Thursday, February 12, 2009

Response to mom draft #1

I woke up at 6am this morning and lay in bed next to B, composing letters to my mother in my head.

B thinks this is a bridge burning time. He thinks this is another ploy, similar to that of my dad, my brother and my cousin over the past few weeks, to try and convince me to not marry him, but that my mom might not go through with it. He thinks that I have tried the diplomatic approach long enough, and I need to lay all my cards on the table and tell my mother what I really think, bad with the good (and it's especially bad at this point).

My friends think I shouldn't be too harsh and burn bridges, because some day my mom will come around, and even if she doesn't, being harsh will just obscure my message.

I'm still not sure what I think. What I do know is that my mother is an incredibly stubborn woman, and that I think she will stick to this, despite everyone's assurances that she will 'come around' when we have kids or after we are married and she can't change my mind anymore. I also know that if this is the last communication I have with my mother, I want it to count- I want to say to tell her all about everything I have resented her for all these years, and also all the things I remember best about her, and also all the things I think she is doing wrong in this situation. I also am afraid of coming off childish, and being dismissed as childish becuase of my anger, and therefore my message not going across.

Anyways, here are a few of the things I've been thinking about all day, that may or may not make it into whatever letter I eventually send my mother.

ETA: This is the final version of the letter that I sent to my mother earlier this afternoon, the previous draft has been deleted
Dear Mom,

We haven't had a relationship in years, so at this point telling me you aren't officially going to talk to me anymore seems to be merely reaffirming something that was already true.

The one regret I have about our relationship is that we never got to know each other as adults. I have longed for the close relationship I see my friends having with their mothers, where they are able to have frank discussions about life, they can talk as they would to a close friend, be guaranteed that their mother will be supportive of them, and are able to have these discussions without judgment.

In recent years I have attempted to make this relationship I want into a reality, by being more open about my life when talking to you. However, I have been met with nothing but disapproval whenever I have revealed anything personal about myself to you, and so our relationship has devolved to the point where we are complete strangers. The way you reacted to anything I did that went outside your notion of the way things SHOULD BE made it impossible to share anything personal with you. All you were focused on was the way YOU wanted me to act, not what was best for me, what made me happy, or what was important to me.

I see now that my desire to have a close personal honest relationship with you is similar to your desire to have a daughter who is religious. It's based on a person who doesn't exist. You can no more be close and warm to me than I could be a religious person. I'm not even sure if you are capable of being a close and warm person. I have not felt loved by you for many many years, and all I have felt was your constant disapproval. I feel your decision to cut off anyone who makes different choices than you is selfish and childish. I never agreed with the way you treated R and D when they stopped being religious, as I felt you just threw away your long relationships with them like yesterday's garbage. And now you are doing the same to me.

I appreciate you trying to understand my situation by reflecting on your own life when you get married. In one respect I do think the metaphor is apt- when you compare my situation to your situation with your parents. I know you have made some arbitrary distinction between the two situations, but to me that distinction is exactly that- arbitrary. You have never even met B, despite my numerous attempts to set up a meeting between you two, and yet judge him based only on his heritage. I have seen you become more and more like your own mother over the years, bitter and sarcastic and very judgmental of anyone the least bit different from you, and I guess now that transformation is complete, since you are treating me exactly the way she treated you. But somehow it's 'different' because I crossed over a different line drawn in the sand.

When I was a kid and hanging out with friends that you didn't like, you always told me that I should be loyal to my family because "blood is thicker than water". It seems that this sentiment only works one way. You have denied me, your own blood, your oldest child and only daughter, because I do not live life as you do. You are so intent on living your life in a tiny box with blinders on that you can't bear to have a relationship with me. You try to pin this on me by saying that I am "divorcing the family" with my decision, but this decision is entirely yours. I have no problem continuing a relationship with you, as long as you acknowledge B's existence and treat us with the respect and courtesy you would treat any other relative you don't like that much. If you can't bear to do that, that is your choice, and I respect that. But I hope you can acknowledge that it is YOUR choice to cut off this relationship.

I have wasted countless hours being angry and resentful towards you for the ways you have tried to control me and force me to live a life I don't want to live. All I feel now is pity for you, since you feel that your beliefs are incompatible with having a relationship with me. What a sad choice for you to have felt you had to make.

But I want to thank you as well. Throughout my life you and Abba have tried to force me to live my life the way you want me to live it. Throughout it all, I did what I felt was right. I now know that whatever you can throw at me, it will always be worth it to me to live my life the way I want. Even now that you have told me we can no longer have a relationship, I still don't have a single regret about my decisions. Thank you for showing that to me.

As I have done countless times before, I again extend an open invitation for you to meet up with me and B, at any time and place of your choosing. Until then,

With Love,
Abandoning Eden


  1. I wonder if your mom really discovered your blog. I would love to read a guest post by her (or your dad)

  2. HH- I briefly contemplated sending my mom a link to this blog (I don't think she's found it, my mom barely knows how to use the internet beyond e-mail and ebay). But I think that it would stifle the ability I feel to say what I really think on here, and that my parents would just get their feelings hurt by what I really think about them. So what would be the point?

    I still haven't made a decision though. I doubt I would ever get them to agree to write a guest post though.

  3. this letter sounds very genuine and real. sometimes when draft 1 keeps being redrafted it loses some of its authenticity. it's painful to read but i hope it helps them see your perspective.

  4. I think your parents may be feeling betrayed by you. As mentioned by your family history earlier, your family seems to have sacrificed a lot for your family to remain Jewish and on one side, religious. Some of your close ancestors literally gave their lives, blood, sweat and tears over the generations to bring you and your family to the point they have arrived at. They see it as it is a deficiency in themselvs that is causing you to break this "chain" in the Jewish nation. I'm no psycologist, but, their animosity and poor treatment of you may be a manisfestation of this failure they see in themselves. They may feel that here all these previous generation held the religion so dear that they gave up everything for it and guided your parents in this direction and were entrusted with putting you and your siblings on the same path, and here you are some pisher just throwing it all away and going in your own direction. Eventhough you put a lot of thought into this decision they might not see it the same way. I don't think the way they are treating you is right, but I think you may need some outside perspective into their feelings. All the best

  5. AE -

    I thought this response was very honest and must have been incredibly challenging to write. Your integrity is inspirational and you and B are clearly lucky to have each other.


  6. They might consider the following thought:

    What exactly in their behavior toward you would convince someone else (namely B) that their religion is anything he would want to become?

    They should be trying to love you toward them. Shunning only shows a complete lack of love. I don't expect it would work in the sense of convincing him to convert, but now they can never expect him to even think kindly of them.

    Unfortunately it is built in the nature of parents to want to punish their kids for being "bad".

  7. you seem to be following your mothers footsteps from what i have read. my questions is what will happen if you decide to become more observant(i dont like the word religious it gives me the image of a terrorist pouring acid on a girls face, cross burning or rock throwing fanatic.) what will become of you and b. will he be aceppting, will you resent him. again im not trying to answer the question for you id like your thoughts. if you feel this question is out of line feel free to roast me alive.

  8. fakewood- I just don't see any circumstances under which I would ever become religious. I am extremely against organized religion, and am very uncomfortable with any religious functions. There is just no way.

  9. have you ever asked your mother what she thought when she was your age. i am sure you know out outlooks on life change as we grow older. you see this as a total impossibility. you would never ever ever become more observant (again i dont like the word religious and that is a feeling that was passed on by the folks).

  10. fakewood- do you even know my age or anything about me? I haven't been 'observant' in the past 12 years, and becoming observant would require a complete reversal of all my values. I was also completely and utterly miserable as a religious person.

    I'm not saying that I will never start believing in god or some higher power or something, but I will never ever observe an organized religion again.

  11. i didnt claim to know you other wise i wouldnt ask what you thought i would offer my opinion on what you thought. another questions i have is are you planning on having kids? if yes what value system would you bring them up with?

  12. we are planning to have kids, and we will bring them up in the humanist value system.

  13. so you believe people are capable of making the correct choices. have you read niche at all if i didnt belive in god that would be the philosphy i would mostly follow. thats why i have no faith in humanity making the right choices based on logic. if you follow that logic we have already seen the results.

  14. Can I copy paste that letter and send it to my own mom?

    Seriously, that is a response. I'm sorry your mom wrote such a hurtful letter to you in the first place.

    (Also, wrt to previous comments on this post, I seriously don't understand how The Orthodox think that there are no other people with any type of values besides them. It just blows my mind every time I see comments to that effect. Of course, it's not like I'm not familiar with the train of thought -shall we call it the train wreck of lack of thought, but anyway, still, good for the lols every time.)

  15. Fakewood, would you ask a religious person marrying another religious person what will happen if they stop being religious? Will their spouse accept them still? You would not, so how is this any different?

  16. yasher koach. :) lol. seriously.

  17. Very good letter, I like it a lot. Maybe, just maybe, it will make your mother stop and think for a minute. Maybe.

    The more I think about it, the more unbelievable it is that someone could put religion above their own child. I'm an Orthodox Jew, and if my daughter married out I wouldn't be thrilled, but I'd never throw her out like yesterday's garbage!

    I daresay that if you had, for example, murdered someone and were serving life in prison, your parents would still maintain a relationship with you. But marrying a non-Jew is somehow worse than that....

    I guess your parents can't help it- it's how they were trained (brainwashed?) to feel. I'm glad you pointed out the benefits that resulted from their treatment of you, and here's another one: you won't make those same mistakes with your own children. You'll be a great mom. :-)

  18. >The Orthodox think that there are no other people with any type of values besides them. It just blows my mind every time I see comments to that effect.

    This is an incorrect generalization. Orthodoxy is not a monolith.

  19. if i had read nietzsche i hope might have remembered how to spell his name! (or failing that, at least get the correct number of syllables!)

  20. Some people just are not spellers but you understood who I was talking about which I sort of the point of writing. harping on my spelling skill makes you feel better?

  21. Hope There'll Be SunFebruary 13, 2009 at 5:52 AM

    I think B should stay out of this completely, you'll resent him for his input down the road during the natural ups and downs of a marriage.
    Aso, this is a blog- please don't put too much weight into these many advice givers- even when they support your actions- At the end of the day- they are strangers with their own bias and issues - not someone who should have a reliabe opinion about something this serious,
    Please go talk it out with a therapist- you won't regret it.
    (I know I am one of those readers I speak about)

  22. Hope- I was considering calling up the student counseling services yesterday and making an appointment...but I don't see how they could really help me. I tried therapy for a year or two, but blogging always was more useful to me than therapy ever was. :)

  23. You say you don't want your mom reading this blog because it would hurt her feelings, but then you write a letter that will, to her, be like a knife through the heart. I hate her letter and how she has treated you, but this lady is obviously hurting as much as you are and, unlike you, doesn't have a new life to look forward to.

    Regardless of whether or not her pain is self-inflicted or if she is the victim of brainwashing, what is the point of a letter that will just increase her pain. You might feel better for a few minutes for getting things off your chest, but I fear that at some point down the road (and it may be many years and perhaps even when your mom is sick and or dead) you may rue having sent this letter and increasing your mom's pain. In other word's if you say religion makes people bad, then being an atheist should make you better. Take the high road. You can say many of the same things, but softer and you don't have to tell her -- which is what your draft does -- that you think she's always been a horrible mother and you've never liked her.

  24. why not? I've been trying to take the high road for like 10 years now, and look where it's gotten me. If this is going to be my last letter to my mother, then I'm going to tell her the truth about how I feel, finally, for once in my life.

  25. Great letter. You spell it all out. Your folks will never accept your marriage the same as they never accepted you as an adult who is very different from them. SO after you hit send, move on!!!

    Don't waste any more time on this. Time is our biggest enemy. Focus on your dissertation, publishing and getting a job.

  26. Therapy may be of help and I strongly recommend (no I am not a therapist). Your past year or two (which was it; one year or two?)may have been with the wrong therapist. It has to click between the two of you to make it work!

    You have a lot of unresolved issues which you want to start clearing up ASAP otherwise, long term it will affect your marriage and if you have children - it will affect them too.

  27. AE - You say that you have taken the high road and it hasn't gotten you anywhere. Hasn't it at least gotten you some self-respect by knowing you've done the right thing? Are you admitting that the letter as drafted has a tad of the low road?
    Even if you are not, what will the low road get you.

    Finally, since you want to be a better mom than your mom, think of your future kids. Believe it or not, they might want and need a relationship with their grandparents. They might want to learn about their history and roots. Also, there often is something magical about the grandparent/grandchild relationship and it is far better and totally different than the parent/child relationship.

  28. AE-I thought your letter was candid,articulate, and mature. However my hunch is that your Mom will not understand it or know how to react to it. So if your objective is merely to vent and say what needs to be said I think you should send it. If you still want to attempt reconciliation I think you need to speak her language. Here is a sample of what I mean
    Dear Mom
    Judaism teaches that once somebody is a Jew they are always a Jew regardless of their beliefs or actions. Judaism also teaches that even if one repents on their last day they can still be considered righteous. Furthermore, Judaism teaches that one should bring one closer with their right hand and only push away with their weaker left hand.
    I don't believe in any of those things but I assume that you do.
    Your threats at ending our relationship are not going to scare me into ending my relationship with B. So I recommend from your perspective that you work on maintaining a positive relationship with me and hope that one day you will be in the right place at the right time to be mikareiv me. Ending our relationship based on my current decision is simply not a good kiruv strategy from a Jewish perspective.
    Please don't misunderstand me. I have no interest in your attempts to show me the light. However, from your perspective why would you want to burn bridges before I am lost?

  29. your parents wont back down until your married. they cant. if they do, they will live the rest of their lives with the guilt that they didnt make it clear enough to you how wrong this decision was to them.
    once you are married, maybe a month later or a year later or ten years later, they will finally have to admit that this is your life and your decisions and their acceptance or refusal plays no part in that - and they will come around.

  30. I think AE is very much like her mom. You have exactely antagonist standpoints, but you are very much alike.

    So she reacts the same way as you, and you react the same way as her.

    I think this letter is quite healthy. The only part that I do not like is where you say "thank you" just for negative things. That sounds a bit too cynical and they do not really deserve it.

  31. ...You could just write. But your attitude had also some advantages for me (or the same thing in proper english, since I am not an english-speaker) and go on with what you said

  32. re: anonymous, 9:12 a.m.
    Since it's only a draft, I am presuming there will be a certain amount of desnarkification/high-road-oriented editing of a final draft.

    As far as:
    They might want to learn about their history and roots.
    I sincerely hope that if AE & B's any future children decide that they want to learn about Judaism that she will get a copy of The Blessing of the Skinned Knee, or introduce their kids to her Jewish friends that accept and care for B. The divisiveness, the guilt, is crap (unless you believe that saving up in the bank of Olam Haba is more important than your own children). A house that will not accept their father would be the last place I'd want to bring children to learn about Judaism, whether it's viewed as religion, culture, ethnicity or a values system and ethical paradigm. AE has an observant cousin who is happy for her and B. Someone like that might be more emotionally equipped to not indoctrinate their future children with the sort of intolerance that has birthed this situation.


    It's about time for some sort of Vaad that OJ people will consider/listen to to say that throwing children away for their life choices is a crock of bullshit, and that if parents would stop feeling like failures and trying to emotionally blackmail their children into compliance, if they would stop letting their shame turn into fear into anger, that they might be able to be a positive in their children and grandchildren's lives (and, then, yes, they can hope to be mekarev to their grandchildren, but that's to be expected; it happens among nonobservant interfaith grandparents, too).

    It's not kids who marry non-Jews who are "fulfilling the work of the Nazis." It is the observant families of those children who shun them that toss in the Zyklon B and slam shut the gas chamber door.

    (I think that's the first time I ever wrote a Holocaust metaphor. That's gross. How can people take themselves seriously and talk that way?! Totally hyperbolic, imo, and I apologize to everyone who read that, regardless of the fact that I stand by my point, even if I made it very poorly. Now I want to smoke. lol)

  33. Fakewood, I did not harp on your spelling or grammar but you completely ignored my question. I'm really curious. How is this any different than two Orthodox people getting married? Why wouldn't you ask one of them what will happen if they ever change their mind about religion? (Particularly if one or both are BT. That would mirror this situation even better.)

  34. Holy Hyrax,

    Yes, I made a generalization about The Orthodox! Oh Noes!

    AE knows my background and knows what I'm talking about. (A specific group of Orthodox people). I agree that not all Orthodox people are the same, but I see/hear plenty of comments like this, enough to make a generalization out of it.

  35. I think that's a very thoughtful and candid letter. There's a difference between being harsh and just being honest and I don't think this is too harsh.

    I hate that bullshit about how *you* are somehow divorcing *them* when they are the ones severing a relationship with you just because you're marrying a non-Jew. It's like a bully telling you it's your fault he beat you up because you refused to give him your lunch money.

  36. AE-no thoughts on my alternative draft?

  37. anon- your draft may be a good idea, but I can't write a letter in my mother's language any more than I can live her life. This letter is not meant to persuade her to take me back and meet B, this is meant to inform her of the impact her actions have had on me, and to say all the things I need to say to her in case this really is the last contact we ever have. This is for MY peace of mind, not for her.

  38. AE - you say you are uncomfortable with any organised religion, yet you love Christmas and are looking forward to a Papal Mass. Are you sure it's not just Judaism that you hate, which is why you're not so "uncomfortable" with manifestations of organised Christianity, and you rejoice in not knowing when Chanuka is?

  39. JM-

    I don't celebrate christmas in any kind of religious manner. it's a chance for us to get together with B's family, decorate a tree exchange gifts, have some nice meals together and all catch up. But we don't do anything religious in all of that. The rest of B's family goes to midnight mass, but they don't make a big deal about it and they don't bother inviting us.

    As for the papal mass, just because I don't want to join any organized religion doesn't mean I'm not curious about their religious practices, especially as a sociologist. Why shouldn't I attend a mass? I've heard about them my whole life but I have no idea what happens in there. I see it only as a cultural event of a different culture, it would be no different than attending the running of the bulls or something.

    Jewish services and stuff in particular do make me more uncomfortable, yes, but just because I feel there's an expectation to participate because of my family history. When I went to visit a zen temple and their services, I didn't feel uncomfortable because I just felt like a spectator, not someone who was expected to participate.

    Anyways, after actually looking into it, I'm not going to a papal mass because they are really hard to get into (you usually have to show up at 4am or know someone special), and they only have big public ones on special occasions, which will probably not overlap with our trip.

  40. Thanks for the reply, but I can't help thinking that your delight in not knowing when Chanuka (which you suggest can be observed in a "secular" way) is does not square with your love for Christmas (and your lack of discomfort with the religious symbols that your mother-in-law puts on the tree).

    Am I right in thinking that your future children will be exposed to secular Christmas, but not secular Chanuka? If so, what message does that send?

    Thanks for giving it some thought.

  41. It probably sends the message that I don't practice the jewish religion. Which I don't. Why do you think that would be a problem for me?

  42. The problem, for me, is that it indicates that your opposition is more to Judaism than to religion. That although your blog documents "leaving orthodox Judaism" it actually documents your becoming a secular Christian.

    Is this story perhaps not about the triumph of atheistic humanism, but just about old-fashioned anti-Judaism?

    Again, thanks for giving my view a thought.

  43. And I also wonder; will your children (please G-d / nature) know of their Jewish heritage? And how will they know about it? Without anything religious, will they know that they are heirs of a culture and a history that has given much to the world?

    Thanks again.

  44. Maybe it implies that one family is open to their secular children/in-laws being part of celebrations, and one family isn't?

  45. I realise that my previous comment does not say what I meant it to say. What I meant was:

    I understand that you do not want any religious Jewish aspect to your future children's upbringing, but do you plan anything cultural or any other way to inform them of their heritage as descendents of the Jewish people?

    My worry about observing secular Christmas and ignoring even secular Chanuka is that they will be cut off from their history.


  46. I think this is a great letter and you're doing a good thing for yourself here. Good luck, and let us know what happens!

  47. Your parents are victims (and I'm not excusing them) of the religious dogma which they have adopted. For all of those who argue the merits of religous systems - let them experiance haveing a child reject them and then let them pontificate on their principles.

    One thing to say is that when you next speak with your mom (and that day may never come), it is always better to stick with how you feel and avoid broad statements about her parenting or behavior or personality. It is much more effective to tell her how what she does makes you feel than to critique it on an intellectual level.

    I hate this about orthodoxy more than just about anything else. It is infliction of useless agony. It isn't even sourced in halacha (at least not in the shulchan aruch or talmud, and certlainly not in the torah itself).

    It sounds like you're doing great, and I agree that blogging is good therapy. But I wouldn't rule out sitting down and explorping it in the future with a good professional. These are wounds and they need medical attention in the same way as if they were physical assults.

  48. I could have written it myself. Painful, but once you come to consider those things objectively, healing begins, doesn't it?


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