Navigating life as a divorced, single parent is never easy, but the challenges are compounded when one is part of the Orthodox Jewish community, in part because of the community’s strong family focus and many traditions.
While friends and family will likely rally around the divorced parent by helping with carpools or inviting them for a Shabbat meal, the parent and children are likely to still experience loneliness, sadness and frustration. Often, families receive support when they are going through the initial stages of separation and divorce, but many find that people pull away over time.
To provide newly divorced individuals with the tools they need to help themselves and their children, Clinical Psychologist Dr. Barbara Lauer-Listhaus and Mrs. Rena Kutner, who herself was a young divorced mother (she has since remarried), teamed up to create a workshop titled “Accepting Your New Normal: Rebuilding a Better You and Helping Your Children in the Process.”
More than 30 women from across New Jersey attended the first workshop, which was held at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck. A second session was held at the JCC in Long Island, and was equally well attended.
“We want to empower parents and their children to face their peers, their extended family and the community with strength and determination to improve their life,” says Lauer-Listhaus, who has spent 20 years helping people renegotiate their roles as parents while dealing with their own emotional adjustment to the changes in lifestyle that occur following divorce.
Orthodox families dealing with a divorce have unique concerns that aren’t necessarily faced by others, says Lauer-Listhaus. “These young parents have to handle the expenses of yeshiva education often on a single salary. They have to help their children transition between two homes, which may have different levels of religious observance. Many single parents spend the yamim tovim alone without their children.”
As for the children, Lauer-Listhaus says they often feel isolated from their classmates because their parents are absent from the Shabbat table or do not attend events at their school. “Some are fortunate to have a supportive extended family, but others feel ashamed and on their own, dealing with a stigma that still exists within our community,” says Lauer-Listhaus.
According to the organizers, the workshop provides practical suggestions for different scenarios, as well as guidelines for knowing when to seek professional help. Parents are encouraged to model positive behavior and avoid overwhelming their children, teaching them how to deal with their experiences in a productive manner, rather than from a position of anger or frustration.
The organizers also encourage divorced parents to take the initiative.
“Don’t just wait for an invitation, invite friends over for meals on Shabbat,” advises Rena Kutner, adding that parents should “speak openly about their situation to friends and family rather than be secretive. Be direct and let friends and family know how they can help.”
The advice, and the way it was presented, was much appreciated by the attendees at both workshops.
“As a divorced mother there was a lot of helpful and practical information,” said one parent. “There were many tips I can use in my everyday life as a single mom.”
Another newly divorced parent praised Kutner and Lauer-Listhaus for having a “warm and empathic approach that enabled the members to feel validated and understood.”
For more information about this workshop, please contact [email protected]
By Faygie Holt