Monday, December 30, 2013

What did I sign up for--Disposable children

The Things are now 7 and 5, respectively.  They may grouse a bit about Shabbos, but they still keep it.  They go to yeshiva, daven when they're told to daven, learn the parsha, and follow the Torah.  They're little kids.  Going OTD is not really an issue at this point.
Fast forward ten years.
I am picturing Thing 1, who wants with every fiber of her being to be a professional actress.  How will she react if she is given a part that demands a Friday-night performance?  What about Thing 2, who was born with a mind of her own and a penchant for bending the rules?  What will happen if one of my children turns out to be gay?  What will I do if they decide to go OTD?
I'll tell you what I will not do.  I will never abandon them.
One of the big selling points in kiruv is Judaism's strong family values.  I have questioned this for years, seeing the widespread institutionalization of young children, educational neglect, silent children, and kids knocking on strangers' doors doing fundraising without adult supervision.  However, this article in the Mishpacha made my hair stand up on end.
The article referenced a rabbi in Israel that takes in young OTD girls tossed out by their parents.  A kind act, true, but why are teenagers being turned out at all?  Because the parents are ashamed?  The child (and make no mistake--15 and 16 year-olds are still children) is trying to grow and define herself.  Sometimes, this takes on forms that parents disagree with.  That's typical adolescence.  However, putting one's own children out on the street is not only atypical, it is abusive.  Moreover, it is counterproductive.  Odds are, once a child is tossed out, that child will never come back.  Not to the parents, and not to Yiddishkeit.
As parents, it is our job to put our children first.  Our own feelings, our egos, others' opinions--all are secondary.  No family should ever throw away their children.  No parent should ever pray for a child's death.  No parent should ever deliberately put a child at risk of harm, whether through starvation, physical attack, or sleeping in the street.  And no one should ever tell a confused teenager that "she brought it on herself."
Our children are gifts from G-d.  They are not disposable!


  1. Ultimately, the extreme position of "throwing out" nonconforming kids is a kind of 70s "scared straight" approach. The hope of the parents is that if the kid knows he can be thrown out for nonconforming, he'll stay on the straight and narrow. Occasionally a kid has to be thrown out so it's not an empty threat (and so others who may be thinking about rebelling can see that).

    It's immature on the parents' part because it doesn't see the kids as individuals. But even the Modern Orthodox way believes that Torah observance can, and should, work for everyone. Do you believe that? Your post already pointed out that it won't work for someone whose calling is to be a serious actress (or pianist, or astronaut, or world-class athlete). It doesn't work for someone whose soul mate is a non-Jew who is unable or unwilling to convert, either.

    It's all well and good to choose observance for oneself. It's a different thing to demand it of others. Torah Judaism demands that we demand it of others (whether by the soft sell or the hard sell). I don't agree that we should demand it of others, including our children.

  2. On one hand, I was at least happy that Mishpocha highlighted the work of this rabbi at all and the existence of this problem.

    Thinking about it more deeply, though, there's this perversion of the concepts of shame and blame.

    Yes, in the secular world, parents and teens can have relationships fall apart and kids can also end up on the streets. I've dealt with a number of such cases. In those situations, though, the estrangement is usually a source of shame. What this article is saying is that for some of these frum parents, the shame of having a daughter deviate from the norm is overwhelming, while the shame of kicking your daughter out of the house is not. THAT is what is truly messed up, and it reflects upside down priorities in a community. I really hate to make the comparison, but when I read the description of parents feeling so much shame and revenge, my first thought was of the evidence in a notorious "honor killing" case here, where a police wiretap caught the father complaining bitterly about his deceased daughters (their deaths had been staged to look like an accident).


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