An Almanah Seeks Guidance

Q: I am a mother of three children, and I lost my husband about four years ago. Two of my children have special needs — our daughter with her emotional needs and my son with his academic ones. My husband was niftar as a result of a work-related accident, and the illness that came about due to this accident. The workplace is in the neighborhood where we live, so continually having to see the store where he worked brings back uncomfortable memories for us all the time.

To begin with, my husband had a job that involved a lot of moving boxes, and he wasn’t given much respect (since a teenager could have done the same thing). It seems like our family’s feeling like a rachmanus case is something we’ve always had to deal with.

It’s hard enough to be an almanah, getting the feeling that people are always feeling sorry for you. I don’t really have much clout, and when my children have issues, I don’t know how to appropriately defend them or assist them.

My son says that he gets teased a lot as he has to find adults or older bachurim to go to shul with him. What are your thoughts about our situation?

A: The first step you need to take is to make a general cheshbon hanefesh with regard to your family’s self-perception. If feelings of self-pity are the first knee-jerk reaction you have when you identify yourselves, that is a good area to focus on.

One needs to ask: “How have I learned to successfully cope with feelings of self-pity? How can I convey the way that I have been able to deal with daily adversities, and not feel sorry for myself?”

Teaching children appropriate coping mechanisms — by setting an example, by verbalizing positive ways of coping, and by showing concrete solutions — is an excellent beginning.

A mature realization of the human condition is that life comes with nisyonos and suffering, and there are no exceptions to the rule, no matter how another family may be perceived that way by others.

A parent needs to help her children to generalize teasing statements from their peers and to see that, more often than not, your child is not the only “victim” of a taunting peer. Unfortunately, the teasing will be directed towards many another classmate. One will become the target next week, another next month. Why certain children are more often targeted for teasing than others, and ways to respond to such teasing, is a topic for another column. What to stress now, though, is the idea that there are ways to respond with concrete problem-solving rather than self-pity.

With this thought in mind, it is important to realize that creating a support system for children with special needs is an arduous task for any parent, whatever the child’s challenges may be. Special effort needs to be exerted in finding the person who will go the extra mile for you. Such a person can give you concrete ideas on ways to negotiate the various systems that you need to work with, be it the Board of Education or therapists.

Considerable time and effort also need to be invested in finding a bachur to be a “big brother” to your son. Paying the person may be necessary, but having a consistent male role model is essential, particularly when it comes to areas such as shul attendance.

Regarding the feelings of sadness you experience as you pass the store where your husband once worked, making such covert feelings overt can be most helpful. Verbalizing the understandable sadness often decreases the “toxicity” of the experience and the mixed emotions felt at such times, as there are also warm memories associated when passing the store, such as of their father greeting them lovingly.

On a simple level, working on ways to increase upbeat activities — be it playing family games or cooking together — can help turn around feelings of non-worthiness as a family. If you reflect the ability to be playful, a certain amount of group sadness can be lifted.

Family therapy focusing on mourning issues is very beneficial in circumstances such as yours, where ways to increase self-esteem as a family can also be discussed.

B’hatzlachah in all your endeavors.