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BINTEL BRIEFMy older children worry that their neurodivergent brother won’t ‘launch’

Bintel invokes the Haggadah: There are all types of kids. We are to love, accept and teach them all

The Forward has been solving reader dilemmas since 1906 in A Bintel Brief, Yiddish for a bundle of letters. Send us your quandaries about Jewish life, love, family, friends or work via email, Twitter or this form.

Dear Bintel,

My youngest child, age 24, is struggling with growing up. He is neurodivergent, brilliant, anxiety-ridden and prefers to be alone. His siblings, all of whom are doing well in life and love, worry that he won’t launch. (He had been living with me and his stepdad until his mishegas (crazy behavior) forced us to ask him to leave. He still loves us.) Please suggest how I might explain to the other kids that their brother has to find his own way at his own pace. 

Signed,
Mama Loves Them All


Dear Mama,

The ancient rabbis understood that children have different abilities, learning styles and needs. That’s why the Haggadah describes four types of kids at the Seder, right? The wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who cannot even frame a question. We are to love, accept and find ways to teach them all. 

I can see that you are doing that with all your heart. You are rightly proud of all your kids, but you have extra patience for your youngest. 

So how do you get the older kids to back off? Remind them that you already took a huge step in the launch mission by having their brother move out. And congratulations on that! It’s not always easy to recognize that being a loving parent doesn’t require letting an adult child dominate your life, even when that individual has some challenges. Boundaries are good!

But I wonder if the big sibs may be looking ahead to a time when keeping tabs on their brother will fall to them. Frankly, I’m sympathetic to their concerns. They want to see their brother become self-sufficient for everyone’s sake. So let’s make sure you’re not blind to a big picture they might be seeing more clearly than you are. 

Are you paying your son’s rent, making his dinner, doing his laundry? Whatever his limitations, if you’re providing substantial material support, it’s time to nudge him along. Benefits, services and job opportunities for neurodivergent adults are not easy to access, but there are organizations and online resources that can assist. If you still need to subsidize his living expenses, it’s a good idea to set some boundaries there too — discuss and even write down how much you’ll contribute for rent and perhaps utilities, but don’t run an open tab for takeout and Amazon purchases. 

While his anxieties may make it daunting to find a job, the ongoing labor shortage means this is a good time to figure out what kind of work he could handle and push him to go for it. Maybe involve the siblings in these conversations. They might have some good ideas.

And maybe mention to the other kids that experts are warning of a post-pandemic mental health crisis in young people. There’s also some thinking that Gen Z may be more fragile emotionally than previous generations. So whatever’s slowing down a lot of teens and young 20-somethings may also be hampering your son — on top of his other issues.

Your letter also brought to mind the feuding siblings of the Torah: Joseph and his brothers; Jacob and Esau; and dare I mention Cain and Abel.

Joseph was his daddy’s favorite, and his brothers were so jealous they sold him into slavery. Jacob tricked his father into giving him Esau’s blessing. God favored Abel’s offering over Cain’s, and we all know what happened next.

Each case was triggered in part because one sibling was treated differently from the others. Your older kids, like Joseph’s brothers, might resent their brother getting extra attention over the years.

The feud in the Garden of Eden ended badly, but take heart: Joseph and his brothers reconciled, and Jacob made peace offerings to Esau. My hope for you, Mama, is that your older children quit nagging and naysaying, and instead they become cheerleaders and mentors for their brother — and for you.

Signed,
Bintel

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