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A Message For Parents who are Divorced Susan Berry Miller

Planning a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah once you've divorced your spouse may seem a little like putting the iron back into the fire. Working with the one who you've worked so hard to separate from can be a little bit frustrating, anxiety provoking and even a little sad. The question is: "How?" One point that family therapists, child psychologists and psychotherapists make clearly is that this event is a special occasion for your child and you should be supportive.
Here are some tips to make the planning and execution of this day as stress-free as possible.

Keep candle lighting poems/sayings short. Rhymes are not necessary, but they can be entertaining.
Be flexible Remember that this is your child's simcha.
Be supportive to your child- remember that that your child is probably nervous enough about knowing their religious parts, chanting Torah or haftorah. They don't need to be nervous about their parents misbehaving in public.
Be inclusive Remember that your ex-spouses' family has a right to participate and enjoy the event as much as your family does.
Be a mensch Keep what is best for your child in the forefront, and work out your anger, sadness, and disappointment with your support system.
Include your child in the planning of the day it may put their fear into rest.

There are many details to consider when planning a Bar/Bat Mitzvah: Do parents want to share this event equally? How will they divide the costs? And what about the guest list? Many times it is good to consult with your rabbi or therapist about negotiating around these issues. Make lists and decide on who's responsible for what.

When you have gone through a divorce, life cycle events can often trigger feelings of sadness, anger or unfairness that have long been put to rest. Parents can give their child a gift on their Bar/Bat Mitzvah day by planning, accepting and dealing with their own feelings.

Susan Berry Miller,
a licensed marriage and family therapist, deals with a broad range of family issues including co-parenting for couples and considering separation or divorce.
Her office is located at:
Collaborative Care of Abington,
1369 Old York Road
in Abington
215-884-1776 ext.15

Split Blessings: Advice for Divorced Parents Lawrence R. Kotkin, Ph.D.

Far too often the children of divorced couples face their child's Bar/Bat Mitzvah with mixed emotions. The family, extended family and friends get together to celebrate a coming of age event marred by the pain and anger brought by severed marital relations. Judaic traditions and law of the get present many challenges, but there remains some of the sex role imbalance. As an example, only the husband may obtain a sefer k'ritut freeing the wife to re-marry.

This is about the children and their rite of passage into adulthood, placing the Torah in the keeping of the new generation. They work for many years, study and tolerate substantial performance anxiety to read the Torah and Haftarah before family and friends. After the service there is a celebration. Whose celebration is it?

Most children just want it over. Ask them, they'll tell you. The celebration becomes an event for the parents and grandparents. To make it a good memory for the children and keep the tradition alive and happy, it is incumbent on the parents to make it a joyous event for them too.

Of course, everything depends on the relationship of the parents. If they had a hostile breakup, coming to agreements may just not happen, but they will already have child-rearing and emotional or behavioral problems with the celebrant. We can only guide them toward family therapy and hope.

If there is a formula for making the Bar/Bat Mitzvah affair happy, it is the same as for child rearing: early restoration of joint parental authority. Get an agreement and stick to it. I've heard some divorced couples say they offered each other a direct split of the cost while keeping it to a minimum. Any extras were on the requester's tab. An equal number of guests accompanied this agreement. Honorifics, especially at the Temple were, likewise, divided equally and no editing of each other's guest list was permitted.

It is as if two affairs were occurring. If such were not agreed upon, it may be possible for one parent to have a smaller affair and the other could do as they wished. I know of more than one split family having a very small affair and a second Bar Mitzvah with the other parent, grandparents and siblings in Jerusalem.

Animosity is the enemy here and memories of B'nai Mitzvot stay with us through our lives, regardless of religious fervor. In our legacy to our children, we must remember who is receiving the Torah to pass along. Pass along how Judaism can still bring together families, for no matter the legal status of the family, we don't divorce our children and the family structure doesn't happen by court order, it is a law of G-d and nature.

Dr. Kotkin is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Merrick and Melville. You may contact him at (631)643-0924.

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