabbos. I notice her children’s clothing seem neglected, and that’s hard to see. Her kids have enormous responsibility and they all live in a tiny apartment.

My husband and I would love nothing more than to support them on all levels. We can help her out financially, we could babysit, I could cook for them … but it’s like she is so busy trying to prove something to me that she doesn’t accept any help. I believe that they could all be living much easier and happier lives.

How can we get Sara to think about this situation differently so that she doesn’t feel the need to prove to us how independent she is at the expense of her children and herself? It’s so silly and unnecessary and yet she won’t hear of accepting any help. What are our options?

Desperate

Dear Desperate,

It is clear that Sara has a mind of her own and has to do things her way, for better or for worse. And it doesn’t look as though her personality is going to change anytime soon. She is who she is and though her decisions cause her and her children to live with unnecessary hardship, she is certainly acting in a calculated manner, determining what she wants her life to look like at this time.

I understand how difficult it must be for you and your husband to witness the deprivation that they are all experiencing, particularly in light of the fact that you are able to make an enormous difference in the quality of their lives, but it’s important to recognize that Sara is getting something out of her decisions. She is not looking for easy or comfortable; she is looking for the opportunity to feel pride and dignity in how she is handling the aftermath of a poor decision she made when she married Moe. Perhaps this is the price she feels she has to pay or it’s her way of making amends for not being more insightful way back when. But make no mistake — there is a gain here for Sara.

Meanwhile, though it sounds as though everyone could be living an easier life, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not living happy lives. The added responsibility that your grandchildren are now required to manage may build character and may also be an opportunity for all of them to grow closer in their shared duties.

Rather than focus on whether your grandchildren’s clothing is wrinkled and not as fresh-looking as you would like, or whether Sara’s Shabbos meals are up to your standards, focus more on whether they seem happy and stable. How are the kids doing in school? How do they all look? How do they sound? Stay on high alert regarding emotional, rather than physical, hardship. If you note disturbing behaviors, then you have an entirely different problem on your hands and you will need to find a way to sit Sara down and explain to her that it takes a village to raise children, and you and your husband represent that village. No ifs, ands, or buts. Time for some tough love.

But if it’s more a matter of Sara’s need to prove something to herself and others, and there is no real collateral damage, allow her this opportunity, in her mind, to right some kind of wrong. I have no doubt that she knows how much you and your husband love her, no matter that she didn’t listen to you, and that she is quite aware that should she ever need your assistance in any way, all she needs to do is give a yell and you’d come running. And this may happen at some point, for a variety of reasons.

In the interim, stay connected in whatever ways you can and keep your eyes focused on the important matters. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to offer to help Sara, host her children, do her grocery shopping, etc. But don’t make it about yourself. It’s about Sara, and once she feels ready to move on from this stage, she will — stronger, smarter, and with more insight and confidence.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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