Ask the Rabbi How can parents help troubled girl

She openly shows and displays her rebelliousness by not joining us for Shabbat dinner, or if she does, not participating in the prayers and leaving as soon as the ha-motzi is done.

She will invite her friends over on Passover and order pizza. She won't come to seder, or when she does, she will not participate and acts like an outsider by reading the newspaper under the table, acting tired with her head on the table, etc.

We are not an overbearing family. We do a lot of compromising around here.

I don't know if I should ignore this, insist that she be part of our family traditions or give into her whims and just hope she'll see the light.


Dear Ethel,

My heart goes out to you, to your husband and to your daughter. It sounds like a highly unpleasant situation for all of you.

You are eloquent in portraying the tensions in your family life. I'm sure your daughter is aware of the tensions and that they are a source of pain for her too.

The first fact I'd like to remind you of is that our children are not our possessions. We do not own them, nor do we give them their personalities. They are born with their own character, contours and preferences already in place. The best we parents can do is to help guide them into becoming their own best selves. Many parents attempt to coerce their children to becoming little duplicates of themselves (or of their fantasy of themselves). Many children resist anything having to do with their parents, in a misguided effort to assert difference and identity.

Having said that, I would want to ask you and your daughter to consider walking a fine line: Your daughter has a right to her own spirit and her own faith. If Judaism isn't her passion right now, I would not fight her on that issue.

Still, you do have the right to expect your daughter to be loving and respectful and to participate in family activities. What that means in plain English: She doesn't have to love the seder for the sake of the seder, but she does have to participate gladly for the sake of the family. She doesn't have to go to Israel if that doesn't move her, but the family Shabbat dinner isn't optional.

It is worth explaining that you lovingly do for her because she is your daughter — but that giving and relating has to be reciprocal. She also has to give and relate in a loving supportive way.

It also sounds to me like you, your husband and your daughter might well benefit from some talks with a therapist. Having a neutral third party present can help assure that you are each heard and that you listen to each other.

God bless you all,

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

Bel Air, Calif.