My husband and I are having a big debate: Is there something wrong with forcing a child to get married? We have a son who is 26 years old, but he does not want to get married. He does not even want to date, ever! I want to force him, but my husband is against it.
My son knows that he is not acting normally. I even brought over a relative who is a therapist to talk to him. He was very rude to her and walked out of the room. I joined a support group for parents of such boys, and I heard of stories where they forced their child to get married, and then he got divorced.
My husband went to a rebbe who told him that he agrees with me that we should put a lot of pressure on our son. That would be very easy for us to do. We can take away his car, or even threaten to throw him out of the house. But my husband does not want to do that. I am at my wits’ end. People are asking all sorts of questions, and we don’t know what to answer. The top girls are being redt to him and it’s all for nothing. We are very popular in our community, and our son is shaming us. What can we do?
By Baila Sebrow
When I first started reading your query whether it is wrong to force a child to get married, I assumed you were talking about someone very young. Upon further reading, it became clear to me that you are not talking about a minor child. Your son is a full-fledged adult. Your husband is smart enough to know that you cannot force an adult to do something against his will and expect positive results. That is something you have to be aware of.
It is clear that you are suffering the pain of shame. But that does not even come close to what your son is suffering. I do not know why your son has no interest in dating or marriage; even more concerning, it sounds like you have very little knowledge of his reason for refusing. I also have a gut feeling that your husband may have more information than he is comfortable disclosing to you.
Let’s first talk about force. Forcing an adult to do anything means abusing the power that you have over him. It is clear that your son is not fully financially independent. Sure, you can take away his car and even throw him out of the house, as you say. But do you honestly believe that he will then come begging you for forgiveness and start behaving the way you want him to?
Here is the scenario of what really happens when a son or daughter gets evicted from the home they have always known by the people who are supposed to love them unconditionally. Knowing that he cannot do anything to change the way he feels about getting married, he will do whatever he can to convince you not to make good on your threats. I assure you that whatever semblance of peace you have now will forever be gone. Exerting power comes with a heavy price.
Although he is an adult, your son will suffer tremendously being cut off from his family—financially and emotionally. And what will you have gained? Will the shame you feel in your community be lessened in any way? No. On top of whatever it is that people are saying now, you will certainly give the yentas something juicy to talk about.
“Keeping up with the Joneses” may be a secular concept, but sadly it has infiltrated our frum society to the point where it has broken families apart. And that is what you are now contemplating doing to your family.
It is the wish of most parents when children become of marriageable age to take them to the chuppah. But there are children who, even though the best shidduchim are suggested to them, do not feel compelled to get married. The reasons are endless, as I am sure you have heard. There is a myth amongst some families that when a child refuses to get married for a specific reason and you nonetheless force it, he or she will magically be happy and live the life that is acceptable in their community. This is as ludicrous as throwing a person who does not know how to swim into the deep ocean. Will that person suddenly develop the technique for swimming, or might he drown?
I know of many cases where the children were not exactly forced but rather strongly persuaded by their parents to get married against their wishes. You have no clue what tragedies have resulted from such unions, the lives that are demolished beyond repair. Imagine if your daughter married a guy who never wanted her in the first place. Would she not pick up on those vibes almost immediately? Our communities are full of similar stories. There are many young women who have fallen victim in marrying a guy who had no business getting married in the first place. You do not want that on your head.
I am not sure how your son’s story was explained to the rebbe your husband spoke to about him. Therefore, I cannot offer any comment to this rebbe’s response. But I do want to touch upon bringing a therapist to your home. Forgive me, but that was a huge mistake. There is no question that your son is in desperate need of retaining the services of a therapist. But not in the manner you depicted. Bringing in a family member and expecting your son to disclose his private feelings to her was not wise at all. Your son deserves a medal for walking out of the room. I am glad to hear that he has some backbone.
What you and your husband both need to do is take a deep breath and discuss the situation in a calm manner. Allow some time to pass without mentioning girls and shidduchim to your son. During that period of time, ignore any shidduch suggestion that may come his way, and just say that he is busy. Do not elaborate on anything. You owe no one any explanation for the events in your family. Do not concern yourself with people who gossip. Those people are not talking only about your family; they talk about everyone else, too.
After things have calmed down in your household, invite your son for a chat. Stress how much you love him, and apologize—yes, apologize—for the way you have been treating him. Allow him to see and understand that you have been acting poorly to him because you felt susceptible to the gossip surrounding you. When he understands your fears and vulnerability, he may open up to you and tell you what is really going on in his life.
It might be that your son just needs some time to find himself, and he will then be ready for marriage. Or maybe not. Prepare yourself for the possibility that he might disclose a serious or shocking motive for not feeling up to getting married.
Whatever the outcome of that talk you will have with your son, never forget that he is your child, your flesh and blood. Raising children is not like connecting the dots on a picture to get a perfect result. There are times when life throws you a curveball, but parents who are savvy will rise to the occasion and accept, respect, and love their child regardless.
In addition to encouraging your son to speak to a therapist as a healthy emotional outlet, I strongly advise you and your husband 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. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com.
Questions and comments can be submitted to email@example.com.