Daughter’s Strict Religious Rules Create Rift With Mother

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Dear Miriam,

My daughter is a ba’al teshuva (she became religious on her own as an adult). As such, when I visit, I am subsumed by her family’s very strict rules and rituals. I will be heading to her house soon for Passover. How can I maintain my feelings of free-choice and self-determination without a feeling of being coerced?

Signed,
Too strict for my blood

Dear Strict,

As last week’s column also concerned mothers and their adult daughters at seder,  it’s fair to say that this is not a unique theme, though, of course, the particulars vary from family to family. In your case, your daughter’s Judaism looks different from the way you raised her. Not only do you not recognize it, you don’t especially want to participate in it.

That is, of course, absolutely your right. You should not be forced to celebrate Passover in a way that is outside your comfort zone and strict to the point of stripping any joy from the holiday. (I realize those are not your exact words, but I know that Passover rules have that capacity when carried to an extreme.)

However, your daughter and her family are also free to celebrate as they choose. If you are opting into being with them for the holiday, there’s a lot you have to go along with out of respect for her household: restrictions on food, restrictions on electricity, perhaps certain seder rituals that you find unnecessary or uninteresting.

I wonder if you’ve ever talked to your daughter about your concerns or how uncomfortable you feel in her house. She may not realize that her home is not welcoming to you or may be unsure how to accommodate you while also accommodating her religious practices. I also wonder if you might be able to bring some of your own traditions with you to their Passover celebration. Even if you can’t bring food from your kitchen, maybe you can bring a favorite family recipe and make it together when you’re there. Even if they conduct the whole seder in Hebrew with no English songs or supplemental readings, perhaps you could bring something to share during the festive meal or before the seder rituals actually get underway.

If nothing else, I expect there’s some part of their seder with discussion and questions, as that’s usually an important part of seder, and you should feel free to say what’s actually on your mind if that opportunity arises, as long as you do so respectfully. If you have grandkids, it’s also appropriate to find ways to share with them that Judaism looks different for different people, and you have traditions of your own that you value.

Finally, it’s worth considering the conditions in which you visit your daughter moving forward. Passover is a particularly restrictive time of year, and maybe this is a holiday that it’s just not practical to spend together. During the rest of the year, even if weekends may be convenient, if their Shabbat is not how you want to spend your time, don’t spend Shabbat together. Or, if you do, consider a hotel so that you can turn on your lights and have some more freedom. If you live too far away to consider a day trip or otherwise find these suggestions impractical, you may need to have a frank conversation with your daughter along the lines of, “I love you, but I find our visits to be too challenging for me given our differing levels of religious observance. I hope to be able to revisit this conversation in a year or two, but for now, I need to take a break from staying in your home.”

In the meantime, try to make the best of your Passover visit. Bring along some reading materials that have nothing to do with religion or have a progressive slant to them that could be refreshing in the environment you’re heading to. If you’re not going to be there for the whole holiday, when you return from her house, plan visits with your own friends to debrief and celebrate the rest of Passover according to your own wishes in your own home.

Be well,

Miriam

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