By Esther Mann, LCSW
I grew up in Chicago and am now living in New York. Most of my family and good friends are still in Chicago. I married a young man from New York seven years ago. Though he was “redt” to me by a reliable person here in New York, I really didn’t have many contacts in New York to ask for information.
I can give a hundred different reasons why it was stupid to marry Sol, but the bottom line is that I did marry him and it was probably the biggest mistake of my life. No one mentioned how irresponsible and troubled he was—totally ADHD. I saw this on our dates, but I conveniently decided he was “high energy” and lots of fun. During our short marriage he was unemployed more than he was employed, jumping from one “greatest opportunity in the world” to his next “greatest opportunity in the world.” He was never there for me or for our two children.
Lots of other stuff went wrong and ultimately I came to the conclusion that I had to run for my life. Sol is not marriage material, nor would he ever be. After much anguish, we finally got divorced.
So here I am, living in New York with two children. As I mentioned, my parents live in Chicago. My mother is a teacher and can’t get away very often. My father is also unable to leave his job much. I’m pretty much alone.
I made a few friends here in New York, but it seems that as soon as they heard I was getting divorced, they started distancing themselves from me, almost as if it were contagious. Or they just couldn’t handle me and my problems. I have one good friend who has stood by my side throughout all of my ordeals, but she’s got plenty of her own problems and I try not to burden her too much with mine.
So I’m feeling quite alone here. I would move back to Chicago in a heartbeat, but for legal reasons, I can’t take the children that far away from their father—not that he sees them all that much. I think on principle and to further hurt me, Sol just wanted to make sure that I would stay put in New York and suffer even more, far away from my family.
Here’s why I am writing to you. Most of the families on my block are frum; that was one of the selling points when we moved here. Everyone seems nice enough, and they were all very neighborly when we first moved in. We would have families over for Shabbos meals, and they would have us.
But ever since the divorce, it seems like all invitations have dried up. Sometimes I feel like I have leprosy! Just when I need people to be around me and help me out, instead I feel so alone and miserable.
I’m trying to be honest with myself and figure out why we are no longer welcome in the neighbors’ homes. I have to admit that my children are wild. I’m already suspecting that they are going to turn out to have ADHD like their father. And of course everything else that’s been going on has not added to their stability. They are anxious, nervous, and hard to be around, even for me.
So I can understand why no one is looking to host us. On the other hand, I am resentful. Where does kindness fit in? Can’t people invite me and be supportive of me even if it’s a drain on them? I want to believe that if the tables were turned, and I was living a happy, stable life, I would go out of my way to help a needy person, especially someone like me, who has an ex-husband who comes around if he feels like it, family so far away, few friends, and basically no support.
Is there anything I can do to change my situation? For myself, and for my children, I need things to improve and start looking more normal. Should I confront my neighbors or even just beg for help? At this point, I’m not too proud to do that! What do you think?
Frankly, you are not alone. There are many women in our community, and most communities, with stories similar to yours. There are women left to raise young children alone, lacking a supportive family, and not feeling sufficient outreach from neighbors and the community.
Putting your question out there for everyone to read is a step toward opening up people’s eyes. The fact that your children are high-maintenance, as you described, probably does explain a lot of the problem. But some people just like to stay snug in their comfortable little space, without bringing any potential chaos into their well-ordered lives. That’s a problem. As Orthodox Jews, we should know better and do better. If we are blessed with stability, rather than run from tainting our perfect picture, we should be sensitive to the life and needs of a woman like you.
There are so many such women all around us, and you all should be treated like extended family and friends—with respect, kindness, and concern. I’d like everyone reading this column to take a moment and think: Is there some young woman living nearby who is struggling to keep it together? Can you possibly connect with this woman and her family and, through some simple acts of kindness, make a dramatic difference in her life that would shock you if you knew how truly powerful it could be?
(There . . . I’ve done the confronting for you. You don’t need to go there on your own.)
Next, we all need support. And support comes in many forms. There are organizations such as Sister to Sister and even our local JCC that have wonderful programs that not only address specific needs that you might have, but also give you the opportunity to meet other women in similar situations. It’s important to befriend, identify with, and commiserate with women like yourself. Not to say that divorced women should only be friendly with divorced women and married women should only be friendly with married women, but there is something about talking to a person who is “walking in your shoes” that can be very comforting. By sharing challenges and tips, and simply validating one another, you will feel less alone and more connected.
There’s no reason why you can’t share some Shabbos meals with women you meet through these organizations. Additionally, as a bonus for your children, they will realize that they too are not alone and that there are other children from divorced homes, just like themselves, to whom they too can relate.
I do understand what a tough time you are all going through. And having your family so far away only makes matters harder. But by reaching out in the right directions, I believe you will find wonderful people who can enable you to feel like you belong and that you matter. Hang in there; things will get better!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.