Three Ladies, Three Lattes: Help!

As parents we can only hope that our children make good decisions and never suffer the consequences of bad ones.

Senior woman (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Senior woman (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
I am turning to you for help. I am a British religious grandmother living in Jerusalem. When my son moved back to America and married a non-Jewish wife, I was distraught; I have to admit I was not warm and welcoming to my daughter-in-law. And when my own daughter married a very devout ultra-Orthodox yeshiva student, I was thrilled.
Many years later my (now-converted) daughter-in-law is wonderful to me, includes me in her lovely family and welcomes my interaction with my grandchildren. However, my daughter lives like a prisoner in a haredi community with her several children who are banned from seeing me; I haven’t seen my own child for years. I feel that she has been brainwashed and is living in a cult.
Reading your column has given me the idea to start a support group for parents who have lost children to extreme religion, but I don’t want to jeopardize my chances of ever reconciling with my family. How can I go about this? Are there any grandparents’ rights that could be established by a secular or rabbinic court?
Pam Peled: What a sad story. Regarding legal rights, there is apparently a precedent for visitation rights of grandparents; you’d need to consult a lawyer for family matters and apply to the rabbinical or secular courts. Various organizations can help, including WIZO, social workers and support groups run by religious women working for women’s emancipation.
Obviously this issue is sensitive and painful. There’s the question of whether you fear your daughter is being abused, mentally or physically. Does she want contact with you, or is she happy not to be reminded of her previous life? If her husband is behind this “ban,” could you contact your daughter when he isn’t home, or get a message to her? As for the religious question, I suppose the obvious answer would be to go back to the Ten Commandments – can you call yourself God-fearing if you don’t honor your father and mother? That commandment is right up there after keeping the Sabbath, before the prohibitions on murder and adultery and coveting.
It’s supposedly the bridge between commandments pertaining to man and his Maker, and those of man to man. The reason is simple: By continuing in one’s parents’ way, a good Jew is supposed to keep on the path of righteousness and tradition.
The bottom line always seems to be that it’s hard to soften attitudes of someone who believes God is on his side. I myself might turn to an organization that tries to undo brainwashing; but after so many years, this might be a vain hope.
Tzippi Sha-ked
: I feel for you. This reminds me of my father’s cousin and my friend’s brother. Both of them married non-Jewish women who forbade their husbands from having anything to do with their Jewish families. Both these marriages ended in divorce, but that did little to assuage the hurt felt by the families.
As Pam often says, “People are people are people.” I believe this painful situation has to do with personalities more than with religion. Sadly, relationships are as strong as the weakest link, especially if there are strong forces running interference. Weak personalities often succumb to misguided instruction from wives/husbands/ clergy.
Assuming your relationship was good before your daughter married, a support group can help you cope with your feelings but may do little to repair the relationship.
I suggest that you contact an organization such as Tzohar. Tzohar can answer your questions about your rights, and may even agree to intercede on your behalf with your daughter’s rabbi.
During our Three Ladies, Three Lattes book tour, a woman in haredi attire approached me with her story.
She was visiting Israel to spend a week with her haredi son, daughter-in-law and grandkids in Jerusalem.
“I’m not haredi,” she explained, smiling. I asked her how she made the visits work. She answered: “I want a relationship with my grandkids badly enough that I respect their house rules, even when they don’t make any sense to me. It’s a different world because I’m not even Jewish.”
When in Rome…
Danit Shemesh
: As parents we can only hope that our children make good decisions and never suffer the consequences of bad ones.
We also fervently hold on to the mommy-knows best dictum. However, in this age of knowledge, that view is outdated and better serves the parent than the child.
We want to trust our children to lead their own lives and not be led by others (including ourselves?). Leaders make a choice: either to embody what they adopt from the past generation and imbue it in the following one, or to reject elements of their childhood which they deem unhelpful or hurtful.
Being rejected by our own children is a cruel yet not unusual fate. The pain can create a blind spot that hermetically seals off objectivity.
I beseech you to open your mind to the possibility that your daughter is not a victim of a cult but a leader in her own right who chose to raise her children differently.
No rabbi will tell a child to shun a parent. It’s halachically stipulated that even if parents slap a child in the street, the child is obligated to honor them. Your daughter must have made her own decision to isolate herself.
I wholeheartedly love your support group idea, but not with a combative approach. Rather, try an inquisitive desire to learn more about other ways with an open heart, embracing the difference rather than being threatened by it. Perhaps you will even enjoy your “several” haredi grandchildren. I welcome you to ask my mother.
To join a support group for parents estranged from their children and grandchildren or for comments and questions, please contact us at