Balancing Judaism and family for a baal teshuva

We don’t grow up on our own. Our families have a profound effect on our ideas, our values and who we are as people. Yet within the family there are always different opinions and hierarchies. Parents’ challenge is always to give their children the ‘safety’ of their own values while giving them enough independence to build their own lives. When these kids grow up and do indeed decide to live ‘differently’ it can cause a lot of anxiety for both sides. That’s in usual circumstances. What about for a baal teshuva?

The baal teshuva-parent relationship is often the most challenging one. It’s the tight rope between doing what you believe in and at the same time giving full respect to the parents thanks to whom you exist (even if they’re not around anymore). What fuels the fire is that often it’s the decisions that your parents (or even grandparents) made that have brought you to where you are now and the changes you are making. As a result parents often blame themselves as much as they do you or others. Look out for your parents feelings of guilt and reassure them that they made all the right decisions as best they could.

The baal teshuva-parent dichotomy can be explained as: We owe our parents – We owe Hashem. Honoring our parents is so highly valued in Judaism that it made it to the 10 commandmants, right under keeping Shabbos. We are also told that one of the few things we are allowed to disagree with our parents about is observing the Torah. I believe there is and has to be a happy medium. Judaism is at it’s core about balance. At the end of the day both our parents and Hashem want the best for us.

I find that the biggest gaps are created when there is little conversation. Keep in mind that it’s not just your journey. Take the responsibility of honoring your parents and remember that you are not on your own. As much as parents may disagree with what you do, they want to know what you do and why. At the start especially it may be hard to articulate the ‘why’, but don’t be afraid to say, “i don’t know, I’ll ask and get back to you”. Then ask and then get back to them. You owe your parents at least some kind of peace of mind that you aren’t betraying them, but only taking what they gave you and building on it.

No matter how close or distant we are with our parents we can use our changes and growth as a springboard for deeper discussions about who we are and what we value. You might even surprise yourself. You may both have the same values (i.e. success, family, responsibility), but want to construct those things in your life differently.

When you drop the ball and stop communicating your changes, you’ll know – it will reflect in the relationship. Like with any relationship it’s important to be honest and open. They probably won’t want to join you, they probably won’t encourage or start coming to shul with you, but at least they will accept you and feel some comfort that you are actually happy.

The best advice I’ve had about this issue is: you’ve become different, not them – it’s up to you to bridge the gap and help them feel comfortable with it. Don’t expect understanding, create it through your actions and speech.

 

More reading about honoring parents.

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