Q: I’m writing to you for advice with regard to my nephew, my brother’s son (let’s call him Shlomi), and his problematic home situation. My brother has asked our mother, Shlomi’s grandmother, to let 11-year-old Shlomi move in with her on a temporary basis.
Shlomi’s parents are divorced and both have remarried. His mother (my sister-in-law) recently remarried this past year, and Shlomi had a difficult time adjusting to his mother’s new husband.
So Shlomi has been living most of the time with his father and his second wife. We get the feeling that my brother is having marital problems, and that’s why he’s asking my mother to have Shlomi live with her.
My mother is eager to hear your response on the pros and cons of this move. How much supervision of a pre-teenager can realistically be expected of a 70-year-old woman?
Shlomi has had behavioral issues in the past, and is now in a special school that focuses on these problems — and they are very devoted to helping him.
Some of the difficulties Shlomi was having with his new stepfather revolve around Shlomi being too chutzpadig towards him. His new stepfather is European, and his expectations of an American boy are not realistic. His punishments have indeed been excessive — according to anyone’s standards — and it has gotten to the point that Shlomi barely wants to visit his mother and her new husband.
Shlomi’s mother is now putting all of her energies into her new marriage — and Shlomi’s father is putting most of his energies into his business. Therefore, most of the onus of parenting has fallen on Shlomi’s stepmother, who is not interested in taking on these responsibilities.
My mother lives in a suburban neighborhood where the frum population is small. Among her other concerns about taking in Shlomi is that he will be negatively affected by the many non-Jewish influences around him. What are your thoughts on this very complicated situation?
A: As you accurately indicate, there are no simple solutions to this situation.
There are essential considerations that are not mentioned in your letter. Does Shlomi have siblings? Where do they live? Does your mother live alone? Is your father available to learn with Shlomi and bring him to shul? What type of school is available in your mother’s neighborhood? Will it be flexible and able to deal with Shlomi’s behavioral needs? Are there other relatives living near your mother’s house who could help serve as a support system for Shlomi?
It’s not only parenting issues involved here, but the numerous variables existent in Shlomi’s life. And what are Shlomi’s feelings himself?
With regard to Shlomi and his stepfather, is there someone to whom the stepfather will listen to for hadrachah? Sometimes there is a person who has contact with both sides who can try to intervene to improve the relationship between stepfather and stepson — not that it is necessarily your role to contact this person. Wherever Shlomi may live, improving this relationship is crucial for him.
The parents’ neglect in this situation is an emotional one. Shlomi’s mother seems to be most concerned about solidifying her current marriage. His father’s energies are in his business. It’s understandable why your mother might feel that she will be more devoted in the role of parent.
As for Shlomi being affected by a more non-Jewish environment, such a question needs to be posed to a person with daas Torah. Such an individual would also have a sense of the quality of the existing schools and what involvement the hanhalah of the new school would have with your nephew. If this school has much warmth and enthusiasm, less continual supervision is (usually) necessary.
Your mother’s health needs to be taken into consideration as well when considering this question. Are there any other relatives — perhaps you — who might be somewhat available to help shoulder the burden? Hatzlachah in making this most complex decision.