It is written: “Al ken ya’azov ish et aviv ve’et imo vedavak beishto, vehayu lebasar echad—Therefore a man should leave his father and mother and attach himself to a woman, and they will be like one flesh” (Bereshit 2:24). This commandment is meant for women, as well as for men. When we marry our betrothed, we must be forever striving together to discover our “oneness”, and in doing so, we must separate from our previous role as daughter. Overnight, our relationship to our parents changes from being the most important one to being secondary. With time, we learn to detach from our role as a child to our role as a wife, and an active partner in our own home. This transition is not easy, and it continues to be a challenging balance in our lives as our parents get older and begin to need us more. I never imagined my parents would need me so soon, and I never imagined the circumstances that would bring them to my doorstep, separately, looking for warmth and comfort in my home, when I was still not done needing that same comfort from them.
When my parents told us that they were getting a divorce, it was like my heart stopped. I was pregnant at the time, and my husband had just received a job offer after many months of unemployment. We were caught up with getting our lives in order, financially and emotionally, and just like that—everything seemed to slow down for me. My siblings, some of whom I had not heard from in months, started calling me. They were asking me questions for which I had no answers. We lived nearest to my parents and had the most contact with them on a weekly basis, so I knew more details than they did, but even I had no real answers. The news sent us all into a whirling tornado of phone calls, memories and tears.
When you grow up in a home that is made up of hollow walls, and the pain and suffering of your parents meets you in every interaction with every family member, every single day of your life, you never think it’s normal. You know early on that you are part of a hurting home. You don’t have to see other, happy families to recognize that yours is filled with broken hearts. A child sees. A child knows. A child knows everything. And so, I knew, always, that in my blood, was a pulsing, deep sorrow that I had inherited from my parents’ weeping souls, as my mother carried me for the first nine months of my life. We were all born into their sadness, and we lived with it as one lives with a bruise. It hurts. You can’t disregard it, and you wish with all your heart it wasn’t hurting, but you don’t stop because of it. And alas, you learn to ignore it.
So, I wasn’t surprised when my parents came to me with their decision. I don’t think any of us were. It made sense. It fit. Yet, I was mourning, and I felt like I was in shock. I found myself overcome with emotion for days on end. I was crying, even sobbing at times, feeling that my insides were breaking apart and leaving me hollow. As much as I desired to crawl inwards and be left alone to sort through the memories and emotions that were surfacing, I couldn’t ignore the people reaching out. I was getting phone calls and messages from siblings—and from my parents. Everyone was hurting, and everyone was reaching out to each other, as if asking wordlessly: Were we ever a family? What were we? What are we now?
My husband stood by, watching this unfold, and doing his best to be supportive. At some point though, I realized that I needed to reach out to a mentor for guidance. The toxic swirl of family drama now threatened to take me down in a way that was all too familiar to me from my childhood. This time though, I had my own home. My family was now my husband, children and me, and I had a responsibility to protect our family unit. I had no idea how to do this in light of what was happening with my parents. I felt a desire to fix them, to reach back in time and cure the hurt that was their world for decades. I felt like I had to be there for them, and to be involved in their separation, so as to bring them back together. I felt I needed to travel back through the years, with the help of my siblings, and make sense of our trauma.
So, my husband and I got guidance and very clear instructions from Torah-infused people about how to behave so as to give expression to the truth. The truth being, that we—my husband and I and our children—were the center of our universe, and we had a responsibility to build our home in a healthy and positive atmosphere. A Jewish home takes work, and a lot of effort. It was imperative that we put up solid borders and focused on ourselves. There was nothing we could do for my parents, and furthermore, it was not our place to be there for them in the way that they were asking.
I was relieved to hear this advice. My parents had been reaching out to me—separately—needing me to console them. They had been breaking down and sobbing to me on a nearly daily basis, asking me questions about themselves to help them understand how they got to where they were. It was extremely burdening, overwhelmingly sad and all-consuming. Therefore, I was more than happy to have Torah backing me up when I informed them—patiently and gently—that I was going offline and would contact them when I was ready to do so.
It’s funny—when I was single, I remember how I would often daven that my future home would be a landing place for the rest of my family. My parents were still together at the time, but I knew that they were unstable and searching. I felt like I wanted to be able to provide a real home to all my family members. I imagined my family coming to me for chagim, and gathering at my home for different family events. I had witnessed warmth, love, stability and true peace in many homes, as my husband and I traveled around in our early twenties, and I wanted to provide that for my parents and siblings. I hoped to fill us all with hope, happiness and the unconditional love that comes when you live your life hand-in-hand with Torah. I was overjoyed to discover that my husband was just as passionate about building this dream with me.
I never expected to be thrown into this role in such a tragic way, but here I was. As the weeks went by, my husband and I felt we could open up again to my parents—this time with our finger on the pulse. I managed to make the intellectual and emotional change from seeing myself first and foremost as a daughter to seeing myself first and foremost as a wife and mother, a process I thought I had already learned in our many years of marriage. I was able to filter phone calls and put up boundaries with my parents. I learned to manage my thoughts and to dedicate only a small portion of them to my parents’ separation. My husband and I learned to filter any unnecessary details regarding my family out of our conversations, and we felt that it became an important subject which now took the backseat in our lives, making way for us to enjoy our life together, completely separate from my extended family. I discovered that the only true form of help could come from the Almighty, and so I turned to prayer, pouring my heart out to Him.
I now felt empowered and happy. I was filled with gratitude that Hashem had brought me to my husband and my home before my parents separated. I was able to truly focus on my husband, children and pregnancy, continuing to build our home, brick by brick, like a beis hamikdash. As more time went by, we began to invite each of my parents over to our home for dinner, or for an afternoon visit. I began to open up to them again as they each settled down emotionally and found stable ground within themselves.
As we spent more time with each of them, I began to feel that I could explore, once again, what it meant to be a daughter, as well as a wife and mother. I felt I was a stable woman in my own home, with my husband and children by my side, steadily advancing on a Torah-path, guided by caring and wise mentors and Rabbis. This stability was something I felt day in and day out. As my parents each continued on their journeys, I watched them, and learned more of their pain—this time, however, not through their sharing, but rather through my open heart and willingness to accept them. I saw what it meant to live a life of close to 45 years with a person you don’t feel appreciates you. I saw confusion and anguish over unsettled arguments from their first days of marriage flash through their memories as they reminisced. I saw how far someone can push themselves into despair, as they are torn apart from within by hurt from their spouse.
I also saw how much they love me.
I began to understand what my parents truly needed from me. They needed me to need them still. They were petrified of losing their children and being alone. They were haunted by the fear of being shut out and hated by their children because of all their failures. And yes, there were many failures I could account for. Yet here I was, standing strong and thriving with my husband, our growing, happy children, and a solid home around me, while my parents were watching the walls of their own home crumble into dust. I had no anger toward them anymore. I held no blame for my own suffering in my earlier years. I now felt that it was something of the past. I knew that Hashem had given me this life in order to make me who I am today, and I felt only gratitude.
As this transformation took place, I was able to be compassionate toward my parents, and to daven for them as a unit. I still daven for them to reach each other from a new place. I believe there is still potential for them to find each other and build a new home together. I mourn their hurting, and I feel deep sorrow for everything my siblings and I had to experience in our childhood. I take that sorrow and that mourning, and I turn to Hashem and say—help us build up from the ashes.
Yibaneh Beit Hamikdash Bimhera Beyameinu.
*To reach out to the author of this article, email email@example.com with the subject: “contact rising from our ashes” and your message will be forwarded.