I am a divorced father of children who are in the shidduch parashah. My kids live with their mom. Even though I see them every day, I’m more like an uncle to them—at least it feels that way sometimes. I know that I always have to remember how lucky I am to even have this much with my kids and still have a good relationship with my ex-wife.
But I am worried that my children do not have the right guidance in dating. My ex is a good mother to our children, but I don’t think she understands that a father is needed in the picture when children are dating. I want to be able to guide them in making the right choice. The way things are, my children don’t even see me as that sort of influence in their lives. It’s a divorce thing . . . I know.
My concern is that they won’t make the right choice. My children look at life and marriage through their mother’s eyes. How can I guide my children in finding their bashert?
By Baila Sebrow
I can feel your anguish as you relate your dilemma. You are giving voice to the pain that many single parents of adult children experience, particularly those who are not the primary caregivers. With divorce so prevalent today in all circles within the frum world, your situation is one that is shared by mothers and fathers alike.
It is well known that single parents whose children do not live with them are often excluded from situations pertaining to the growing-up years. But it does not stop there. The exclusion further continues when these children are ready to embark on their next major milestone of shidduchim.
It must be frustrating to know that your children are dating, yet you have no say in any of the discussions or decisions. To not be included when your children may share an anecdotal occurrence or have an indecisive moment about dating can surely make you feel almost like a stranger to them. And this is your offspring we are talking about—your flesh and blood.
Even worse, you probably feel that if you were to comment on an important issue, your children might not take you seriously. And you are right. In the current state of affairs, they may react with nothing more than a perfunctory response, at best.
When you state that you are like an uncle rather than a father to them, even though you see them every day, there is a reason for it. It appears that in the minds of your children, you are a relative whose boundaries must be respected but not someone to take into their confidence as a parent. There is nothing more agonizing for a parent than not having any say in his or her child’s life. Whether it involves the phases in raising a child or beyond, parents, regardless of their marital status, should not be deprived of any aspect in the lives of their children. Furthermore, it is detrimental to the emotional health of children to feel as though one parent is nothing more than a stranger or, at best, a relative.
I recently became aware of a situation where a father who had been divorced for a number of years received a phone call from one of his children to invite him to attend the engagement l’chayim! This man was in utter shock, as he had no clue that his child was even in the shidduch parashah. He was deliberately kept in the dark the entire time the shidduch was in progress. This man felt that the only reason he was invited to the l’chayim was for appearances. Oftentimes, even when family relationships are strained due to a divorce, the parent living with the children feels compelled to put on a show for the future mechutanim. They feel the need to prove that despite the circumstances of a divorce, there is still a healthy family relationship.
Whether it involves birthday parties, school plays, graduations, or any milestone in a child’s life, the parent who is not there sustains indescribable, heart-rending pain—and, oftentimes, so does the child. There are children who have expressed feeling abandoned when one of the parents was not there to celebrate a special moment.
Some situations cannot be changed, especially when the divorce was chaotic. There are times when children are intentionally used as pawns, in one way or another. When that happens, deprivation of the other parent’s relationship with the child may result. Frequently, in such cases, the parent is repeatedly kept in the dark on all important matters in the children’s lives, and shidduchim will not suddenly become the exception to the rule.
There are also situations where the children take the side of the parent they feel worse for. Treating the “adversarial” parent in a standoffish manner is quite common. These children might believe that by not sharing important information, they are being kind to the parent they feel the need to protect.
Please appreciate that your children are suffering too, and have likely been from the day they were informed that their family would be fractured. Some children react in ways that are discernible, whereas other children just shut down emotionally. Whatever their reaction, it is not done on purpose. Instead, that is their coping mechanism.
That said, there is the possibility that your children might not be sharing all that much about their dating life with their mother either, even though they live with her. The fact that you have a good relationship with your ex-wife and have been able to see your children on a daily basis leads me to believe that your children are not acting out in hostility against you. That still does not take away from the way you feel you are being treated.
Your concern about your children making the right choice in a prospective spouse is valid. Regardless of how level-headed your ex-wife may be, a father’s input is not just necessary, it is critical.
I am glad that you are fortunate to have an amicable relationship with your ex, and that you are not being deprived of a daily relationship with your children. However, seeing them is not enough—you want and need that verbal contribution in their lives.
Utilizing the privileged arrangement you currently have, request to speak with your ex-wife when your children are not around. Praise her accomplishments as a mother to your children. Further, express gratitude for her fair treatment towards you and in the way she speaks of you to the children. Make it clear that you are not looking to undermine her outlook on dating with regard to your children. Explain that you feel that it would be beneficial for your children to have their father’s view in guiding them towards finding their bashert. Stress the significance of how your participation is not only to benefit their selection in a spouse, but will ultimately publicly represent the family in a positive way.
I am optimistic that based on the way things have been going till now, the mother of your children will see the situation from your angle and that your motives are not selfishly intended. However, be prepared for the likelihood that your ex-wife may not see eye-to-eye with you on this particular issue and may have a personal reason for not encouraging your participation in the shidduch phase of your children’s lives. If that happens, you might want to initiate the assistance of a trustworthy third party that you and your ex-wife both respect.
In the meantime, until this matter is settled to your satisfaction, do not do anything that might antagonize your ex-wife, as that will be detrimental to the relationship you currently have with your children. It is best not to be forceful, as that will likely generate a negative effect.
This still does not mean that you have to feel totally helpless about your situation. It can cause no harm to tell your children when you see them how much you love them. Tell them that they have given you so much nachas from their accomplishments and that you are proud of their growth into adulthood. Speak to them from your heart, omitting any grievances from the past. Allow them space by telling them that if they want to speak to you about anything, you are always there for them. May your efforts to get closer to your children prove fruitful.
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. v
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