Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Motivating the second generation?

From time to time, I hear from self-described baalei teshuvah - people who grew up in non-observant homes, and then came to observance of halachah in adulthood - that their children have left that path. Indeed, it seems to me that I hear it more from that demographic than from people who grew up observant.

The sample I have been dealing with is not statistically significant, and I have not been keeping score, so my observations are irrelevant. Still, the conversations have made me wonder: Might it be easier or harder for baalei teshuvah to raise children in observance?

[Just to note something I have written on other occasions: All parents, regardless of background, must recognize that their influence on their children's chosen paths is limited.]

On one hand, I could contend that baalei teshuvah would have an easier time -
* Baalei teshuvah have thought through a broad range of religious options, and chosen observance. Their religious practice could be more heartfelt and authentic than that of someone who is motivated by peers and family;

* Baalei teshuvah can speak with their children from the experience of a range of lifestyles (although really, who accepts the word of a parent who says 'I've been there'...?);

* Self-aware baalei teshuvah can understand their children's need to chart their own path, and address it in a way that does not drive those children further away.

On the other hand, I can think of several reasons why it might be more difficult for them:
* Not having been raised in such a home, the baalei teshuvah might have greater difficulty finding a good balance between openness and restriction, which is necessary to encourage healthy observance;

* Baalei teshuvah may be psychologically disposed toward breaking with the previous generation, and their children might absorb that - consciously or subconsciously - from their attitudes and behaviour;

* The absence of observant grandparents for the children may be a factor;

* The next generation might feel that just as their parents had the opportunity to sample different lifestyles, they should be able to do the same (and the baalei teshuvah themselves may think likewise);

* Baalei teshuvah, having come to Torah and learning late, may not have the knowledge to properly address their children's questions;

* The religious catalysts of baalei teshuvah may not inspire their children. Baalei teshuvah may be motivated by specific personal experiences they had as teens and adults, while others may be motivated by the more transmittable motivations of family tradition, community, role models and years of religious instruction.

I don't know; what do you think?


  1. Did the "wayward" children grow up in happy communities or not?

  2. I have some insight into the subject, being an FFB married to a BT with a number of sons who so far have decided that Orthodoxy wasn't for them. (Since my oldest is 27, not everyone is necessarily out of adolescent rebellion yet.)

    Although I must confess my own attitude toward Torah is much more like a non-conformist BT than a yeshiva alumnus.

    A couple of thoughts:

    It's not so much an absence of O grandparents as the presence of non-O grandparents and other close family. It means that being O or non-O is a more thinkable choice.

    Second, the parent choosing their own form of Judaism is itself a precedent. "You decided Orthodoxy was right for you, but that's not my decision." You sort of mention that as "psychologically disposed toward breaking with the previous generation", I just think I'm giving a different enough spin. It's not a willingness to break as much as a willingness to consider the question open. (In addition to having family living the other choice.)

    Third, non-conformists, which do exist in larger number among BTs, do not give their kids the same communal anchor. The less firmly you feel attached to the community, the less one feels a price in leaving it -- compared to the price of conforming to O norms.

    Then there are the BTs who are beyond non-conformist who have issues which is why they had no ties holding them back to their own community and were out searchign for a solution. (No, I'm not saying my wife and every other BT is crazy; in our case, /she's/ the sane one. But there are more BTs with issues than the general population.) And somebody with unresolved psychological baggage will end up leaving their children more reason to rebel.

    But I still think the biggest factors aren't ones that even loosely correlate to having parents who are BTs. I bet there is selection bias in remembering the children of BTs who leave, and that the difference in likelihood is far less pronounced.

    For example, 80% of boys who go OTD (according to independent reports by R' Wallerstein and by Priority-1) have either ADD or dyslexia or both. As the ideals we expect children to aspire to narrow in range, more kids will choose to aspire to something else. As in these boys who aren't suited to be learners.

    (The "shidduch crisis" is also a matter of having too narrow a definition of the ideal chasan, so that everyone wants one of the same 3 guys -- the learner, the learner-earner, the earner-learner. Checking whether he would put his wife ahead of himself -- which aside from being something I would want for my daughter is a halakhah in the Rambam -- isn't in that list. She should do the reverse, no problems. Thank G-d so far I'm 2 for 2 on that front.)

    RAM: Passaic is generally a happy community, so that's not it in our case. For that matter, is there any community NOT facing the problem in numbers of roughly 17%?

    1. PS: Mrs B insists she is not a BT. She self-describes as "an FFB who just took some years to realize."

    2. Micha, do you see a difference in this regard between families whose children were born after the parents became BT and families whose children were first raised before the change?

    3. I do not know enough families of the second sort to comment.

    4. Agreed on every point, with the exception of that ADD/dyslexia claim, which I have a very hard time accepting.

  3. "How come I can't eat at MacDonald's just because you decided you didn't want to anymore?"
    That, and BT's fall into the FFB trap of ritual without reason. They want to fit into FFB society so badly along with their children that they over-FFB it. Just like too many FFB's do what they do not out of commitment and passion but simply because it's just what they've always done so BT's try to be just like that. The kids see the lack of passion and go looking for it elsewhere.

  4. It's interesting that I came across this today as my BT friend (I am also BT) just confided in me that her child is struggling with religion and she fears she will go OTD. I think it's because we BTs were exposed to all the positives, without knowing about the negatives. Sometimes, I wonder if I had known about certain things, if I would have joined on, not that I c'v regret the decision. Some of these "things" include hesitancy to report child abuse, instances of chilul Hashem in the news, the tuition crisis and the tremendous stress it puts on families, and the unrealistic expectations in terms of boys learning- the "kollel or bust" attitudes, and the extreme limit of outlets and down time for boys as everything is "bitul zman." I think this is what was meant by the "ADHD/dyslexia" comment above. While people with ADHD/dyslexia are very bright and do very well in life, many of them struggle in school. They could easily be turned off to learning and then yiddishkeit as a whole.

  5. Also perhaps too authoritarian parenting by BT parents because they are worried that the FFB community is watching and shidduch concerns (although shidduchim might be limited in any case in some FFB communities - I knew of a FFB family that forbid their children from marrying BTs because they were likely conceived when their mother was Niddah!)

  6. My personal experience is that many of the factors, both positive and negative are relevant.

    However, I would observe that many of them are equally applicable to those raised in religious homes. Many of whom have "heartfelt and authentic" religious practice or "can understand their children's need to chart their own path, and address it in a way that does not drive those children further away." For that matter, the "balance between openness and restriction" that was experienced by and appropriate for the parents may not be the same one needed by the children, and, unfortunately, many people who were raised in religious homes "may not have the knowledge to properly address their children's questions" I am not sure that the problems faced by BT parents are that different from those faced by FFB (although I dislike both terms) ones.

  7. This is a very sensitive topic for me. I consider myself a failure as a parent. I hadn't a clue as how to raise Torah observant kids. A thought of mine, comfort in a way, is to think of Gardiner's Multiple Intelligences. Could it be that spiritual intelligence is an inherited talent, just like music, art, sports or math? The children of "BTs" may not have inherited the spiritual needs of their parents. They may be almost "genetically secular" like their grandparents.

    1. Ouch - "failure" is a very harsh word, particularly for something which is so beyond a parent's control, whether because of the reason you mention or because of multiple other factors.

  8. This post has been included in the very latest edition, Shiloh Musings: Pinchas, Let's Take a Stand, Havel Havelim

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