Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW and Chaya Feuerman, LCSW
The matter of shidduchim is challenging for everyone involved. Feelings of insecurity and anxiety can run amok. Will you find the right person for you child? Is your family good enough? Is anyone good enough for your child? When a family enters into the shidduch world, it is a culmination of years of chinuch, and most likely, generations of family emotional process. Though marrying off a child should be a great joy, it also is highly stressful. Not only has your baby grown up, but this time of life also often coincides with middle age, reminding the parents of the fact that they are growing older and an important first part of their lives has been completed.
Is My Child Ready?
Some people may feel that it is okay for their child to go on shidduch dates even if he or she is not quite ready for marriage. We feel that is not a wise approach, here is why: Though it certainly can take a while to meet the right person, it is unfair to all parties and dangerous to assume that he or she will date for a period of time, grow up, and then decide to get married. Your child must be mature enough to be married from the moment of the first date.
Of course, no one is ever perfectly prepared for marriage, just as no one is the perfect driver on the day he passes his road test. But, we still look for certain skills and benchmarks before putting a person behind a wheel. So too, there are relationship and life-skills that a child should have attained before entering into shidduchim. Here are a few questions to explore with your child to help develop the self-awareness that can increase the chances of finding a suitable mate:
The above questions do not represent questions on a test to be graded. Rather they are talking points in an ongoing dialogue that you should be having with your child. If you engage your child in a discussion, not a lecture, it will be helpful in developing his or her awareness of the ideas and concepts that he or she needs to clarify. Through that process you will reach an understanding of when the right time for shidduchim begins.
Am I Ready for My Child to Get Married?
On the one hand, a child's marriage shouldn't be dependent on whether his parents are ready for him/her to be married. However, in a practical sense, especially in our close-knit frum culture, the parents play an important role in almost every stage. Therefore, the parents need to be ready too.
Here are some of the responsibilities that parents in our culture have:
Parents do need to investigate prospective shidduchim quickly, but thoroughly. If your child is dating with serious intent to marry, it is important that he or she sees only suitable candidates. After all, each prospective date might be the real thing. This does not mean parents should be overly picky, it just means that parents should know what their child is looking for, and be able to confirm if the candidate is within that range. We all have heard bizarre stories about people investigating the color of a family's Shabbos table cloth. Of course, that kind of investigation is ridiculous. However, it is important to find out about the family because styles of relating, social abilities, emotional capacity and the like are learned from family. It's very important to get a sense of the family's values and style of relating. In our opinion, the quality of the family is at least as important as the individual.
To help keep things in perspective, we quote Rav Moshe Feinstein, ZT'L who advises the following:
"One should not be too clever [in searching for a mate, rather look for] a woman who you find attractive both in her appearance and in [the qualities] of her family, and who has a positive reputation that she follows our traditions. With regard to such a person, you should rely on the above evidence and marry her in the hopes she is the one designated for you by Heaven. It is not necessary to excessively inspect her and such efforts will not accomplish anything...one should relate to Hashem with simple trust (Devarim 18:13)." (Igros Moshe, Y.D. Vol. 1:90)
Regarding financial matters, parents are generally expected to pay for the wedding, which includes the party itself, sheva brachos, aufruf, rings, shaitels, laichter and a whole assortment of gifts and supplies, which are divided by tradition and protocol amongst the chosson's and the kallah's parents, according to an accepted formula. This is all very expensive, even if one tries to economize. It is important that parents prepare themselves financially to manage these burdens, and if there are difficulties regarding them, to be honest and straightforward about them. Trying to cover up or pretend the problem will go away can lead to behaviors that could sabotage relationships, such as unconsciously acting out on resentments or delaying shidduchim.
Lastly, parents must be prepared to let their children start a new life of their own. In theory, it is simple. But in actuality, watching your child find love and personal fulfillment can set off painful feelings in a parent who may be at a point in life where there are many frustrations and disappointments. If a parent has regrets about life choices, disappointments in marriage and a lack of satisfaction it can affect his or her child's shidduch and marriage process. Sometimes there can be unconscious jealousy at play, and other times there may be an opposite effect whereby the parent is living through his or her child, receiving satisfaction vicariously by experiencing the child's joy. While it is normal to feel nachas and joy about a child's successes, if one has not enough personal fulfillment than it is possible to lose objectivity and end up somehow pushing a child into a marriage or situation that the parent finds attractive, but is not really suitable for the child.
It is advisable to work on your own relationship with your spouse and to resolve old issues and resentments so that both of you can work together with a clear mind in helping your child through this stage of life.
My Child is Complaining that He or She is not Getting Enough Shidduchim
It is not the volume of dates that count, but rather the quality. If your child is serious about getting married, it will not take too many dates. As a parent it is your job to network with people and shadchanim to find prospective shidduchim that fit the values, goals and tastes of your child. Our tradition teaches us that shidduchim are in Hashem's hands and therefore it is only necessary to make reasonable efforts without panicking. Indeed, staying calm and trusting the process is an emotionally healthful and proper hashkafa.
There are people who resent the requirement of "shidduch resumes", but our opinion is that a well-written and concise shidduch resume with a photo is an important tool. Be careful though because people we are not such good judges of the meaning their writing conveys. Many ideas expressed are based on a certain context that might sound cleared in our heads but not on paper. Have a number of different friends review the resume and take into account their input. The resume should have a solid reference about your child such as rebbe or morah, and a solid reference about your family, such as a rav of your shul. Some people like to speak to a friend of the prospective shidduch, and it is an interesting way to learn about the person. However, it should only be relied on as a supplement to the other references.
Facing Hard Truths
The shidduch market is competitive and the people who are smarter, wealthier and more attractive will probably have more choices. There are many things that are out of a person's control, but even in regard to a person's appearance there are many opportunities to have an impact. Keeping physically fit and having an appropriately stylish wardrobe are important for both genders. Not everyone is naturally good at this and it pays to get help from those who know.
Parents should not nag or badger a child to watch his or her weight or to exercise, it doesn't help. (When people tell YOU to watch your weight it doesn't work so why expect it to work with your children?) However, if parents really do believe that their child is not investing enough in his or her appearance, they should let the child know in an honest and tactful manner. A parent might say, "It is natural for people to want to look their best on a date. Is there something we can do to help you sharpen your appearance and make the best impression on people?" Be prepared to put your money where your mouth is, paying for gym membership, clothes etc. It is also important to be seen at family and community events and to do some on-the-spot networking. Drag your child to them so you can point him or her out. It may be annoying and bothersome for some people, but it is practical.
If you feel your child may have social deficits or awkwardness, it is better to face the problem than avoid it and hope it goes away. It is difficult to be objective about matters such as this, so try to get advice from others as well. An older mentor can be very helpful to a child in terms of learning what to say and how to act on a date.
What If I Don't Approve of Someone Whom My Child is Dating?
This is always a challenging situation. Even assuming a parent is correct, if a child feels that he or she was prevented from marrying his or her bashert, the resentment could last for years. It is better to be tactful and inform your child about your impressions and concerns in an objective non-dramatic manner. Do not exaggerate, escalate into predictions of doom, or dig up mistakes from the past. It is too easy for your child to get defensive and dig his or her heels in.
You can ask your child if he or she is interested in some feedback, and if the answer is yes, then say something like, "We see the following strengths (make sure to list them too!)…and the following weaknesses. What are your thoughts?" It is important to genuinely respect and listen to your child's thoughts. The more you do this, the more likely he or she will be receptive to your concerns. Do not micro-manage or obsess over details. If, in the big picture, the prospective suitor has good qualities and your child feels good about it, then it is time to let go. If, on the other hand, you see serious red flag issues, you should raise them once or twice. If you feel your child is really not seeing things clearly and you fear he or she is about to make a big mistake, without getting too dramatic you should ask your child to get a second opinion from someone he or she trusts. If none of that works, stick by your child, give it your blessing and hope for the best. Let your child know that although you have voiced your concerns, you will accept his or her decision, welcome their chosen mate into the family and go forward with a positive and optimistic attitude.
What If I Feel My Child is Being Too Picky
We heard a story about someone who visited the Steipler Rav, asking him, "When will I find my bashert?" When the Rav heard that he had been dating for several years he said, "If you have been dating for years it is not possible that you didn't meet your bashert already." Presumably, the Rav meant that if a person is open to opportunity and doing reasonable hishtadlus (effort), Hashem will send appropriate suitors within a reasonable time frame.
We all have encountered people who are too picky when it comes to shidduchim. However, when it comes down to defining what that means, it's difficult to pin down. After all, attraction is not completely logical and it is unfair to expect a person to marry if he or she does not feel any attraction. On the other hand, no partner is perfect and some people keep searching for the perfect partner out of an unconscious fear of marrying, or due to narcissism and self-centeredness. How is it possible to correctly identify the problem, and what can be done about it? It is not helpful to be too judgmental or harsh on your child, even if you really feel he or she is way too picky, because if you push to hard and then they choose the wrong one, you will be blamed. What you can do is share your opinion in a positive, optimistic way that Hashem does send us good people, and if you are open to seeing it, within a normal time frame you can find a person with whom you can build a meaningful lifelong relationship with.
Every individual deserves a chance to be married, and it is unfair and painful to hold a person's family history against him or her. Nevertheless, there are difficult realities that no one can afford to be naïve about. Living in modern times, we have all come to accept and understand that many people suffer from emotional challenges such as depression, ADD, and abuse. When these conditions are relatively mild in family members or even in the individual's past, it is wise to take a careful look at the person's current strengths, accomplishments and abilities. These days, it is quite common for persons to have taken various medications, and in and of themselves, they are not indicators of the severity of the problems. In fact, some people who avoid medication at all costs so they do not have to disclose this information to shidduchim, ironically are at greater risk, since their problems have not been adequately treated. If the positive qualities outweigh any of the less positive traits or history, it is reasonable to trust that everything will work out. Not that it always does work out, but even perfectly healthy people develop problems later on, so a person has to have some faith in Hashem and the power of a motivation to overcome handicaps.
However, there are conditions that are more serious and need to be weighed much more carefully. Conditions such as Major Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, significant learning disabilities, in family members or the individual, as well as seriously abusive childhoods are real risk factors. In situations such as this, one must be much more cautious, doing much more thorough research about the family, and especially about the prospective suitor's strengths, coping styles, values, and history. It's not that it is a rule-out, but one must be prepared and knowledgeable about the challenges that may come up. We once again stress that of course, individuals who have family or personal histories that are problematic deserve to be married as much as anyone, if not more so, because of the suffering they have experienced. Still, everyone has a right to choose and must know all the facts. The rest is not in our hands.
Regarding medical matters not related to mental health, people do tend to exaggerate or misunderstand how illness, medical history and heredity work. Therefore, when questions arise, it is a good idea to get information from a knowledgeable physician and not rely on half truths.
In situations such as this, it is important to be alert for signs of "rescuer syndrome". What this means is that sometimes a person will be attracted to another person because he or she feels needed or powerful as a rescuer and savior. To a limited degree, this can be a part of normal courtship. However, for some people, it becomes the basis of attraction and it is a set-up for future marital difficulties. This is because, at some point, the feelings of being a savior and rescuer wear off and they are replaced by annoyance and contempt for the other person's weakness. It is important to take a careful look at these motivations and make sure that the basis for attraction and mutual connection are on solid ground.