In my last column, I published two letters involving the same people/persons. These emails are from two friends, a married one and one single. “Shayna,” the married friend, is worried that her single friend, “Chanie,” has given up on dating and marriage because she is the primary caretaker for her father. Shayna has gone so far as to contact Chanie’s siblings who live in Israel, accusing them of willingly letting Chanie give up her life and chance of marriage to care for their father.
I’ll remind readers that Chanie was married in her 20s, but it ended in divorce. Chanie firmly believes Hashem’s plan is for her to remain single so she can fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av, and she is more than happy to give up dating (and socializing). Chanie wants Shayna to stop pushing her to date when she wants to concentrate on her father. Shayna wants me to tell Chanie what my thoughts are re: her not socializing, dating, and resigning from her job to take another that allows her to work remotely.
I communicated with Shayna and Chanie a few times, through email and on the phone. There is no right or wrong answer. My response below is one of the last emails I sent them both on our email chain. You may agree or disagree with me, but as I said, there is no wrong and right here.
Chanie and Shayna:
We can keep going around in circles and all we’ll get are nice spirals. I can’t tell Chanie what to do, just as I can’t tell Shayna to stop caring for her friend. You both want what you feel is “right.” And by now you must know that you are both right.
Chanie, I am in awe of you and what you are doing for your father. The mitzvah of kibud av is one of the hardest we have to keep. Where do we draw the line? When does kibud av cross over to interfering or affecting one’s life to the point where an adult child changes everything: home, job, etc? Does Hashem want us to honor our parents by giving up our lives, what we love to do? Isn’t there a balance?
You resigned from a job you loved, severely pulled back on socializing with friends, and have stopped dating altogether. Not to mention, you gave up your apartment years ago when you first decided to assist your parents. We don’t know what Hashem’s plan is, even if we think we fit the puzzle pieces together. You’re thinking that you had the joy of being a kallah, so it’s not as if you are giving up on something you never had. You may think that if Hashem wants you to be married, you’ll meet someone the old-fashioned way: maybe on line in the pharmacy, while picking up your father’s prescriptions or while you sit with your him at the park. But what if you are single because your true bashert isn’t ready yet? What if he is married and hasn’t divorced yet (or his spouse passed away – it’s awful to think but can be true). Maybe he’ll be ready in a couple of months, or maybe in a couple of years. Don’t bank on meeting him during or after all this because of what you are doing for your father.
Kibud av doesn’t mean that you have to give up your social life or job. These are two separate issues: caring for your parent and finding your bashert. There is an aide in the home for 12 hours who is more than capable of taking your father on walks, preparing meals for him, assisting him with his taking medication, etc. You can still work during those hours and, when needed, take time off to go with your father to his doctor or for therapy appointments. You can also date during the day or get together with others: brunches, lunches, during the week and on weekends. I do not think Hashem wants anyone to give up “having a life,” even willingly, to care for her parents. That is not the definition of kibud av.
But I also feel that you should not carry the burden of caring for your father alone. Your siblings live in Israel, but they can and should be involved. You’ve said they come in yearly to visit, besides their twice-weekly calls. Schedule a vacation for yourself – and dates – anything during that time. Ask them if they can stagger their visits so they both don’t come at the same time, thereby helping you, as well. You need time to recharge your own batteries. Caring for a parent is very difficult. There has to be a solution where you get time for yourself. You may not see it now, but you will slowly break down physically and mentally with the non-stop schedule you are keeping now: your father by day and working in the evenings. And the social isolation isn’t helping either. You don’t want your siblings to be angry that you can’t “handle” this? Well, “this” is a lot to handle! He is their father, too. There is a possibility that you will resent them because they let you make all the decisions, and you have moved in, as they continue on with no real adjustments made to their lives, because they know you are there 24/7.
I wish I had a friend who loved me like Shayna loves you. Shayna loves you like a sister. To me, that means that she is as close as close can be with you. She knows your love and dedication to your father, but she also wants you to experience all the joys someone should experience. Your first marriage didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean you should remain single until after your obligation or however you feel about it to your father is fulfilled. Shayna sees her friend giving up her own life – job, nights out, dating – in order to devote all she has to her father. Shayna isn’t asking you not to live with or care for your father. She wants you to find the balance between your life and being your father’s caretaker. Truthfully, I would have probably done the same thing and called your siblings to say something re: the life you are living now compared to how it used to be. I’m sure they don’t want you to give up on yourself for even a little bit in order to fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av. All of you need to have a new discussion about this.
You need a balance.
Shayna, your love for Chanie is very clear. I think you have done everything you could do to make Chanie understand that she is giving up a large part of her personal life with the approach she is taking to being with and caring for her father. You’ve spoken with her many times about this, called her siblings to explain what Chanie has given up. But now you have to take a step back.
Through all of our communications, I know that Chanie understands what she is doing by what she is doing. She’s thought about herself, her wants and needs, and to her, it’s more important for her to fulfill kibud av than to go out on dates, have a social life, etc. How she is fulfilling the mitzvah is another story.
In my first article for the Queens Jewish Link, I wrote that people should not date if they are not ready for it. Chanie does not want to date. If she goes out with someone you set her up with – and/or guilted her into dating – how do you think the date will turn out? Are you willing to risk your relationship with Chanie if you continue harping on this? Yes, sisters fight and make up, but you are “sisters from another mister.” Chanie is doing what she feels she has to do for her father. Her father, not yours. Her family, not yours. She and her siblings have made decisions for their family that they are all comfortable with – for whatever the reasons really are.
It is not for us to tell someone how to care for her parent, fulfill a mitzvah, etc. It is they who will have to live with the consequences of their actions and decisions. You may not know why Chanie is doing all this. Maybe she feels that she wasn’t a good daughter, maybe she was a rebellious teenager, and she regrets how she acted decades ago. The reason could be any one of dozens, but Chanie made the decision to move back home, resign from her job, to be there, where she feels a child should be with her parent.
Through our communications, your frustration comes through. You feel like you are fighting for your friend’s life and happiness. But you can’t fight a war that doesn’t involve you. This issue remains between Chanie and her family. All you can do is be supportive and love your friend. By not dropping the subject and moving on, you risk losing Chanie. She has heard you loud and clear many times. We love our friends, but we don’t have to agree with them on every decision they make. I’m afraid that if you don’t stop, you may be driving the wedge in your friendship. Chanie may pull away if she feels that you don’t support her and continuously push the subject. Keep loving her but move on.
To my readers: Agree or disagree with me, but this is a very difficult situation for Chanie to be in. How much should she give up in order to be there for her father? Shayna wants what she thinks is right for her friend, but she can’t keep nudging Chanie about it, because it’s not her family or life. Sometimes friends have to watch friends make hard choices and just be there for them with open arms when needed.
Hatzlachah to you all!