Q: As an aunt, I find myself in a situation where I want to help my nephew navigate his upcoming bar mitzvah. His parents went through a very difficult divorce and a lot of residual anger still remains. My nephew is worried about his mother attending the bar mitzvah (his father alone is paying for it), as the boy is fearful that she might insult one or two of her ex-husband’s guests when she sees them face to face.
My sister can get very emotional, and her son fears that she might begin to rehash history in public. We all tell her how destructive such behavior is, and how it distances her children from her. She understands this in theory, but has difficulty controlling herself.
I know that some divorced parents host separate bar mitzvah receptions, but my sister doesn’t have the financial means to do this.
I know there are no simple solutions to this problem. My sister has a therapist, but doesn’t feel comfortable giving me her name or phone number.
My nephew is sad that he can’t have a family picture taken at his bar mitzvah. His sister isn’t talking to their father, and his parents surely don’t want to be photographed together.
Is there anything that can be done to make my nephew’s bar mitzvah a joyful occasion for him?
A: It is very praiseworthy of you to show such concern about your nephew.
Life often has bittersweet moments, and no simchah exists without some type of sadness (as is exemplified by breaking the glass at chasunos). Since the eitz hadaas, there is no good that is not mixed with some of the opposite.
Part of the “dream” bar mitzvah or chasunah is just that — a dream. There might be occasions when everything goes smoothly, but to expect that as a given is very unrealistic. However, in this case damage control is a must and needs to be focused on how to help your nephew.
Difficult as it may seem, he needs to try to avoid self-pity. Picture-perfect families are just that — only a picture. The “perfect family” is a myth and will remain so until Hashem creates perfect human beings to comprise those families.
All people need to work on their middos and exhibit emotional control on a daily basis. Sometimes we have a clearer vision of how to respond to life’s challenges; those are our victorious days. Days when everything seems to fall into place are really a gift. But despite what your nephew may imagine, such days are not the norm for anyone, and people who are truly happy are those who have learned to rise to the challenges of each unique day. Families have many challenges; his may be one that happens to be more visible to others around him.
In relation to your sister: Is there anyone whom she respects and might listen to? This person needs to be alerted about your nephew’s concerns and approach your sister in a gentle and sensitive way. How does your sister want to perceive herself now and at all times? Does she want to come across as a person with self-control?
You do not mention what her relationship with her son is like. How does she want it to continue? She needs to imagine how she will feel when she encounters people with whom she is upset, and rehearse appropriate responses to them in advance.
Your nephew can have pictures taken with as many relatives as are present, with individuals or in various groupings. Additional photos can always be taken at a later time. Rarely is there a simchah in which one or more family members are not absent for “the family picture.”
If the bar mitzvah situation becomes very stressful (no matter how much effort is put in), making a small-scale event for your side of the family alone may be preferable. Family members can help defray part of the cost and decrease the amount of tension involved.
Hatzlachah in this most sensitive endeavor!