At some point, life becomes their own - FamilyEducation

At some point, life becomes their own

July 17,2008
My business partner’s extended family is in the midst of a hurricane of crisis. It seems his 13-year-old niece (on his wife’s side) has “opted out” of her Bat Mitzvah. Just six weeks to the glorious (according to the family) event that marks her entry into womanhood (according to the traditions), she decided it wasn’t for her. Chaos has ensued.

The good news is that it has given my partner and I something to talk about in between those discussions about whether to do XYZ for client 123. And, while it’s not necessarily “bad” news, we don’t agree about the way the situation has been handled by his family.

I think it’s a reasonably brave move on the part of his niece to “walk away.” She has explained that it’s "just not that important" to her at this point. In short, she was only going to do it for her mom, grandparents and others. There really wasn’t anything in it for her spiritually, culturally or otherwise. Some might call that selfish, but I think the truth is that going through with it is the selfish move. After all, she could have just kept her mouth shut, gone through the motions and walked away with a small fortune in “cash and prizes.”

I also think that her mom is to be commended. According to my partner, his sister-in-law can sometimes be a bit of a control freak – always saying “no” to her kids’ wishes. The fact that she has agreed to cancel the ceremony is front-page-worthy news (at least in the Family Chronicles). My partner and his wife are stunned.

My partner, however, is on the “she’s being selfish” side of the controversy. His feeling is that “this late in the game,” travel arrangements have been made, tickets purchased and, in the case of his in-laws, a five-day Bat Mitzvah trip to Chicago already given and taken. At this point, he believes, the lesson is about responsibility and learning that sometimes we need to do things that we don’t want to do – especially when such actions will bring joy to so many others. (And, especially when money has already been spent.) He thinks that his niece is just testing everyone to see what she can get away with.

I understand that point, but we are talking about a 13-year-old girl – a person who may be sitting on a fence and leaning toward “total rebellion.” Forcing her to go through with the Bat Mitzvah ceremony and rituals is going to make her jump to rebellion that much faster. Now, that’s not to say that appeasing her by allowing her to outright cancel the affair is going to “save” her, but I have to think that supporting her decision, which had to be difficult even for her, is going to have a positive impact that won’t soon be forgotten. She’s likely HUGELY relieved not to have to do it, and feels a sense of pride to have some control over her life. That can’t be a bad thing. Anxiety isn’t any good for anybody – especially teenagers.

So, why not a compromise? If the tickets are already purchased and plans were already made to travel to California for the Bat Mitzvah, why not just come? Why not make the trip, get the family together and show this (lost?) teenager that the family supports her, loves her and so what if there’s no trip to the synagogue? Alas, that’s not going to happen. The grandparents are pissed. The family is experiencing some despair and the whispers continue.

I asked my partner what he would do if a similar situation arose with one of his girls, and he said that he’d “encourage her” (read: make her) go through with the ceremony. We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one. If K-Man decides he doesn’t want to do the “Bar Mitzvah thing,” we’ll certainly have a long talk about his reasons. But, if it’s well thought out and he’s sure about his intentions…more power to him for living his life.

All that being said…I don’t think there’s a right or wrong here. My partner may be right. I may be right. Every kid, every situation and every family is certainly different. I just find the whole thing fascinating, as it points out – vividly – what we already know about parenting: There are a million ways to do this stuff. It’s a matter of what fits for our kids. We have the same goal: to raise happy, healthy kids. Sometimes…we just take different routes to get there.