Don't Fear Confusion

Your request is reasonable. The issue is how you will go about working with your ex-husband, the father of your children, to share responsibilities for their upbringing. Given lack of information about the Christian woman whom your husband is dating, her commitments, beliefs, interest or disinterest in Judaism, whether she has children of her own, I shall speak to you here in general terms.

You need not be afraid of confusion. Life is complex and children can flow with perplexity and incoherence with greater grace than many an adult. The task of the adult is to allow, hear, affirm the child’s confusion. I support you in living out your own commitment to Judaism with your children.

The times we live in are beyond clear mental grasp. The shape of the family, the contours of religion, the meaning of marriage, the notion of faith, the tasks of parenting are all shifting, splintering. While there is a temptation to find the quick fix, the easy answer, the safe option, it may in fact be wiser to cultivate our own ability to live with uncertainty, to face big questions with the honest answer, “I do not know,” to wait with patience, to act with kindness.

Kindness begins with yourself. Rare is the family that can avoid the feeling of failure after a divorce, and then the sense of guilt which leads to blaming yourself or your partner. I invite you not to fall for that. At its best and truest, marriage is a classroom for deepening our capacity to love; not every marriage is capable of serving this function. Consider that having left the framework of marriage, your ability to give and receive love is nonetheless utterly unimpaired. Keep your eyes and ears attendant to the guilt, anger and judgment that can and will erupt in you and around you, but do not become blind and deaf to the truth of your love.

It is your recognition of love’s reality and durability that will enable you to discern a soft voice from deep within which says simply “All is well,” that beyond the circumstances of your life and your children’s lives, “All is well.” That simple truth is never shouted or defended, cannot be demonstrated or refuted; it simply is. On good days you will hear it and choose it. It is the voice of what our tradition names the “Shema.”

So let the chattering world compliment you as a great mom or condemn you as a terrible parent, a deficient spouse. That’s all beside the point. What matters is more basic: letting yourself receive your children’s love, whatever forms it takes, and having compassion for all God’s children, starting with yourself. It is hard to be a human being. Harder than we can know.

James Ponet is the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain Emeritus at Yale where he also is a visiting lecturer at the Law School. Fortunately he has been married over 40 years to Elana Ponet with whom he has 4 children and 6 grandchildren.

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Don't Fear Confusion

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