Dear Therapist:

...I recently became engaged to a wonderful man! I have two great teenage boys from a previous marriage that ended in divorce. Their father has no custody or visitation and is not involved in their lives. As we prepare for marriage, we have been getting a lot of advice from well-meaning friends and rabbis about how important it is for my future husband and me to spend “alone time” together after we get married in order to give our marriage a solid foundation. My boys have the option of dorming in yeshiva but up until now they have been living at home and I think this is what is best for them. However, someone whose opinion I value has been pushing me to have them dorm for at least the first year of my new marriage. On the one hand I understand the importance of building a marriage with my new husband; on the other hand, I am concerned about my children feeling “pushed away” if I ask them to dorm. What do you think is the right approach? How can we give our marriage the best chance for success and also do what is best for my children?

 

Response:

Your questions refer to a specific situation, but I don’t have the details necessary to formulate a response that would be specific to your situation. Although your basic questions are clear, I have no sense of the nature of your sons’ needs and personalities. For example, I don’t know what their relationship is like with you and others in the family and community. I don’t know how your sons are reacting—both outwardly and emotionally—to your engagement and upcoming marriage. I don’t know how they generally react to change. I therefore don’t know what the advantages and disadvantages would be for them to remain at home—or to move into a dormitory.

The concept of your future husband and you having alone time in order to help solidify your marital relationship may have merit. However, just as no two people are exactly alike, no two relationships are identical. Some relationships would benefit more from such alone time than would others. Additionally, alone time can be attained in many different ways. You also didn’t mention your fiancé’s thoughts about where your sons would live. In certain situations, the argument could be made that keeping the new nuclear family together would be better for the marriage. Again, I don’t have the information necessary to venture an opinion.

It seems like you’re in the unenviable position of weighing your marital success against your children’s needs. However, I wonder to what extent this conflict is emotionally based. You stated that you believe that it’s best for your sons to remain at home. If this belief is at least partially based on feelings, identifying and dealing with these feelings can help to clarify your true, logical beliefs.

Have you discussed your concerns with the person whose opinion you mentioned as valuable to you? Does this person have a good handle on the entirety of your situation, your relationships, and your children’s needs? If so, exploring your concerns with this person can help you to view these concerns more objectively. There may also be someone else whom you trust to help you gain a more dispassionate perspective. Once you are certain that your concerns are based on compelling logical thought, the best way of approaching the situation may become clearer.

Do you have reason to believe that your boys are better off at home, or are you mostly worried that they might feel “pushed away?” If your prime concern is that your sons may feel abandoned (and you therefore maintain that you will not urge them to leave the house), having an open discussion with them about your thoughts might help them understand your point of view. This could help them recognize that their welfare is your main concern. Describing your thoughts and feelings, and placing the decision in their hands, can also give them a sense of self-determination. You may even find that one or both of your sons would like to move into the dormitory, but have been staying at home for your sake.

                                

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317