Religion and family don’t always go together like a horse and carriage
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Religion and family don’t always go together like a horse and carriage

It can be challenging to enjoy the High Holy Days when your grown children don’t share your level of religious observance.

I can recall embracing Jewish observance from an early age. As a little girl I sat beside my mother in shul and loved the feeling of all women sitting together on one side of the mechitzah and the men sitting together on the other side. As an adolescent I would furtively glance across at the men’s section, scoping out the cute boys way over on the opposite side of the room. Years later, as the mother of four sons, I watched my children sitting with their dad on the men’s side, feeling so proud that they were becoming literate Jews carrying on the rituals of our tradition, as I enjoyed the solidarity of the sisterhood on my side.

Being part of the modern Orthodox community and having strong Jewish beliefs has always been a cornerstone of my being; fundamental to my daily life and central to my worldview.

Accepting that my adult children don’t share my joy and passion for the practice of Orthodox Judaism makes me feel somewhat like a failure, and I ask myself “Where did I go wrong?” Why was I not successful in passing on something that I feel so strongly about? Yet my kids tell me that they love being Jewish, they enjoy many aspects of our religion, and they remind me that we’re a close family and they love each other. Then they ask me, slightly exasperated, “Why isn’t that enough for you?”

I can’t understand how the very same rituals that envelop me like a snug blanket and provide me great comfort simply bore them — or worse, leave them feeling empty. And I wonder if I am being unreasonable by expecting them to come to shul on time when I know that it means a lot less to them than it does to me.

While we are fortunate to have large family gatherings during the High Holy Days, for which I am eternally grateful, accepting that my grown children don’t celebrate the customs as I do has become a slight source of tension for me and an unfortunate byproduct of this holiday season.

Ironically, as a psychologist I frequently counsel clients on how the role of parent has to change when our children become adults. The position requires that we pivot, becoming more of a mentor than a manager; more consultant, less CEO. In short, we have to recognize and respect differences, allowing our adult children to be adults, to lead their lives as they choose.

While I am sitting in shul, I remind myself to heed my own counsel.

I begin to wonder if, in my moments of disappointment, I’ve been asking the wrong question. Instead of “Where did I go wrong?” perhaps I need to remember to respect their choices. Maybe I should be asking, “Are my children leading lives of meaning and fulfillment? Are they good fathers and sons? Are they contributing to society in a healthy and productive way?” Thankfully the answer to all these questions is a resounding yes.

During the High Holy Days next year, I will remember to wear my therapist’s hat, and not my mom’s hat, so that I ask myself the correct questions and will be more accepting and respectful of the adults they have become.

Tani Foger, Ed.D, LPC, is the school psychologist at the Idea School in Tenafly.

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