Kibbud Av Va’eim

In Monday’s edition, Mrs. Shira Frank, LCSW, addresses an inquiry from a divorced mother (now remarried) who writes that her children barely call her or visit.

The mother goes on to say that her children feel she was too self-absorbed before her divorce, didn’t fulfill her role as their mother by helping them after the divorce, often blamed them when things went wrong at home, rationalized her behavior too much, and never admits she is wrong.

In her reply, Mrs. Frank asks the mother whether she ever apologized to her children who voiced complaints about her, noting, “An apology is not about who is right or wrong, but an expression of sorrow for disappointing another human being.”

She goes on to advise the mother to tell her children, “Looking back, I’m so sorry that I disappointed you. I wish I would have been more present and able to respond to you in a more helpful way.”

While the advice she gave may have been very appropriate to the mother in question, I am concerned about the children (of all ages!) reading it, who may misinterpret the answer as validation of their own mistaken actions. We live in an age when it has become ever more acceptable for individuals — even within our community — to define their relationship with their parents based on how their parents treated them.

As Torah Jews, we must always bear in mind that our relationships with our parents must be based on the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim. As in all matters of halachah, children who feel they have been hurt by the actions of their parents must consult a posek for guidance as to what their obligations are. In a great many cases, individuals will discover that they are making a grievous error by using past history as an excuse not to call or visit their parents, actions that are a fundamental part of a mitzvah that is one of the Aseres Hadibros.

Shia Eilen

Mrs. Frank responds:

Without a doubt, what you said is accurate. A person needs to consult with daas Torah in relation to the parameters of their particular observance of kibbud av va’eim. There are some cases (not very many) where daas Torah feels it is best that a child keep his distance from his parents — but that, too, is usually time-limited.

My question was, unfortunately, not written by the children who are behaving in this manner. I am not writing to these children — who may not have asked a person of authority, as they didn’t want to listen to the ideas of another individual (no matter how great in stature).

I am responding to the mother, who experiences great self-pity and sadness. Since her children seem to have formed a “united front” to distance themselves from her, she needs to initiate a different strategy to reach them. I know that this mother has often reiterated the obligation of kibbud av va’eim to her children. However, this has not improved the level of respect her children have towards her.

Your point is well taken. Adult children need to be introspective and not hold on to past resentments. A baal eitzah with a breadth of Torah knowledge and human sensitivity can greatly assist this process.