Recently, I posted a comment on my website inviting teens-at-risk to submit essays to my private email address sharing their thought and perspectives on why we are losing so many of our children. Shortly thereafter, I received a riveting email from a bachur vividly describing his home life and the challenges that it posed to his emotional development. Here are his actual comments, which I edited for publication.
Reading these lines reminded me of the words of our great rebbi, Rabbi Avrohom Pam, who would often remark that the formula for success with one’s children is 50% tefila, prayer, and 50% shalom bayis, marital harmony.
The feelings of shame started when I was a little child. My parents didn’t express any joy at being with each other. They criticized each other harshly, and they always found something to criticize about me. My parents would argue in my presence in loud voices, often yelling at each other in anger. Terrified of what might happen, I would withdraw to stunned silence. When I was finally able to speak, I would plead with them to stop fighting, but they were still trying to prove themselves right in my eyes – which seemed to me like they were expecting me to solve their problems.
I would desperately want to cry during those times. However, the only people who could console me, my parents, were frightening me to death. I would frantically try to get my Mommy and Tatty back, because I needed them to reassure me that everything is all right, to calm me down from my terror.
I began to live my entire life trying to make people think I was good, so that I will stop feeling this shame, which was so painful to me. I became a perfect student who always got high marks, and an ideal child who always behaved and did his chores. Over the years, I got lots of compliments for the good things I did but they went right past me since they were all addressed to the ‘fake me.’ The ‘real me’ was my feelings of shame.
If only my parents had seen my pain then, when I was a little kid who needed soothing. If only they would have realized that their bickering and fighting was making my life miserable, and that destroying their beloved child's happiness was far too high a price to pay for the feeling of having won an argument. Maybe then they would have stopped and made peace with each other so they can together focus on their vulnerable little boy who needed his Mommy and Tatty so much. Maybe then, they could have been at my side to help me grow up happy and healthy. Maybe I would not have lived with such deep shame and loneliness for so many years, thinking I had been forsaken by everyone, certain that nobody cared about me.
When I tell my mother that I had a tough time as a teenager, she is shocked and disappointed that I never shared anything with her about my life. She deeply regrets not having been able to give me support. My father tries so hard to make me happy, and he also cares about me, but I never shared anything with him either. I am currently a ‘regular’ yeshiva bachur of 19, so I did not get any support from people, as I might have if I had gone off the derech.
Baruch Hashem, I have found people in my life who are giving me support and guidance. I speak to therapists and to my sister whom I feel close to, and they tell me I am really a good person, and that I should focus on all the good that I do. I wish I could do that, but this is not something I can switch on at will. Now and then I feel hopeful that maybe I will change, and that gives me the courage to continue. I am also beginning to see that there are people who care about me, and that I am not all bad. I am starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I deserve to be happy and to be cared for.
I am so lonely, and I wish I would get married already to someone who will be my friend. But I keep thinking about my parents’ lives and their marriage, and I am petrified of repeating the unstable environment in which I spent my painful childhood years. So I am working on changing the way I feel, in order that I can prepare to start a healthy home of my own.
Parents, please take a good look at your children. Somewhere there is a little boy or girl who is wondering why his/her Mommy and Tatty sometimes just leave him/her alone with his/her pain, as if he/she does not deserve to be held when he/she cries. If you do not act now, then later nothing you do will make a difference, and you will have to helplessly watch your teenager struggle with more pain than he can possibly carry on his young shoulders. Just ask my parents how it feels to know you have been unable to help your child with the struggles of growing up. Ask them how it feels to know that they were the cause of my struggles. Please realize that when you are in conflict with your spouse, you are taking away your kid's Mommy and Tatty. Realize it now, before it is too late.
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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